Changes

A while since my last post. The pace of headship together with family life has squeezed my spare time and best intentions have slipped to become hopes.

I have started my first full year of headship following my initial summer term transition. I read books, took advice, listened, watched. The advice was simple, look, listen and learn before committing to any changes. So I looked and listened and found water leaks, extensive building projects, relocated classrooms, staff leaving, budget challenges, vandalism and trees felled by neighbours.

The decisions came much quicker than I would have imagined. leaking pipes underground with a leaking roof above. classrooms to be rebuilt with limited space to relocate. These early questions were difficult to answer. A combination of lack of knowledge, together with a lack of experience could make for a toxic combination. It is,however, on these occasions when we are forced to listen further and use the experience of others. Something that I have been enormously grateful for.

I went into headship confident, experienced and knowledgeable in primary education. I went with little experience of building projects, land law or an understanding of British water pipe and irrigation systems. It has become apparent, quickly, that this is perhaps a role that it is very difficult to gain experience in unless the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ presents itself.

I became a father confident, experienced and knowledgeable on children. With little experience on waking at 2am, 3am and 4. Nothing prepared me for the emotion of pride at watching my children learn to crawl, walk, run and talk. I wasn’t ready for the time taken to bath, dress, feed then dress again. I was not aware of how it would feel to watch my daughter on her first day at school. No fear, no worries, no expectations. Just pure, unfiltered excitement,

Not once, sadly for me, did she ask about water connections, who was responsible for the trees, which budget code her books would come from. She failed to ask about guttering, perimeter fencing or how many square meters her class would need. She just wanted to go to school…..and have lunch.

My four year old does not go to my school. On Monday the 4th of September she started school. While I held back the tears as I watched my baby, my pride and joy, my first born take her first steps into the education system, I searched for the right words. My daughter turned to me and said ‘Don’t worry Daddy, everything is going to be alright’.

And how right she is. Everything is going to be alright. It is not about leaks, land law, budgets and lack of laminating pouches.

Its about the excitement of learning and experiencing something new. Changes are challenging and can be unnerving. But learning is magical. Schools and teachers are creating memories that last a lifetime.

They will be magical memories at our school. So don’t worry. Everything’s going to alright.

 

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Mr funny face

So many faces to put names to. So many names to remember the face they belong to. A smile on my face that is now starting to look a little strange. An angry face to greet me first thing in the morning. A happy face when I enter a classroom. A confused face when attempting to understand midday supervision. So many faces.

The information highway is well and truly open. No longer sipping tiny bits of information but instead attempting to gulp down whole waves of data. The questions are coming thick and fast. The answers? Not so much. My mind is awash with ideas now. I am almost attempting to consume the whole school. I can quickly forget who I have spoke to, what has been said, what’s in the diary and how I got to work or more importantly how I get home. 

Within the space of four weeks I am now fully involved with the life of school. I think about it at night, when I get up, when I go to bed. I get excited with what might be, I am energised when I see something I think I can have positive impact on, the developments I see in school give me a real motivation to succeed. There are quick fixes, slow burners and long term projects.

I will be at the end of my 4th week on Friday. It is fair to say the days are flying by. I sit down at a desk around five in the afternoon and stare at my windows screen. I open word. Then publisher. Then email. Then a bit web browsing on the key for leaders, Trello, school website. I stare at the windows screen a little more. I like the icons on my desktop but feel that I need to start formulating a plan. 

I am now updating my STARS diagnostic weekly and almost daily. My focus is being drawn in key areas. I plan to share this in the coming weeks with the key team members from SLT. At the moment this is the inner workings of my head. This could prove to be  problematic. I need a clear strategic plan. A clear way of communicating my findings. Then a plan to move forward. There are policies, structures, staffing, procedures all to be looked at.

But why? Why all these….things. Because it is these ‘things’  will allow for greater focus. Greater purpose. Core purpose. Investment in teaching learning. Time on teaching and learning. 

More faces. Faces on the playground. Faces at the gate. Faces in the cars when I drive home.

The most important face? My daughters when I arrive home and spend time playing Mr Funny Face with her. 

Teaching is a calling.

Family is everything.

The First 10 days

Tomorrow I will host my first PAD as headteacher. It has perhaps come sooner than I would have liked but does enable me time to pause and reflect on my first few weeks.  I’m still smiling, still watching and still listening. There have been phone calls, emails, meetings, briefings and even the odd walk around school.

The role is varied and diverse, with many layers to be considered to each element. I can see how easy it could be to be spread too thinly. I am currently trying to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible but this can feel overwhelming at times. At times the information flow is slow and steady and almost refreshing, at other times it can be fast flowing and difficult to navigate.

I have met with all teachers, held one parents meeting with another planned later in the week, attended a governors meeting, met with key people from the LA. I have learnt most though from  my time in class. Walking around school. Speaking to children, looking at books, watching the learning that takes place. Each time I enter a classroom the children are still excited to see me, proud to show theirs books and keen to share their learning.

Schools can be complex places, with personalities, structures and systems. It would be easy to focus on these areas, become distracted with the enormous weight given to key areas in school. Most commonly this can be an over focus on data, assessment, health and safety or lunch times. There has certainly been some of my time spent on these areas.

Tomorrow will not be based on these areas. Tomorrow will be core purpose. Teaching and Learning. Thinking about where we have been, where are now but most importantly where we are going and how we will get there.

Leaky Pipes

Interviews are always a challenge. What questions will they ask? How should I answer them? What are my strengths and areas to develop? However, I do not recall being asked about perimeter fencing, leaky water pipes and dealing with asbestos.

The wonderful variety of activities we offer in schools and the range of learning opportunities never cease to amaze me. Schools are busy, hardworking and exciting places to work. Even in my first few days the eagerness of the children to learn, the engagement of the teachers to teach and buzz of activity in school is truly heart warming and at times restores all faith in the Education System. What an honour it has been in my first three days to look at a school through fresh eyes, meet with new children and engage with new adults.

I am, according to my reading of ‘The First 90 Days, currently accelerating my learning. I have started to take in vast amounts of information Speaking and listening to parents, pupils and staff. So many names to learn, so many questions asked and so much to take in. I have started to carryout a STARS diagnostic, again from my reading of the book. I have started to identify key areas in school that fit into each element in order to focus my work in the coming weeks.

No day has been the same. My first three days have flown. No day the same. The children are so eager to show me their school, discuss their work and tell me their jokes….What’s wobbly and flies in the sky?…..A jellycopter (year 1)

The striking thing?The number of people who talk proudly of this school and the work they do there. These are not schools. These are magical places at the heart of a community.

So what I have learnt? I have learnt I know nothing about burst water pipes or asbestos, but that somebody else does know about them. I have learnt that meeting and greeting parents before and after school is a quick win. I have learnt some more names. I have learnt how to consume a whole Yorkie bar without taking a breath……Have also learnt to try and take a lunch break.

Have an email now too.

 

Day one

Bananas and smiles!

That was the order of my day. My first day started at 7:45, meeting and greeting a wonder around the building to check everyone had enjoyed their break. After teaching for many years it was certainly strange to not be preparing a class for the day ahead. I therefore empathised with the teachers who conversed with me, despite trying to set up for the day ahead. A meet and greet on the playground was next, as I attempted to meet new parents and get my face noticed. This is certainly something I will need to work on as I smiled, then defaulted to speaking to the people I am most comfortable with. The children. This is something  I will need to work on in the coming weeks. Another case of being aware of my strengths while also working on my development points.

Assembly was bananas. literally. Smiles, energy, growing together and avoiding slipping on them. Very deep for a first assembly. I spent the remainder of the morning meeting as many of the school community as possible.  I am determined to learn the names of the pupils in the school but at the end of day one I am already struggling. Plenty of time yet. Lunch involved more meeting and much more smiling.

I spent the afternoon using key questions from the book ‘The First 90 days’:

  • What are our biggest challenges?
  • Why are we facing them?
  • Where are the unexploited opportunities for development?
  • What would need to happen to develop these in school?
  • and what would be your priorities if you were me?

I plan to use these questions to build a picture from SLT as to where our areas of focus may need to be.

It was then on to looking at network cables, building plans and walls. My conclusion? I have very little to say on network cables and where to put them, let alone walls. However, I consider them reasonably important and therefore will endeavour to find someone this week who knows about network cables, switches and where to put them.

My first day has gone quick. The pace certainly picked up as the day developed and I am sure will develop further tomorrow. I was taken aback at the number of questions that I faced as the day progressed. I want to watch, listen and learn. There is however a want by people for you to act, talk and do. Again this is an area to be mindful of moving forward. Relationships with parents and how we work with the school community is integral. My reading will now take in dealing with hard to reach parents and developing the school community.

After a difficult game of Guess Who with my daughter, which involved more questions. I am now ready for bed.

The learning has only just begun. But the challenge is real. Are they wearing a hat?

 

‘Twas the night before Headship

It is my headship eve. The night before I take up my first Headship post. I feel that this is the second holiday I have spent thinking about this post. At Christmas it was the thought of interview and being prepared for the questions I may be asked. Easter has seen my time spent preparing, reading and visiting the school where as I was appointed, following that New Year interview.

I don’t feel nervous, scared or daunted. I feel relaxed, excited and eager to begin my new challenge. As with everything in life, I feel that I could have done more with the time I had before tomorrow. But I did what I could. Visiting the school, meeting the key staff, reading key documentation and liaising with the chair of governors. I have also done some reading, I say some as I wish I had done more. With two very young children I find reading at home a challenge. However I do feel ready.

I have been somewhat surprised at how my mind has looked for things to focus, things that I ‘think’ I should be doing. I spent a day at my new school in what will be my office. Having always worked in classrooms (or in supermarkets) I was , and still am, unsure as what to do with an office. I spent hours tidying, dusting, moving and generally filling the time. Returning home I then found myself worrying about the position I left the desk and the chairs. Over the 10 years I have taught I have started each new school or new term with my plans, timetable and overview, I have always known where I want to be by the end of that year. This is the first time there is no plan, timetable or overview. Yes I have things that need to be done, things I want to do, people I want to talk to but there is no definitive plan. I find this strangely refreshing despite not having my ‘lesson plans’. I think that this has led to my mind wondering on to less purposeful tasks.

No plan I hear you ask? Well I have an outline, a thought process and a vision. I have been reading ‘The First 90 Days’ by Micheal D. Watkins and must say I have found it particularly useful. I have identified my strengths and areas to develop. I think this is important to ensure I do not retreat to areas that I know I am already strong and therefore miss the areas that may well need developing. I also strongly agree with the fact we were given two eyes, two ears and one mouth to enable us to do twice as much watching and listening as talking. Something I feel integral to my first 90 days.

At the point of writing this my priority is relationships and accelerating my learning. I want to get to know the school community as quickly as possible. I have also started to consider the STARS situation and will apply it in the coming days to the key areas for school development. This way I hope to establish where my focus will be in the first 30 days.

Tomorrow will be my first day of headship. I have coffee, tea, biscuits, a pen and a nice new notebook. I have planned my assembly, put together my introductory staff meeting and written my first parental letter introducing myself.

I am excited, I don’t feel tired but know I must sleep, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring. Just like the night before Christmas.

But just like Christmas, I am ready. I’ve got this.

The Journey to headship (Part 2)

I sit in my office on the final day as a deputy. I have, over the last few weeks, been very reflective on the journey that has led me to this point. In particular where I started. My first blog last week covered the journey up to the start of a new manager and my increasing understanding of the leader I would never aspire to become.

The new store manager had been appointed as I took up my new role as chief display assistant. This move was seen as one that could ultimately lead into management with the possibility of being a store manager in the future. This was something I had given little thought to while in retail but I now considered it a possibility. Or at least I thought I did.

The new store manager was ambitious, aggressively ambitious. He dressed in powerful looking suits that were double cuffed and shaved his beard into a neat moustache. He was very clear on what he wanted. More power, more money and more success. It was his way. His vision was simple. We were to make more money as a store and work harder.  He patrolled the shop floor and warehouse like a night guard dog. His nose would twitch at the sound of shop floor chatter that was not focused on work.

Clearly we had differing approaches to work. Mine being a typical 20 year old laid back approach. His focused on career, money and power. This relationship was not going to work. I would be asked to pick litter from the floor (he was above this), I would be verbally shouted at in the warehouse to ensure others would hear his dismay at my lack of thought, I would be given a BIC razor, shaving foam and told to shave in the toilets if I was not cleanly shaven. A job I had enjoyed, found to be fun and social was now a job I hated and did not want to do. I no longer wanted to be there. My sickness record increased, I was absent often, would look for excuses to leave early and, inevitably, I became depressed.

I was never clear if it was his direction and vision or whether he simply disliked me. My job in retail now frustrated me. I felt trapped, not challenged, jobs I had enjoyed now became repetitive. My best was never good enough. There was never an end point. I would go home thinking the job was done only to return the next day and be told it was, in fact, not good enough.

The social aspect kept me going to an extent. Nights out, Christmas parties any excuse for a night or day out. But the seed was planted. I did not want to do this for the rest of my life. I did not want to one day become like this manager. I did not want a career in retail. I wanted to enjoy work.

I worked in retail for some years after this. A new manager started and my career picked up again. I enjoyed some good times in the years that followed but my mind was made up. I never again wanted to work for a manager like I had. I wanted to be one step ahead. I would ensure my work was always of the highest standard but would also ensure I would not again be pushed around so easily. I worked until I was 23 in retail. The store was closed and I was offered the chance to move into management as a trainee or take a package. It was the package all day long. This was the opportunity I had waited for and I wanted to grab it with both hands.

I was living at home still supported by two very loving parents. I returned to college, resat my GCSE’s and in 1 year secured a place at University. I had achieved more in one year than I had in several years in retail. What’s more I was enjoying it. I enjoyed learning again, I had to read and study, I spent the the hours I had worked in the library writing assignments. I felt engaged, challenged and positive about the future. I had also made a significant decision. I had decided to teach.

The next four years at university were fantastic. I was so enthused by the other students, I felt part of something and respected my teachers while often seeking their advice. The work ethic and routine i had developed in retail stuck with me. While my peers lay in bed until 3 in the afternoon, I would be in the library. I would read books, research papers, surf the net (still in its infancy at that point), even study maps and examine learning resources. I loved it.

I was studying for a degree in primary education which meant blocks of teaching practice. What more could I ask for I was working, studying and still had the most amazing social life! The teaching was amazing. I worked at amazing schools, with amazing teachers and the most incredibly supportive children. It was a fabulous four years.

I developed a style of teaching over those four years. I was creative, an actor, lively, engaging, a risk taker and loved it. I was given the opportunity to work in different environments in differing contexts. My first teaching practice was in a diverse location, with children that had a range of needs. I would never have believed that I would be back there years later. In a very different role.

The Journey to Headship (part 1)

Hi, so this is my first blog as a new headteacher, in the end of my first deputy headship. It’s been an interesting journey to this point and one which I have certainly enjoyed. How does the story go………

I left school at sixteen, disillusioned with education, out of touch with any form of career and  unsure as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I took up a job at a local supermarket, part time to begin with but after 12 months I was full time position. It was interesting work. I say interesting but it was actually work that involved retrieving trolleys from three car parks and returning them to the store. I loved it. I was outside everyday, sun, rain, wind or snow. We would visit Greggs Bakery to buy sausage rolls or warm up over a potato and butter pie. It was a simple job, no thinking required and no work to take home. Pints after work in the local pub and Saturday nights out with work colleagues were the order of the day.

Days turned into weeks, weeks to months and months turned into years. A stop gap job was fast becoming a career. I collected trolleys from those three car parks for two years before moving to a customer service position. I was now indoors and my visits to Greggs had to stop. Dealing with customer complaints and the Great British public became a major part of my role. Refunds for out of date chickens and mobile phones the size of bricks that had stopped working, were now the focus of my day. I would work five days a week with one in every three weekends off. Often working the odd Sunday for what was then double time. It was monotonous work, relentless work that was never complete. Each day brought the same faces, customers and staff. The same problems; lack of change for tills, lack of carrier bags, no trolleys outside (it was never the same after I left my position as chief trolley collector.) these were my challenges now. The social life was maintained a pint after work to discuss the trials and tribulations of the day were now a regular theme and Saturday nights out were now whole weekends lost in Manchester. I was 19 and no clearer on where my life was going. I was paid £500 a month, received a bonus if the company performed (I usually took shares which was the better option at the time) as well as a Christmas bonus at that very festive and very busy time of year.

Each day was the same, start at 7, open the tills, deliver the change, put through the staff canteen order, serve the public for the day, take a break at 9:15, lunch at 12:30, finish at 4 (or three when you had an early finish), pub after work. Day after day. No thought process was required, I was programmed to deliver a service and delivered that service accordingly. It was simple, enjoyable and hard work. Minutes seemed like hours and hours seemed like life times. It was as if the time was in slow motion. The seasons seemed to last forever. there was relentless planning for busy periods such as Christmas or Easter. Approximately 18 months after starting my customer service role I was promoted to Chief Display Assistant.

It was meant to be recognition for my hard work with the company. It was to be my first real learning curve in adult life. The store had a new manager. I had a new job. I was about to learn that there were very different ways of leading. I was about to learn that leaders can have a dramatic impact on your life. I was about to learn this new manager was not the sort of leader I would want to become. The seed had been planted. The journey had started.