How Dame Sally Coates, Abby Bayford and Brene Brown made me check myself. – A blog post about confessions, values and authenticity.

So I have a confession, I haven’t always been honest.

Covid and Lockdown has given us a lot of time to think. Not as much as some in the media would have people believe and the number of times I have screamed ‘Schools haven’t closed’ at a screen probably says more about the state of my mind than the statement I’m trying to make. But anyway I digress. Upon reflection I haven’t always been honest.

This was my first year as a Vice Principal and although I know I tried, I tried damn hard, I’m not proud of how much of myself I have hidden. I should highlight this is not how my Head feels about me, or anyone else for that matter and this is not imposter syndrome or lack of satisfaction where no matter what I do I will not be happy with it. This is hard reflection. Looking back on the past year I can see I have tried to squeeze, bend, mix, contort into what fits in with the school I have joined. I have told myself on many occasions that this is what is necessary, the first year is about building trust, rapport, getting to know the landscape of your new school, assimilating, but to be honest I’ve never felt 100% convinced.

My problem, I have come to realise is I am waiting for a leader to give me permission to be myself, to be my champion to be my voice to be my cheerleader. But here’s the thing, when you get to VP you are the leader, the champion and the voice, often of the people who need you. I am at my very place because I am different to the Head, yet I have tried to assimilate and that was a foolish thing to do.

Looking back I can see it clearly now, agreeing to decisions I knew would not work in teacher training, an area I am responsible for, but that were insisted upon. Not questioning enough. Going along with paperwork which makes no sense. Going with the motions.

Let me tell you what really brought my behaviour over the last year into focus. Dame Sally Coates. I both loved her and wanted to scream at her whilst reading her book Head Strong – 11 lessons of school Leadership. Someone on twitter recommended it to me and I can’t for the life of me remember who but whoever you are, know that I am wishing so much good for you for bringing this book into my life. In it, Sally (how do you address someone with a Damehood? Do you think she likes being addressed as Dame all the time?) talks about Leading from the front. You may not agree with all of her opinions or practices (Saturday detentions for one) but you cannot doubt her conviction and that she lives according to her values and it was enough to make me reflect on my own. I have the privilege of being mentored by Abby Bayford and her and I have spoken about the role of Values a lot since April. Now in the new academic year with the kids coming back it’s time to really bring mine to the fore. (I’ve also read a lot of Brene Brown over lockdown so I think the mixture of the powerful three Sally, Abby and Brene has now got me going into full confession mode in this blog, don’t blame me blame them!).

During Lockdown and this summer I have spent time really thinking about my values and those I want to demonstrate every day at work and at home. I know people who talk about having a work persona and home persona. I understand that to some extent but it doesn’t sit right with me. I take my whole self to work every day so my values are my values full stop.

So after a lot of self reflection on actions that have made me happy and others that haven’t and working out what is important to me these are the values that I most align with.

Courage – I think it takes courage to be authentic and we are required to be continuously courageous to speak up when something doesn’t sit right with us. I think also as a leader, which everyone is in education, you need courage to reflect and recalibrate and course correct. Courage is what I believe gets us to be hopeful for the future, the courage to dream for our young people is what makes us insist on ensuring they behave the way we know they can and see in them what they themselves cannot yet see, to hold them to a higher standard. It takes courage to be vulnerable so you can experience…

Growth – I’ve heard people talk about reinventing themselves to live a fulfilled life. For me its about growing and revealing more of myself as a leader. Peeling back the armour I have put up, to be more of my authentic self. Which then gives me the space to learn and grow.

Joy – I am eternally optimistic, it’s just in my DNA. I don’t know how not to find a way out of a bad situation and dream. Maybe it’s because my parents were entrepreneurs and immigrants to the UK and hope has kept them eternally moving forward. It was all they had when they faced racism, poverty and despair. I, in my core, like them, believe that my tomorrows will always be better than my todays, that life is abundant in its giving. The alternative to me is too destructive to imagine. I’ve met people who believe in a zero sum game, who believe if someone or some school is getting ahead that this means they are getting behind and I have never seen them prosper. We cannot teach our kids about contributing to future society if we are working from a place from lack. If you are one of those people please stay out of my circle.

So what does living your values mean in the workplace? Well I’m just starting on this journey but the above values have shaped our INSET days and our Teaching and learning and QA processes for the forthcoming year.

Professional Development – I have absolutely refused to introduce anything new this year but worked on taking away and pairing back. Keep the main thing the main thing seems to be my motto right now. I’ve asked teachers to reflect, tweak and really hone in on questioning, modelling and recall. Things they already do. I’ve asked them to come on this courageous journey with me, record themselves, reflect with peers on how they can improve. To become fascinated and obsessed with themselves and their teaching. I’ve also made a promise that I’ll go first and share recordings of myself teaching for open feedback. I’ve asked for courage in the small things. Our professional development programme which requires triads of teachers to work together asks them to be responsible for not only their own growth but that of each others.

Last year we spent a lot of time working on our curriculum plans. To me Joy and curriculum plans go hand in hand. Call me a geek but the joy a well thought through curriculum in History or any other subject brings me is ridiculous. I love hearing about a curriculum journey, how leanring in year 7 is prepping them for bigger questions and reflections in year 9. It is music to me. This year I have asked teachers to overtly share this joy with the kids. We started on this journey last year but our job is not done. I want kids not only to be excited about what they are learning now but what they are going to learn.

I have done away with judgmental QA processes and learning walks. Not one learning walk last year taught me something I didn’t already know. I’ve done away with a PP strategy and combined it into our T&L strategy. There is not one T&L strategy that we are focused on that would not also benefit our PP kids.

These are just some examples of how living from my values has let me to make decisions that I always believed in. I’m excited. I’m nervous, but I’m excited. To some these may seem like small steps but often our actions don’t have to be revolutionary, sometimes its having the passion to not go with the flow that makes them extraordinary.

I’ll be keeping you posted to on how things go.

I would love to build an accountability group. A group of us who come together and hold each other to our values. I honestly believe that sometimes this is harder as a VP then a Head. Because you don’t have the final word and may think the right thing to do is fall in line with the Head’s decisions. This is great if you are completely aligned but I would argue that you are there to be a contrast to your Head to complement them and to help bounce ideas to steer the school forward. Please let me know on @noonetoldmehow if you’d like to join a by monthly zoom conversation.

CPD: Returning to School

This is a collaboration post with Molly @Mimmerr

Some of us are back in school, some of us are still working from home. Regardless, we’d be particularly impressed if you weren’t fed up in some way with working life still being so different. In September, hopefully we will see settings that are reminiscent of the ones we loved before but we will still be teaching and working with staff and children that have lived through a traumatic time. We discuss below effective CPD that might be worth looking into before you return to the classroom, that will help everyone in education in a number of ways: mentally, academically or professionally.

Molly points you in the direction of some CPD on how to support students with anxiety for instance. Unfortunately, for some of our students the los may be more extreme. Below is a course that all staff who are coming in for face to face teaching for our Year 10s this week have completed.

  1. Whole school bereavement counselling

Unfortunately, many schools are likely to have students who have experienced a loved one having either a severe illness (Covid related or not) or even death, Winstons Wish offer a short online course for free to train staff to help children cope with grief. https://www.winstonswish.org/bereavement-training-courses-schools/

In addition to training ourselves on how to support the emotional wellbeing of our students we also need to think about unique challenges likely to be posed in the new academic year as they try to re-engage with their education after the summer which has followed a tumultuous term.

2. Student Motivation – This link leads to a brilliant talk by Caroline Spalding and Peps McGrea called Leveraging the science of motivation to optimise the return to school https://researched.org.uk/sessions/peps-mccrea-caroline-spalding-leveraging-the-science-of-motivation-to-optimise-the-return-to-school/ looks at building motivation and the elements that need to be in place for students to reengage with school. It offers some handy tips as teachers face the task of planning for a return in whatever shape it may take.

Managing your own wellbeing – Despite what you may read on the odd uninformed tweet everyone knows that teachers have been working hard during this time to ensure students are able to access their education online. At this point it is important to stress this is not a ‘working from home’ situation. If it were, your own children would be at school allowing you to focus on your work. Instead this is a ‘doing the best you can whilst at home’ situation. Teachers are working hard to balance their family and work life and the need to manage their own wellbeing is paramount.

3. Your own wellbeing

Hays is offering a ‘Why wellbeing first?’ free online course https://educationtraining.hays.co.uk/wellbeing-first/

Which looks at everything from Remote 101 to prioritisation, using gratitude to feel empowered and managing stress. Some staff may be feeling nervous about returning to the classroom. It always amazes me the nerves that take over after summer no matter how many years you have been in the profession. This year the break from classroom teaching will be longer than normal. This article by Happiful offers some little steps to build your confidence https://happiful.com/how-to-rebuild-confidence-post-lockdown/

Do check out Molly’s blog to find more three more courses that could help.

What I’m telling my staff as we get ready to reopen our school for Year 10s

The school that our staff will enter when they start to come back to teach Year 10s next week will be different to the one they left. There will be procedures in place that will require them to act differently and in cases go against their instinct. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we prepare staff for their return and the best way in which I can make them feel safe, valued and empowered. As I embark on a week of 9 training sessions in total for staff who will be in for the partial reopening for Year 10s I have focused on 4 key areas, Thanks, Compassion, Community and Trust.

Thanks

At the start of the lockdown just before the school closed I asked staff to Trust each and see the good. Trust that everyone was doing the best they can, given their circumstances. It would be nonsensical for us to expect the same from each member of staff I had said, some had young children who would need to be home schooled, others elderly parents who needed to be cared for, others their own health to monitor or that of a partner. But if we could trust that everyone was doing what they could, work would be a lot more pleasant. I can’t stop thanking the staff enough for doing this. They have been nothing but true team players during lockdown. People volunteering to go above and beyond, to pull together and make sure our kids get the best deal in a less than ideal situation. In times of uncertainty, Trust and Teamwork has got us through with a smile on our face and I have seen evidence of that every single day of the lockdown.

Trust

I think this is intertwined in all of the above but all also deserves its very own section. I need staff and students to Trust each and know that everyone is doing their best. If someone breaks protocol it is not because they don’t care but because they have slipped into old ways. I need staff to trust themselves and feel empowered to speak up when something isn’t working, if they feel leadership has got something wrong for instance, so that we can improve things day after day. There is no room for being quietly concerned when it comes to the safety of our staff and students, we must speak up. I have asked them to let me know if they think things can be improved because we are all in this together and must assume responsibility. This is our school and it will take all of us to pull in the right direction to make this work. I have asked staff to Trust that kids are doing their best. There are consequences should they break protocol or be silly but the chances are they are more likely to be absentminded than malicious.

Compassion

Towards staff and students. Things won’t be black and white, some students will have experienced several positives during the lockdown, more time with parents taking long walks, reading and watching things beyond the curriculum, time with siblings to play. Others, unfortunately may have experienced emotional neglect, loneliness and poor mental health. None of it will be black and white. Similarly, staff will have had different experiences of lockdown. We will need to be compassionate towards each other as we navigate the next few weeks, understanding that if a child or even member of staff acts out they may well be expressing something that has built up inside them for the past 10 weeks. We have spoken about language and its power. We may not be able to reach out to people by putting a reassuring hand on their shoulder but we can reach them with language and our voices. We have spoken about the use of language and showing compassion in the classroom. We will be celebrating how hard students have worked during lockdown and before, that we have time to complete their GCSE, that they are taught by professionals and that we will figure out how to complete the course on time. Nothing is lost and the number one priority is there welfare. We will figure this out. That they have done us proud.

Community

I honestly believe that in many cases this epidemic has bought communities together, whether that has meant people volunteering, doing the food shop for their neighbours or giving people you know live alone a phonecall. I really have seen the best of humankind in many cases. As we embark on a new journey, community is paramount. It is a sense of community that will make us behave in a way that doesn’t endanger others, by wiping down surfaces used, limiting the number of rooms we visit, ensuring we follow health and safety protocols that don’t seem natural but are necessary for our community to thrive.

So it it with this in mind that I hope to move forward with the support of our amazing staff and students over the forthcoming weeks. I simply can’t wait to stand at those front gates and greet every child next week and watch the Trust, Compassion and sense of Community unfold in my school.

Big moves to get you ready for the next step in your career

Recently I asked Twitter for help once again (seriously it’s the gift that keeps giving!) I’ve been reading a book by Brendan Burchard called High Performance Habits. The section on Performance and Productivity caught my eye, as I imagine it would most people’s in education with the scarcity of time and an ever growing to do list. In it he discusses Productive Quality Output and focusing on the actions that will have the biggest impact. In fact, he asks the reader to focus on 5 areas in which they want to make moves to grow.

So when it came to deciding my 5 I asked for help, on twitter and of course it delivered. As a Vice Principal I often cover all bases, pastoral administrative, T&L it doesn’t matter if it needs to get done it needs to get done.  But at the same time I can feel lost due to lack of focus. It serves me well but also stops me from developing a deep knowledge of areas I know I need to develop in. I work with a Head who is my direct opposite, as a result we can end up focusing on tasks that come to us naturally. I handle all things people, he handles timetables and finance. As someone who came into teaching late and worked in the commercial sector I’m not shy of handling budgets but school budgets seem to be a different beast.

So, I reached out to the Heads on twitter for their advice on the 5 things they did to prep them for headship to help me get a little focus next year. Below is a list of their feedback and also my own thoughts of how I might go about this.

Thank you to the wonderful Mark Chatley, David Ellison, Alienwife, Dr Heery, Raphael Moss, Baritonedeaf, Simmscoaching, EducatingNotts, Jack Newton, Teacher Paul, Community Head, Steve Palmer, Richard Preece and Reynolds3Simon for their feedback and guidance.

VALUES

This was overwhelmingly the common thread in most of the answers. Decide what values you want your leadership to be based on. At first I thought I had to pick three from a large list but truth be told I only operate from my values and express them without even knowing. Mine are:

Integrity – I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something I would not do or have a go at, I ensure I speak the truth and if I don’t know something I confess pretty quickly.

Growth– The thing I love about education the most is it is a great big adventure, the environment is always changing (ain’t that the truth at the moment!) new challenges are presenting themselves and we learn more about ourselves every minute. Adventure to me means fun and I embrace it with enthusiasm. To me school from any angle is about growth. Growing knowledge, skills, opportunities, community, this value just resonates with me.

Contribution – To me this means giving the best of yourself at every given moment. It’s what I expect from myself, my staff and students. I’m also not great in meetings with people who can only see the problems, although I’m working on being more patient.

What are you values? To answer this think about the values you operate from every day. It was good to ask myself this question and think about it during a long walk.

How does this translate to a school and the development to Headship? I believe if you use your values as an anchor you’ll make decisions in line with them and as a result be an authentic leader. You’re probably already doing it.

School budgets

Apparently, you can never have enough budget experience! I know I need to get myself into budget meetings. As part of a MAT many of the decisions are made centrally but this is something I’ll be asking to be part of as soon as we return. On another note @secretHT1 published a great blog as an intro to school budgets which you can find here.

Network

Another great peace of advice. I recently spoke to some great colleagues about the problems with echo chambers, particularly if you are in a large Trust. It is healthy to hear different views and purposely speak (or tweet) with people who may not agree with you. Raphael mentioned the NPQH in particular as an opportunity to look beyond your school or Trust. I recently spoke to a colleague who suggested that all those on the NPQH do their second project on a Trust school (luckily he is not in my cohort ;)). Although well-meaning I think this is really dangerous and one way in which schools/Trust can become too inward facing. Other places to network are on Twitter (thoroughly recommend joining the #teacher5oclockclub if you can get up early enough #TinyVoiceTuesdayUnites and #FFBWednesday to name a few). Actively seek opinions. A few years ago I also made an active decision to read outside of education and outside of the UK to give myself some perspective.

My next steps are to work with the wonderful Network of people I have found on Twitter to discuss, debate and share as much as I can. Oh, and make sure I do my NPQH project outside of the Trust!

The theory here is to make sure you understand as many different school settings as you can so when you are a Head things don’t take you by surprise or you have different perspectives on tackling a problem.

Get coached/learn from Heads

This took a few different forms. Some people swore by coaching others said they had great Heads who modelled good Leadership for them or bad ones who showed them what not to become. I think all of the above are useful. Taking the time to reflect is critical. I’ve naturally always done a SWOT analysis of a school when I have left trying to be as objective as possible about the school to help me decipher what has and hasn’t worked I suppose to one day get clearer about the school I would like to run. Simms Coaching also recommended listening to podcasts to learn from as many different ideas as possible.

Know your own strengths and weaknesses

Thanks to Mark Chatley for this one! I’ve been thinking about this during lockdown. I’ve taken the Curriculum route into leadership but this year have immersed myself into Pastoral side also. When I joined my current school as VP for T&L and curriculum we had four months until the other VP joined who led on Pastoral and Behavior so I took the opportunity to throw myself into that role before he arrived. It was difficult but it taught me a lot and got me interested in developing school culture.

It’s important to be clear with your Manager or Head about your weaknesses and ask to be developed in those areas. Ask to buddy someone if you have to. I know for myself I haven’t touched timetabling yet and have bought this up so I know it’s coming my way.

Get out there!

I can remember the wise words of a mentor I had during a middle leaders course I completed 5 years ago. She was the Head of a Primary and she said “The biggest problem Headteachers have is not enough people putting their hand up to take care of stuff they need to get done. Do that and you’ll go far.” That advice has never failed me. Although I would recommend you only take it on if you think you can do it or at least give it a proper effort rather than overwhelm yourself.

But after all is said and done it is the advice of David Ellison that I’m left with.

You can never be ready enough so at some point you’ve just gotta dive in! Good luck!

I’d love to hear what steps you have taken to develop to the next step in your career. Let me know.

Transition – We do what we can do and we keep doing that

Transition is on everyone’s mind as we creep towards the end of the academic year without knowing what it will look like. Whether this be for those starting Primary school, Secondary or indeed A Level. Below I’ve focused on transition from Year 6 into Year 7.

Many of the decision around transition, I believe, just can’t be made just yet (you’ll see what I mean towards the end of this blog), until we have more clarity around what return to school will look like. However I think using the blog from Ben Brown @EdRoundtables to make sure that the key areas he describes are at the forefront of your mind is beneficial. I’ve certainly used it to organize my thoughts below.

The ideas below are just decisions we as a Secondary school have decided to make. I don’t believe there are right or wrong answers to the questions transition in these times poses, so please take from it what you please and ignore the rest.

The need to ensure that our children feel comfortable in their new environment is so important to ensure they have a happy start to their educational journey with us. Below are just a few things we have done to ensure this happens despite the current circumstances, but this is an ever evolving process and I’m blown away with the attitude of our transition managers who are being incredibly creative in solving this problem.

Communication with new students and parents at home

Welcome evening – we have taken this online using Teams, recording the Head, Head of Year 7, transition manager and other key personnel such as SENCO and PP lead to talk about the provision and support available and how excited we are about having them at our school.

Mini tour of our site – when we had our Open day some of our buildings were under construction and are just being finished off as we speak. Thanks to the lovely site managers we managed to do a video tour of these new buildings which were recorded on an Iphone and edited using iMovie so students could get a feel for the site as it has changed somewhat. We’ve also used this opportunity to reinforce our values mentioning them throughout the video.

In addition to the above we have also considered, depending on government guidelines, offering tours to students with Special Education Needs who really struggle with change. This would be on a 121 basis but we’re conscious that they have extra challenges when it comes to changing school.

Weekly emails and tutor videos – Our Year 7 tutors have been great about recording at home a short video to talk about why they love being at the school and how they can’t wait to meet their tutees. A different tutor video is released every week to parents so they get to know staff.

Transition booklet – the above is accompanied with a transition booklet which gives our future students quizzes and questions for which they must collect answers from the videos to complete the booklet. For instance, what book does Mr Harrison like to read every year? etc.. This ensures students and parents watch the videos and engage. We have also left spaces in the booklet for students to include information about themselves that their tutors can read when they arrive.

Using social media – Weekly questions such as Word of the Week and Maths brainteasers are put out on our twitter account to engage students. It’s been nice to see that some parents of our future year 7s have started a twitter account to take part with their child!

Forms – such as registration and friendship forms have been taken online in order to collect key data and put into our school systems. There is every chance we will need to print and get the parents to check this when schools return to whatever our new ‘normal’ will look like.

Communication with schools

Groupings – Our primaries have been wonderful in relaying information and have helped us decide tutor groupings and highlighted to us any areas of concern or additional need.  Year 6 teachers have been incredible in being available on zoom to discuss transition and also preparation for secondary school.

Key knowledge and skills gaps. Currently plans for testing are not being looked at. The focus has been on material that our Year 6 teachers think is critical and what the plan of action will be if they cannot deliver it. This has probably been the most challenging aspect of transition and a challenge I think that can only be dealt with by establishing good relationships with the primaries. Obviously, this will be easier if your Year 7 cohort comes from a smaller group of primaries than larger however, I think the insight from whichever primaries you can work with will be invaluable.

  • What do they wish they had time to cover with the kids which they might not get to now?
  • Why is it important?
  • What difference does it make to the kids?

I will illustrate this with an example: In the preparation for the SATS Year 6 students do a lot of work on literacy, for example Inference. We know in secondary school Inference is important in history when looking at evidence and English, not to mention many other subjects. So, we need to build in time in secondary to cover this to make sure our students can access the secondary curriculum.

Uniform

At the moment the line is you can order online and exchange if the fit isn’t right when the students start. At SLT we have discussed the need to relax expectations/sanctions around uniform. This is not ideal especially as we want the students to have clarity around expectations but I don’t think this is a decision we will make till the end.

The start of the year

The calendar has been a nightmare! Do we plan the usual one day for Year 7s to be in as the only year group? Can we afford to have the Year 10s out any longer and should they be in from day 1? Again, another decision we will leave for as long as possible or until we have more clarity about schools returning.

I hope the above is useful. I hope it makes you realise none of us have all the answers. I hope it makes you feel part of a community of professionals who are trying their best for our children.

Work Life Balance, Thinking Time and Lessons Learnt from Lockdown

As I sit here waiting for Boris Johnsons announcement on Sunday night I take a moment to reflect on what Lockdown has taught me. I mean it may all be over tomorrow, unlikely but the possibility is there that the PM will spring it on us that we are all due to go back into schools and well, just cope. This isn’t a blog about the announcement, its merits and drawback. This is a blog about what lockdown has taught me as a senior leader.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve worked my way up to VP my life is always divided into three and very rarely do they get an equal share. The three parts are:

Teaching and learning – whether that be me teaching, observing other teachers, having discussions about curriculum or organising and delivering CPD.

Business, behaviour and admin – The school calendar, on call, phone calls, meetings about business issues or logistics

Personal development and Family – My own development and time with family and friends

I’m not proud of it but the last one probably gets the least attention when I’m half way through a term and I think many people will agree.

But this time in lockdown has taught me so many things. I can certainly say it hasn’t been a period of slowing down but certainly given me many more periods of reflection.

These are things I have learnt and hope to take forward when we do return to ‘normal’ whatever that may look like.

Work

I produce better work when I have had time to mull it over. Therefore, I must build time to throw ideas around in my head. During lockdown this has been somewhat easier as I am not being dragged to the next ‘emergency’ which often finds itself not being an ‘emergency.’ I’ve actually blocked out time before a meeting to think about how I feel about the area for discussion or built in time to do something else before I write a paper. And the end result of all of this? I am producing better work. How do I apply this when I get back? A quick walk around the site? Moving myself to an empty classroom to work things out in my head? Locking myself in the loos? I don’t know, but I know I have to build it in.

I love people. I didn’t know I was a hugger until this point but I miss a hug. I love people, they fascinate me, my staff my students. I hate to admit it but I have probably had more face to face time with people than I would at school. I have had in depth, hilarious and fascinating conversations with all of my middle leaders, some of them one and a half hours long as we discuss our dreams for education and the school. When this is over I have vowed to spend more time in the staff room or in departments because that’s where the beating heart of our school is. This may sound obvious but ask anyone one in SLT and they’ll tell you this doesn’t always happen.

I have to get braver at pushing back on deadlines. I have had to do this a lot more as on some days I can have Zoom meetings back to back therefore expecting me to produce something in between them is impossible therefore, I have to block out time for writing and be proactive in deciding when work will be completed and sent. Many of the times I’ve found deadlines can be moved. If you produce good work people will be amenable to waiting 24 hours for it. This became really clear as I was reading Brendan Burchards’ High Performance Habits. In it he encourages people to control their time by really testing if deadlines are deadline.

I need to block my time out first. As people have been booking in meetings online a lot more I have started blocking out things I want to do in my diary on a Sunday. It might be a walk, thinking time or just time to read an article. This means when someone tries to schedule time with me they can see I’m busy and can work around those times. I even block out time for a cup of tea in the garden right now to get away from the screen. In the future this might be blocks of time for a chat with a colleague to get a different perspective or a walk around site.

Home/Personal

I’m a nicer person when I’m not reactive! My husband’s noticed it, my niece has noticed it. When I’m setting my week up and not just producing to meet other people’s deadlines and have built in some down time, I’m a better person! No surprises there. But it’s made me think more about transition times when I change from one activity to another. When I drive home do I take that time to wind down or make work calls? The former would be better. When I go into a meeting do I carry the thoughts and stress of the previous activity or take a few minutes to think positively about the meeting I’m going into? This might sound a bit woo woo but I think entering situations with a fresher mind can only be a good thing right?

I can use the phone well. I hate using the phone. I don’t have long conversations with friends and I’d rather just meet face to face. But the lockdown has forced me to use the phone well. Face time quizzes and chats have become the new norm and are great. I’m going to prefer face to face chats when I can have them but face time won’t be such a bad alternative if not.

Obligations. I’ve spoken to a lot of people and they have highlighted this one. How much of the stuff do we do out of obligation and because we don’t want to say no. Whether it’s fear of missing out or looking like a bad person it’s easy for things to creep into our diary due to this. Be on guard. I’ve certainly listed a few things I’m going to be doing less of.

I think the single most important thing has been thinking space. This period has given me thinking space and I’ve learnt that at work that can’t happen by accident, it has to be built into my week. It may be at the end of each day but I have to give myself some time to be, feel what I’m feeling and process.

So there you have it a few ponderings about work and life and lessons learnt from lockdown. Will I be able to stick with them all when life returns back to it’s chaotic madness in school? Of course not, but at least I’ll know its possible and there is a better way of working and living. So maybe I’ll try a little harder to have a work life balance.

What does success look like for a teacher who wants to remain in the classroom?

In our profession what does success for a teacher look like? I’m talking about career progression. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I joined leadership to be honest. To be really honest I’ve been thinking about it every time I’ve had a bad day in leadership. Every time I have felt too removed from the classroom and too overwhelmed by the constant barrage of problems those in SLT face.

During my PGCE year we were asked this question and the 7 of us round the table with our seminar leader agreed that short term success was being an excellent practitioner and long term success was headship. 8 years on and 3 have left the profession, 1 has become a middle leader, 1 has tried to avoid leadership altogether, one has moved abroad to teach in an international school and 2 of us are in leadership and our ideas of professional success have changed dramatically.

For many years professional success has meant teachers develop through the following stages (they may skip one or two levels depending on the size of the school):

This very rigid structure doesn’t leave much room for the professional who wants to remain in the classroom and doesn’t want to join SLT or become a manager. It assumes that all teachers will eventually be managers. Experience has taught me that is not the case. Either because teachers don’t want to go into management and occasionally because the best teachers don’t always make great managers. On occasion I have seen how trying to develop teachers into managers make them nothing short of miserable.  

As we see growth in the number of Academy Trusts we are seeing more positions develop for those who want to remain steeped in their subject, for instance becoming Directors. However this is often the case for core subject areas such as English and Maths. Some choose to specialise in a particular skill such as data but again positions are limited and require the member of staff to upskill in a completely different area than teaching which is where many of the most passionate teachers want to remain.

So how do we offer them a sense of development? Particularly for those teachers who want to be exceptional in the classroom and do not want additional responsibility that takes them away from the reason they joined the profession in the first place? How do we reward and create a sense of achievement and progression for our most valuable members of staff without taking them out of the classroom?

Of course I posed this questions to the great teaching community on Twitter and was amazed by the discussion it prompted. I heard of great examples of schools getting creative, listening to teacher passions and looking at how these can be developed. Some are offering Lead practitioner status, development in Lego therapy, teaching those with autism or dyspraxia and getting involved in teacher development. However, there was overwhelming feedback that this is something that needs to be looked at or explored further in schools, as the traditional route highlighted above still seems to be the norm and the expectation in many schools.

I wonder whether we should be moving towards a system like that of the universities where subject specialists are employed as Readers, senior teachers etc.. shown below. I know this is somewhat reflected in where they are on the pay scale however do we recognise it in their title?

An exploration of alternative jobs would need exploration of really clear expectations. For instance what would the expectations of a Reader in History look like? How much research would they be expected to engage in? Would they be expected to network beyond the school/trust. Would they be asked to research within the school/trust into teaching methods for that subject? Would the school expect them publish either on a school/trust blog or in publications such as Impact? How much time will they be allowed to do this?

And therein lies the rub. If we want to create more opportunities for teachers to develop in the classroom we have to be clear about what the expectations are of them and be willing to give them time to complete them. Time means money and schools are already struggling in many cases to manage budgets that are tight. I have no doubt that a role such as the above would add value to a school, bring a sense of pride to a department and the teacher carrying it out. Recognise a professional who loves being in the classroom. They could then upskill others with their findings. But it requires schools to get creative with their budgets.

I do believe it can be done. Many a time I have joined a school where staff have fallen into their TLR role as requested by a member of leadership many years ago but have now lost their way with no clear targets or sense of direction. I think they could be reinvigorated with clear research roles or areas of development to help the most vulnerable. In order for this to work and for us to ensure that teachers who want to remain in the classroom feel a sense of achievement, we must collaborate with them to create a new journey through their profession that doesn’t always lead to Senior Leadership. Exactly how we do this will depend on finance, timetabling and the conversations with the individual teachers. But if we want to champion our most valuable assets I think it must be explored.

Teaching and Learning in schools when lockdown is over

As someone who oversees Teaching and Learning at work, I have been thinking a lot about what to do once kids return back to school. I can’t wait to have them back and miss my pupils dearly, but also know that school closure during this time of year will pose a series of challenges. I know it’s difficult to predict when the lockdown will end but rumours of schools opening up again are popping up in the media and it’s something that requires thought.

Next week I will be holding a Microsoft Teams meeting with my wonderful Middle Leaders (again, who I miss very much!) about how we get ready for those challenges.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I may suggest, I’ve read blogs, asked the wonderful folks on twitter and looked for inspiration. The realisation I have come to is although the situation is unique we don’t actually need to do anything new. I’m a big advocate for embedding things well rather than jumping from one strategy to the other so here’s the advice I’ll be providing my Middle Leaders next week

Challenges per year groups:

We need to accept to that the challenges per year group will vary. For example, depending on when we reopen, Year 6s orthe new Year 7s for Secondary schools will not have been prepped for their SATs. This final push often makes students more confident with reading comprehension and Maths. As a secondary Vice Principal I will be reaching out to the Primary schools in our area to see what we can do to make this transition smoother as it will impact subjects such as Maths and English but also History where we ask students to make inferences and arguments.

For year 10 the challenge will be covering the content in time for the GCSE. The kindest thing the exam boards could do is allow students to pick option questions in the final exam paper, so if they have not covered a topic at the end of year 10 because of the closure they can focus on the others, but I’ve not heard any whispers of this happening therefore we may just need to plough through the content as quick as possible.

Teachers need to ensure they are familiar with these nuances and the challenges to each year group so that where possible they can address these issues. On that note, we need to recognise that all students will be out of school routines, so this will be a big push for us when we get back.

Its’ not all bad

I’m also not a big one for doom and gloom. Yes we will face challenges and yes the chances are that those from the most deprived homes will have a very different experience from others. However, we have to recognise that it will be a mixed picture. Yes kids will have been out of a routine and engaged to different levels with home learning materials but they are also likely to be rested, have possibly watched a documentary on TV that can be explored, read beyond the syllabus, gone for walks and we have to make the most of that and explore it. Many of our children will be excited about learning with staff again and crave routine and structure (even if they don’t admit it) so a return to school will be exciting for them. Again we have to make the most of that.

Lots of low stakes testing

Kids will be nervous, we know they have an acute understanding of how they are performing compared to their peers and what I don’t want is for the kids to come back to a barrage of tests. We know a child who has had limited access to home learning will be nervous returning to the classroom. I have asked my teachers to be mindful of language when completing low stakes testing. For example, rather than saying ‘let’s see what you’ve learnt’, saying ‘seeing as we haven’t done as much online learning before let’s see what the resources taught you and then we can fill in the gaps’ or ‘lets see what you thought of the resources and what I need to add to them to make things stick by doing a quick question round.’ This takes the pressure off and opens the classroom up for exploring where the gaps in knowledge have occurred.

If you’re anything like me I can get into a rut where I like certain activities and do them repeatedly. In the Middle Leaders session next week me and the HODs will be exploring different ways of completing low stakes testing such as Do it now tasks, Connect 3 (where students have to get across a noughts and crosses style grid by answering three Qs with varying levels of difficulty), Quizzes and others to ensure students don’t come back to a diet of 10 Multiple Choice tests every lesson.

Keep using the tech

I’m not sure about you but we have not used the technology we are currently using during lock down so rigorously. I will be urging staff to continue doing so in order to fill gaps in knowledge. This may be by uploading materials to enhance knowledge based on needs identified in class or by setting the quizzes online as homework to then pitch lessons appropriately. On the plus side even the most tech nervous of my teachers are now embracing the systems we have set up so students can expect consistency in approach (like I said silver lining and all that!)

Teach to the top

We must continue to be aspirational for our young people. I really believe this. I honestly believe our children are resilient and will thrive at the other end of this with the right attitude and support. In this paper Hattie argues that school closures will have a relatively minimal impact, but the real impact will come from home resources.  As teachers we know this.

To me this requires teaching to the top and ensuring we have careful scaffolding for our children. What do I mean by teaching to the top? Ensuring students have the same stimulus but adapting the way they may approach it. Some of the strategies we already use in school but will become ever more important are:

Posing a big question at the start of the lesson that helps tie some disparate parts of the content together. A challenging question that you keep coming back to and which students feel they have chipped away at together throughout it.

Best of three (particularly for year 10 if we need to get through content swiftly but want to develop deep understanding). This is where three sample answers to a big question are given to students (grade 9/5/3 for example) and depending on their confidence with the topic they are asked to discuss the pros and cons of one of them and then as a group compare the answers.

Role reversal asking students to explain elements of the content being covered to quickly understand their level of comprehension through a series of follow up questions.

The two things that tie all of these strategies are cold calling and strong knowledge organisers. These help us gauge where students are at in their learning. I think these will be incredibly powerful tools when we return.

You will notice none of these techniques are new or revolutionary, none of them require me to retrain staff, but I think they need to be done incredibly well and need focus when our students return. I believe that the work teachers do day in day out with students is incredible and that we must continue to do these well rather than adopt a range of new strategies out of fear.

The School we return to

The school we return to will be different post COVID-19 and it’s up to all of us to ensure it’s for the better.

Isolation has given me some rare opportunities to stare out of the window and wonder. Wonder what school will be like when we return. Wonder what I want to return back to. How will COVID-19 impact the culture of the school? And what culture do we need to adopt in order to nurture our students going forward.

When googling ‘school culture’ I was quite surprised to see that a lot of the definitions related it to the culture among staff, rather than students. Having worked at 5 schools I can honestly say not in a single one did the student and staff culture not mirror each other exactly. Test it yourself, what is your school culture? Is it only demonstrated by your staff or also by your students?

One of the definitions I loved most is by Anthony Muhammed where he defines school culture as ‘the environment needed to cultivate the characteristics necessary for student growth and learning.’ I would add to this to include not only student growth but staff too.

I recently tweeted (@secretVP ) asking people to share their thoughts about school culture. It’s beautiful so see the steps heads have taken to develop a strong and positive school culture. The beauty of the twitter community came to the fore as colleagues recommended peoples blogs or even schools where they had witnessed a wonderful culture.* Yet, however positive the cultural norm at our schools we will return back to a slightly different landscape and one we have not faced before. So here are the key tenants of the school I want to return back and build.

Being kind and showing value

I hope with every core of my being that we all come out of this experience as more kind.

Being kind means that we value the other, and to me that is golden. Being kind means we take responsibility for our behavior because at every stage we have the option to be anything less than kind. Showing kindness means showing power. A kind act in the right place changes the course of actions to come.

What does this look like in practice when we get back to school?

For staff

I hope every senior leader in the country takes the time to commend their staff and how they have embraced the challenge of COVID-19. I know in our school we found ourselves changing from a face to face institution to one entirely online within three days. This is no small feat and it certainly isn’t possible without staff buy in.

I can’t wait to get back and tell staff how incredibly proud I am to be part of a staff body that has embraced change when it mattered the most, that have adapted in difficult circumstances. That have shown kindness towards each other covering each other on the face to face rota system when we needed to get things done.

This is why I find it both shocking and embarrassing when I hear stories of leaders asking their staff to fill in time sheets or all staff to come into school so numbers of teacher outweigh that of students because I believe kindness will get you so much further ahead than the desire to control will. It’s how we show our staff we value them. At the school I am currently at we have operated a completely voluntary system of face to face provision and not one person has let us down.

And here’s the thing about kindness, you don’t get to do it part time. You don’t get to be kind to a few, show them how valuable they are and call yourself kind. I’ve seen many leaders have favourites over the years and I’m sure I have subconsciously had some myself. But being kind is not an opt in opt out choice and I hope when we get back we reach out to the quieter ones, even the disengaged.

One of my favorite activities at school has become the Fuddle. Every Friday before a half term we now have a fuddle. Food has been a big part of my life. My mother is an incredible cook and to share food is to say I want to sit with you and talk about what’s on your mind because I value you. Further, staff show how much they value each other by cooking for each other. It also gives us an excuse to eat cupcakes for breakfast 😉 I hope to be having a lot more of those soon.

Every teaching member of staff I know is short on time. To give your time is the greatest gift in education. And I hope as our staff return, with stories of what they have experienced during this lockdown, we take the time to be kind, to listen and to show how much they mean to us.

For our students

This is going to be incredibly important. Many people have already spoken about the need to support students who may have lost someone during this time or experienced trauma whilst away from school.

On a more subtle level we know that students’ access and engagement to online resources will vary. We know some will have engaged more than others. We know some will have grasped more than others. And as teaching professionals not only is it important to show kindness to those students who will undoubtedly be left behind but also foster a climate of kindness in our classrooms so that we can support those struggling. I know that many of my higher ability students can sometimes be quite impatient with those who are struggling to grasp a concept and although I need to make sure I am planning for them when we return I also need to ensure they are kind to their peers.

How do we show our children kindness and that they are valued when they return? I hope that we take a moment not to ask our kids how much they got done but how they were kind to those who needed it. Whether it be by face timing their grandparents because they couldn’t visit, babysitting siblings, baking cakes etc..

Resilience

When we get back we will be in unchartered territory and will need resilience to get us through. We have all shown resilience in bucket loads recently but I think this is something that will be tested once again when we get back to school. We will find ourselves in a situation where we are in front of children who have not been in a school routine for possibly 4 months. This is not only likely to test the resilience of teachers but also our students.

For the teachers, getting students back into school habits is likely to be a challenge, we will need to be resilient as we figure out ways to ensure that all of our kids, with various levels of engagement with home learning are on the same page. We will need to be resilient as we battle with the challenges of teaching the national curriculum on what is less time in the classroom.

I breath a sigh of relief that I have built a culture of honesty in middle leaders meetings over the past year, where we not only share our successes but our failures and ask each other for help, because middle leaders will need to be collaborative in their approach to bridge the learning gap and resilient as they figure out their approach to each year group.

Students too will be required to be resilient. How do we build the resilience of the child who knows they haven’t been able to access the work at home, either because they just didn’t get it without you there, were babysitting siblings or any other reason? I have spent the past year trying to get rid of the fear my students feel when it comes to any form of testing and I know that a big part of our return will need to be lots of low stakes testing to see how much they remember, know etc… I know this work will need to continue as we move forward.

Reestablishing routines is another challenge staff will face. Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding) speaks extensively about this and building in quick wins to motivate students to want to follow those routines. This links to the social ties we have built with our students and how they will need to be reestablished once we return. The trust we built with those difficult to reach students will be tested or need to be reestablished.

Some students will have been resilient in ways we can’t imagine and we will be expecting more of that in the classroom. Therefore, we need to take the time to think about how we will celebrate their first day/lesson back? What will we want to reiterate, establish and celebrate? I can’t wait to tell them how much I have missed them and how I can’t wait to get back on the journey of exploring history with them.

Honesty and open mindedness

A common saying I use with my students is ‘Let’s reach for the stars at the very worse we might hit the ceiling.’ I want my students to know they are limitless. But the other part of the coin is being exceptionally brave and honest about where they currently are.

For staff this means admitting that we are facing new circumstances, not one of us has all the answers but collectively we will have suggestions we can test. What we can’t do is get tied down to any of these ideas at the risk of seeing what works.

Honesty to admit when we are stuck, losing some students or just plain tired and the open mindedness to try something different will be paramount in our ability to adapt to the new landscape we return to. Senior Leaders should encourage it, model it and nurture it.

With students I intend to get inquisitive and try and take the pressure off. Rather than say ‘I wonder how much you learnt’ I will be asking them to let me know how effective the online resources were at teaching them X and checking that. Taking the pressure off of them and allowing them to be honest about how much they do or do not know/remember. Again, the wonderful Caroline Spalding talks about the effectiveness of self-testing here to remove embarrassment and give students a quick review of how they are doing so they can move forward.

Needless to say there will be a whole host of other skills teachers will soon be asked to pull on but we only have to look online at twitter for a few seconds to the level of commitment this group of wonderful individuals has demonstrated over the past few weeks and there is no doubt they are up for the challenge.

*a particular shout out to Chris Foley @HT_StMonicas and Mark Chatley @MrMChatley

The 10% Braver Multiplier Effect

Just over a year ago I went to my first WomenEd Unconference. I was nervous, I knew no one in the community and I didn’t quite know what I was doing there, going for, or looking for. I met a wonderful community of women and men who were just interested in the female perspective. But the one message that stood out above all else was the call to all attending or viewing online to be 10% Braver.

I carried that message home with me and rather than looking at all the things I wanted to do, I took the decision to spend some time thinking about where I had not been showing up. I have climbed up the career ladder in education fairly quickly so to speak, and deep down I know I thought I didn’t deserve to be there, in the Leadership meetings, presenting at Board level, none of it. Deep down I believed I hadn’t earned the stripes so therefore didn’t speak up in an authentic way, scared to be found out or busted. Not immediately, but eventually I worked on myself to ensure I did show up to work as my authentic self this meant I wouldn’t tolerate the bullying that sometimes went on in leadership meetings no matter how subtle, that I would entertain alternative points of view even if they were ridiculed because to entertain them, that was what mattered. To weigh up the credibility of ideas not natural to us is what makes us rational humans. I had frank conversations with my managers about what I needed and what I felt was missing to take the school to a better place.

Eventually I left my place of work and was brave enough to apply for a promotion at a new school as a Vice Principal and got it. But this isn’t about my successes through being brave but what it has allowed me to pass on. Because by showing up, whole, flaws and all, I have allowed others to do the same including, and I believe most importantly, my students.

This is why I thought it was important to tell them I was going for a VP interview before I did, no matter what the outcome. That one act meant I had a Year 13 student knock on my door with the usual prologue that women use before they dare ‘I know this is stupid but….’ She was entertaining the idea of applying for an apprenticeship at Google something she thought was completely out of her reach. I encouraged her to go ahead anyway. Do it anyway. Dream it anyway. I’m am pleased to say she is in London right now as a Google Apprentice.

One of my favourite acts of courage by my class was with a Year 13 group as we approached their final exams. I asked them all to be honest and share a concept /model or word they didn’t still didn’t understand. As a result, one of my students said he had heard the term ‘Vice Versa’ throughout his education but had never known what the teachers meant. I’m proud to say that we all whooped for his bravery and I explained it to him. This led to other brave acts in the classroom. Quiet students making goodbye speeches at the end of the year in our final lesson. Students pushing to have their work shared with and critiqued by others in class.

Being braver (and reading a lot of books, thank you Brene Brown and Chase Jarvis!) has allowed me to encourage others to be brave too. Writing a blog has allowed me to encourage students with particular interests to start their own YouTube channels and not hide their light. Prepping for my book has allowed me to encourage my niece to pursue her dream as a writer.

I am by no means insinuating that I deserve any credit for the brave acts of the lovely young people I work with. What I am saying is courage breeds courage. Whether we want to accept the mantel or not, we are role models for our students. Our brave selves give them the courage to shine in all their glory also.

And the more whole and gutsy women and men we have, the better I say.