Representation, Inclusion and our new Podcast ‘School meets world’

4 years old was when I asked my teacher for a ‘kenchi’ (scissors) at nursery unable to think of what the English word was. I ran home at the end of the school day to ask my older brother and cried with embrassment.

6, is how old I was when I moved to a school in a predominantly white neighbourhood and realised I was different.

12, was the first time I heard someone hurl racist abuse at my mum and dad and watched them put their head down and walk away quickly to avoid confrontation.

14, is when I scribbled on the back of my history book, ‘where are all the women and brown people?’ I don’t think anyone ever saw it.

16, is how old I was when a man shouted in my face saying, that he didn’t want to be served by a p**i in the jewellery store I was working in.

18, is when I realised my background gave me a significant handicap in the degree I had chosen and I had to do something about it.

20, is how old I was when I watched a mainstream British movie that had a cast that looked like me and my family.

28, was the first time I saw a successful Indian woman in academia and was able to begin to imagine what my life could look like.

29, is when I started seeing my ethnicity as my superpower. My background and culture gave me a unique understanding of the world around me and I was grateful for that.

30, when I realised that without knowing it I was setting an example for young Indian girls in the schools I was teaching. 

This month on our podcast, School Meets World, Karl C Pupe talk about Race, Representation and Inclusion. So as you can imagine it got me thinking about the role these things have played in my life. 

Honestly speaking for much of my younger life I just wanted to be white and for life to be smoother. But now in my 30s I believe my ethnicity and background of having immigrant parents who settled in the UK, is my superpower. It’s this background that made me make the most of my education because my mum didn’t get to step foot in a school because of her gender. It’s this background that has permanently planted a little voice in my head every time I doubt myself that says ‘Come on Roma you’re parents came here with nothing and built a life for themselves you can publish a podcast/write a book’ or whatever other task I am talking myself out of!  It’s the quiet knowledge of knowing everything I do needs to move the needle forward for anyone who comes after me, whether that be my nieces, students or anyone else for that matter.

I didn’t understand the value of representation until I met a woman who was a complete Powerhouse and my manager in a job I was doing to tie me over until I started my PGCE. Looking back she was the first strong Indian woman I had seen absolutely smash expectations in her job and have a great family life. She helped me visualise a future I didn’t even know I was looking for. It’s funny because at the time I didn’t realise it and it’s only in hindsight that I see she had broadened my parameters. And that’s what representation does. It broadens the way people see themselves, what their future could look like. 

In this episode we talk about the value of representation in school and what we need to do in order to be more inclusive and allow our staff to feel more comfortable to speak up and feel counted. We have the privilege of being joined by Adrian McLean who eloquently demonstrates that if we want our young people to feel counted, confident and heard we have to start with our staff. He encourages us to check our biases be self reflective and honest. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you take some time to reflect and I hope you carry forward its message in the new academic year.

You can find our Podcast on Apple podcasts and Spotify or here

Does the current school system allow us to solve complicated problems?

Deep work is the ability to focus, without distraction, on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.“

When talking about Deep Work in this blog I’ll be referring to the above definition by Cal Newport as mentioned in his wonderful book of the same name. 

Honestly, I was sceptical about his book when it first came out. ‘He’s obviously never worked in a school’ was my immediate reaction. But during this challenging year when we have gone from one teams meeting to another, I have had to start questioning whether there is a better way to organise and use time whilst at school. My first thoughts around this came when the PISA 2012 report was published and then, when a few years later a colleague had got funding to see how maths was taught in China. Both the report and feedback from the visit mentioned the critical role of co-planning and thinking time for teachers as a key element in enabling effective classroom delivery.

Why is it necessary in schools?

Schools are often reaction zones, overseeing hundreds if not 1000s of student needs a day.  Safeguarding concerns can’t wait, poor behaviour in the classroom must be dealt with immediately rather than allowing it to affect others etc..

However, education is not short of big challenging questions!  

  • How do we equip students for a workplace that is consistently shifting?
  • How do we close attainment gaps between groups of students?
  • How do we make our curriculum more representative and diverse?

These are just a few.

Even if many of these are addressed in the run up to an academic year they often need to be monitored to see if actions are having the desired affect and more often than not tweaked.

Staff, from senior through to classroom staff rarely get the time needed for deep work to solve big problems such as these. 

What does Cal Newport suggest

There are different ways to accomplish deep work – whereas some people consistently avoid distractions by refusing to engage in email for instance, others may block out a few days to do this. Bill Gates famously would take a bag of books to a cabin for two weeks a year to just think through problems. Most in education don’t have this luxury so I started looking at other methods. The bimodal method (1 day of uninterrupted deep work) or rhythmic (90 minutes) seemed more reasonable. But seriously when was the last time you had 90 minutes of uninterrupted time at work?

What does this mean?

If teaching staff or leadership want to think deeply about problems it is often in their own time, weekends or holidays. The downside of this, besides the obvious that they are eating into what should be their down time (another element Newport suggests is very important to schedule in so people can think clearly) is that they cannot do this with colleagues, so often solving a problem collectively is a no go, which later creates issues with buy in. A lack of opportunity for deep work in education often leads to quick solutions being implemented that have an equally quick life span.

Some ways in which schools have tried to find time for deep work

  • Involving planning in CPD – so longer but fewer CPD sessions (90 to 120 mins) that deliver information but allow depts to apply immediately within faculty areas.
  • Depts days covered by other staff – allowing a whole department to take a day to solve a problem and create a solution e.g. if their EAL students are not performing well to rework resources
  • Strict email policies – to avoid emails eating into blocks of time and creating a distraction rather than a smooth flow of communication
  • Extension of school days containing a mandatory hour of planning each day.

The fact of the matter is, the government is not about to hand over a chunk of money so we can employ more teachers allowing us more periods in which to allocate deep work. We will need to carve it out ourselves. Unfortunately, so far this has meant for many eating into their weekends which is something that needs to be addressed. However, I’m excited about the creative ways in which schools are finding time to solve the big questions.

To get a copy of Cal Newports book Deep work, which I’d highly recommend, click here.

When we get back, the principles of good teaching remain the same.

The panic is starting, I can hear it in the twitter sphere and in clubhouse rooms. The impact of lockdown on student learning and what we need to do to correct it. When what we need is more of what we said we would always do.

The need is too great. To come up with a fancy strategy to overcome a challenge. But the thing is the challenges were always great in teaching. It’s why we joined the profession. To work against the odds and give our students the best possible foundations for their springboard into life. The world has changed, that doesn’t mean that your teaching radically has to.

What I believe our students need when we get back are two key things

  • Routines
  • Focus on learning in the classroom – through a few strategies that you already know about

Don’t panic let’s just focus on good teaching practice.

The principles of good teaching still apply. We need routine, variation, spacing and interleaving. Let’s look at what these might look like when we return.

Routine: There’s no doubt about it our young people will come back having stuck to their normal routines at varying levels, they’ll need us to redraw the lines, explicitly reteach what is and isn’t acceptable, what we will and will not tolerate. What a strong classroom culture looks and feels like and their role in making that a reality as quickly as possible. The key here is to be explicit in our reteaching of routines.

Variation: Just like you, our students have spent a lot of time in front of a screen staring at information you may have presented. Perhaps you got fancy with breakouts and let them discuss things in small groups. But what they really crave is variety and nows the time to try it. Team work, getting them to build on each others’ answers, group discussions to really explore their thoughts with someone other than their cat! How can you switch things up so you don’t rely on a computer screen for your lessons when you get back?

Spacing: It’ll be tempting to reteach and test quickly, but learning requires forgetting. And not just forgetting once. So when planning recall don’t just recall what the students have learnt during the lockdown period but go further back like you normally would to last year and when they were in the classroom.

Interleaving:Yes it’s tempting to revisit what students have learnt at home however as stated above learning requires forgetting. There’s no reason you can’t move forward with the curriculum and put aside small chunks of time each week to revisit previous topics. Even better link them to what the students are learning now and going forward. We learn in stories and the more hooks you can provide to what they know the easier it is for them to remember new information.

None of this is rocket science. None of this is new. You can do this. You have done this. But we need to be brave and stick to what we know works and keep things simple in a time when it will be tempting to recreate the wheel.

What are schools for?

And are we expecting too much from them?

I recently joined Clubhouse the new online social platform which focuses on audio. Essentially it allows you to go into ‘rooms’ hosted by others members to discuss various topics. One such room asked the question ‘Do our schools prepare our children for success?’ and that stopped me in my tracks is that the bar now? Are we being held solely responsible for the future successes of young people? And what do we mean by success? This then led me to ask the question ‘What are schools for?’ Much like the age old debate about the role of the state we find boundaries shifting.

It takes a village – but that village has got a lot smaller.

You may have heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child and that was all fine and well when we lived in tight knit communities where people shared childcare. But now in 2021 the majority of care is given by schools and immediate family. Over time more and more is added to the curriculum to often teach children many of the things they may have learnt in communities, through mentors, peers and role models.

The question is ‘Have we spread ourselves too thin?’ And whilst the government cannot control homes is it over inflating the responsibilities placed on schools because it can? And does that set us up for a fall?

Do we even know what the role of schools is anymore?

Nick Gibb attempted to answer this question in 2015 when addressing the Education Reform Summit. He argued that the purpose was, well broken down into 3 purposes.

Namely these are:

Economic – to ensure our young people have the skills and knowledge to succeed in a demanding economy through an effective and rigorous curriculum. In his speech he focused on Maths and literacy in particular.

Culture – Here he makes the sensible argument that we need to teach young people the basic tenets of the curriculum for them to engage in culture – for instance grasping the language to enjoy poetry and set free our imagination. But then things get a bit fuzzy as he quotes Matthew Arnold and making ‘all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light’ before talking about how much the arts have been invested in and the need to break down class barriers.

Preparation for adult life – here he talks about character education and draws on case studies from the KIPP schools in the USA who no doubt do incredible work.

To summarise he argues that schools have ‘Three purposes – empowering young people to succeed in the economy, participate in culture, and leave school prepared for adult life’ – and argues that these have consistently guided the programme of reform by the government.

Let’s take each one of these in turn:

Economic – this is probably the one where most school staff feel most comfortable so I’m not going to discuss it in any great length because this is not a blog post about the curriculum. But at a basic level we all agree that a rigorous curriculum that allows our students to participate in the economy and be positive citizens in it, is something we can all get behind.

Culture – What worries me here is that he seems fine with the assumption that a solid education will allow students to break class barriers. We all know that education can play a huge part but it is not the only factor. For instance I can try and break down class barriers as much as I like by educating students but if mass unemployment is still the norm for parents these class barriers will remain because the economic conditions of many of these young people will not allow them to prosper. Also if we have such a commitment to the arts why are they not core elements of Progress 8 like science English and maths?

Preparation for adult life

There is now very clear evidence that schools can make a significant contribution to their pupils’ achievement by finding opportunities to instil key character traits, including persistence, grit, optimism and curiosity.

I have no doubt the above is true. But I also have no doubt that the home and the character showcased by parents and role models at home play a huge part in students future opportunities. And we can teach these in school but what students need is the ability to practice them in the real world.

Far too often I read reports about the skills young people lack to make them employable. Quite often the feedback is from middle ages business owners  harking on about how the youth of today don’t have what it takes to be employed and they have forgotten what they were like as kids. Its natural, I’m sure you’ve heard your parents say how much better life was 50 or so years ago, yet none of us want to go back there. I have a friend that lives in Yorkshire and was, probably foolishly discussing Brexit with an elderly lady in her 80’s. She like many other people voted for Brexit because she wanted to go back to the good old days. When asked when this was she said the early 80’s. ‘You sure?’ asked my friend, ‘you wanna go back to the miners strikes when we experienced mass unemployment and families struggled to feed their young?’ She then proceeded to hit him with her handbag and told him to stop being so clever. The point I’m trying to make is it is a story as old as time that older generations think that youths of the time are less capable then they were. My experience shows me something completely different. I see young people able to navigate comples social relationships, online and offline, caring about the planet, open minded. What these kids lack is experience in the workplace to put these abilities to use and a chance. Let me ask you would you hire yourself at 16? Or even 18? I asked my husband this question two days ago and his honest response was ‘I don’t think I would have hired me at 22.’ My husband who often manages placement students in their second year of university has to teach them how to write emails, not because schools haven’t taught them how to construct emails but because knowledge without context doesn’t work. They have to know how to address different people in their organisation and that happens in the workplace not in school.

My worry is each time one of these reports come out, education ministers start cracking the whip promising to make qualifications harder, kids more ready for work through a corrected PSHE curriculum. I’m not saying we shouldn’t promote character in the curriculum. I’m saying it can’t sink in with the adjoining help of the community.

So given the above can schools ever fulfil their purpose particularly if the onus is placed on them wholly? My answer is no. We’ve all become too accustomed to pointing the finger at schools rather than acting like a village with schools, parents, local business and the government acting together to form an empowering tribe for our young people.

It takes a village.

Building a self reflective staff body

It’s New Year’s Eve and needless to say many people are reflecting on their previous year. It has given us a lot to think about. Maybe you are setting goals for the forthcoming year or maybe you just don’t do that. Either way reflection is on a lot of people’s minds.

I’ve been stressing the importance of being reflective practitioners a lot in school over the past two years and to stop it becoming a new buzz word or just something people say to appease me I’ve learnt a lot on my journey to embedding the practice. We have by no way got it spot on, but we are evolving and seeing it more as part of our role as professionals to consistently self evaluate. Below are some of the things we have tried:

Build in time – Time is the most sought after and precious thing you can give a teacher. If you are expecting staff to self reflect, you have to build in the time. Here’s some examples of how we did it.None of them are perfect but we’re giving them a go!

Build it into the 1265 – We reduced the number of twilights we have each year but extended the time to build in reflection and action time. For instance asking staff to record part of their lesson, reflect, cover the topic of the twilight session and then replan a lesson whilst they are with us using what we have discuused.

Building in time through conversations – Any lesson visit or observation feedback (we don’t really tend to do these) must must must build in time for the teacher to reflect on the lesson. The number of times I have seen members of staff in a rush to give feedback. You wouldn’t just give a monologue of knowledge in your lessons and then call it learnig would you?

Building in faculty time – I honestly think this is the best time to reflect, with peers who teach a similar subject. Often teachers will share lessons and conversations on how they have worked with different groups and why, and ow they an e amended are golden.

Using lesson study – We have been using lesson study for 4 years now and I would say it’s finally at the stage where we are happy and confident with the process (despite covid). If you want lesson study to be effective it has to be self reflective, again this is built into our school meetings timetable.

Use line management – Each year our staff go through the teaching standards with their line manager and what they would like to focus on as an area of development, this is then built in with lesson study and discussed regularly.

There is a lot in a name and it has to mean something – This year we switched faculty reviews to self-evaluation cycles.

Practically this meant we expected Heads of Departments and Faculties to take ownership, to reflect on what they felt their departments were doing well and where they needed more collaboration, guidance or to see how other schools do things. As a leadership team we would then help them, this would also mean asking other schools for help or moderation. We also discuss the development of every member of staff and lesson study. All book looks are done with departments, so all feedback is transparent.

Creating a safe space – None of this works if you don’t have trust and safety

Maslow said it years ago, our primary need is to feel safe. Creating a safe space often involves some key tenets, some of the ones I tend to use are:

Praise – praise your staff every opportunity you get. Don’t forget the quiet ones who often get overlooked but actually keep the school moving forward. In fact if you can encourage staff to praise and thank each other! We started something called I heard a Wispa this year where staff thank each other in the weekly bulletin and the recipient gets a Wispa bar in their pigeon hole.

Honesty – Whether it’s bad or good, difficult to deliver or not, speak the truth with kindness.

Show your truth – I make mistakes all the time, everyone does, on Inset day this year I shared a story of the most horrific lesson observation I ever had, I cannot tell you how many people came up to me afterwards laughing and sharing some of their fears/stories. This isn’t about listing your faults so you come across as incompetent, it’s about using your examples carefully to build trust. I used the example to emphasise the value of self evaluation and value of lesson visits as opposed to observations, because no one should be judged on a random 15 minutes (especially not after a wet lunchtime! Speaking from experience here ;))

Showing everyone what is looks like

This has probably been the biggest game changer for me this year. It has been lovely to have some wonderful people join our T&L group and they agreed to be filmed for 5 minutes and then self reflect on their lesson in staff briefings. This has been wonderful and sparked conversations between staff about activities, sharing resources, sharing when things haven’t worked, asking each other for advice. And that’s what self reflection is isn’t it? Knowing that none of us have all the answers but teaching is just one possibility after the next and being flexible enough to try things that are beyond our comfort zone.

Self reflection doesn’t happen by accident. If you are goal setting today or tomorrow the chances are you’ll get yourself some paper or your laptop, make a brew and find somewhere quiet to do it. So in order to help our staff become self reflective practitioners we must create the right conditions too.

Looking back, looking forward

I’m sitting here writing this whilst willing for the end of the term, because like many in the education profession I feel like this has been a never ending term. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that our summer was taken up planning for reopening, working on the 19th version of that darn risk assessment and wondering how staff and students were going to acclimatise to this new way of teaching in learning. No a full term in I’m reflecting back and thinking, I should have had more faith.

Key things I would tell myself if I could go back in time to when I was preparing for school to reopen post lockdown:

Staff will take things in their stride. Yes some will complain and they have every right to, but on the whole everyone wants to do the right thing by the students, therefore they will take change in their stride.

People will amaze you. Trust me.

Kids are flexible and they adapt fast. Just be clear about what you want from them and hold them to it.

Repetition is key. Your problem won’t be that students and staff won’t follow the rules. Your problem will be the number of changes you are trying to implement. So repetition is key here. When you think you have repeated instructions until you are blue in the face, repeat them again. People are not rude or malicious, they are tired and overwhelmed and they don’t mind you giving them direction.

When we talk about what kids missed we are talking about more than education. We are talking about social affirmation from friends. The ability to communicate effectively. We are going to have to address all of this.

Students are desperate to get back to school. I knew this as I drove around the city delivering home learning packs, but it really became apparent to me once the students had all returned. Over this term the dread that they may be sent home for two weeks has kept them extra cautious and following rules.

There will be things you will want to keep from this new way of working. Staggered breaks. Tutor times in year blocks. Online parents evenings. Online tools as a whole. Closing the building for deep cleaning which means staff have to go home earlier. Online open days. Online meetings. There is so much we have learnt from our new routines that we will definitely be keeping some after this is all over.

Your community will be stronger. Parents will see how hard everyone is working and rally around you if you are transparent and clear with them. Of course some won’t, but the majority will, keep perspective.

You will need hand cream. I don’t need to explain the impact of copious amounts of anti bacterial gel do I?

Invest in layers. Your classrooms will be permanently cold. Your office will be permanently cold. In fact cold will become your new state of being. Layer up.

You’ll be surprised how much students remember. They know more than you think although they may struggle to articulate it.

Don’t fill gaps tell a story. Linked to the above. Most students will have accessed some learning and remember things than you think, they just haven’t had to recall them and articulate them so help them fill any gaps and articulate their thoughts by telling the curriculum story built into your curriculum.

Questioning skills will go through the roof. Your staff will want to know what the kids know, how they have reached conclusions, what they remember and questioning will go through the roof. Some will need help to take it deeper but they will be eager.

What better time to embed retrieval!

Scrap unnecessary meetings. For life.

What would your reflection be?

Accountability is great but it’s often misplaced

I’ve been struggling for a while to articulate my feelings about the measures and metrics we use to hold ourselves accountable in education and then the other day I came across a book called ‘The 12 week year’ by Michael Lennington in which he talks about Accountability.

In the book he explains that Accountability is ultimately ownership. It is a character trait, a life stance, a willingness to own actions and results, regardless of the circumstances. And this got me thinking about accountability in the education sense. All to often we use accountability as a stick to beat people with rather than something to build motivation. We set performance management target to ‘hold’ people accountable rather than asking them how they want to make a difference in their school and fuel their passion for education, thus sacrificing ownership.

This took me back to a conversation I was having in a meeting a while ago. We were looking at our fixed term exclusion figures and being told they were higher than some other schools. Now the figures were what the person leading on behaviour was being held accountable for but the statement was nuts. We’d just introduced a new behaviour policy and quite frankly should have been proud that we were upholding it and changing the culture of the school and he was, as was I. But we were being told to look at the numbers.

What became apparent to me was that actually if you’d ask him, me or anyone else in leadership for that matter what we wanted to be accountable for was the culture in the classrooms, we wanted a calm working environment for our kids and staff and we were getting it, it was just that THIS metric didn’t measure what we were working towards. Of course we didn’t want to exclude students and we had evidence to show that we tried to avoid it as much as possible by providing a range of support before we took this step, but we could not allow these students to run a riot. So we didn’t. Yet being held accountable to some figure that didn’t represent what we were working towards made it look like we had something to ‘fix.’

Luckily we were, as stated earlier in the definition of accountability, willing to stand by our actions, rather than be beaten over the head with a number.

Sam Strickland often talks about this in his talks and it was reassuring to hear him reaffirm it at ResearchEd a few years ago. He spoke about the need to maintain behaviour, be accountable for the culture, the figures this produces are a result but the real thing we are accountable for is the learning culture in the school. Let’s not get the two mixed up.

Motivating our students in a Covid world

There is a lot of talk about Motivation amongst students and the level of motivation our students have post isolation. Peps McCrea’s new book also covers it and quite frankly it couldn’t have come at a better time!

Motivation is something our Trust and thus our schools looked at as part of of Inset Days this year. We were aware that students would likely return with mixed levels of motivation, some would no doubt return with a new found enthusiasm for school having been at home for so long but it was likely many would be nervous and all would be out of a routine. Luckily our journey of looking at Motivation was kicked off by Caroline Spalding last year who presented at our INSET, and was magnificent.

Below are some of the decisions we debated with, and made, in order to work on building our students’ motivation. Much of these are based on the 5 levers Peps McCrea and Caroline Spalding discuss in their talk with the AMbition Institute here when talking about ‘levers’:

Routine is everythingSam Strickland talks about routine a lot and I agree with him. This is all I looked for in the first 4 weeks both for student safety and mental health, were teachers establishing routines and expecting them from our students? Were staff and students building rapport with one another again? How could we facilitate this? Were our kids and teacher happy and safe? As suggested by Maslows hierarchy of needs safety forms the foundation of motivation.

Happy students are inspired and motivated by happy teachers – Sometimes we forget happy motivated students are inspired by happy motivated teachers. I am in awe of our staff, who have managed to keep upbeat even though they are running between lessons and acclimatising to a new way of work. It is every senior leaders job to get anything that stops this from happening out of their way. Whilst you’re at it tell them how much you are inspired by them regularly too!

No immediate testing upon return – I understand it is tempting to try and find out as soon as possible what our students picked up and didn’t through their online learning or home learning packs over lockdown/isolation but lots of tough testing is no way to welcome the students back and settle them into school life. Also what’s the point of the testing? Is it just to find out what they know in which case there are plenty of alternatives and some are listed below. If it’s to see how they write what they know, well the chances are if your students are isolating they haven’t seen as much modelling as we would like or been in routines, so you are better off waiting a little while before that happens.

Retrieval – every single lesson. This doesn’t have to be a test it can be a simple ‘Gimme 5’ or ‘When I say X what comes to mind’ kind of activity. Reward students for what they know and remember. Make them feel empowered. Then get challenging them.

Balanced reassurance – Some of our students may come back to school after isolation with an ‘it’s all gone down the drain’ mindset, feeling things are out of their control and they’ll never get to where they need to be. We have made a conscious effort of telling our students that as long as they take care of the effort teaching staff will take care of the content and exam practice. It’s a deal we have made with them. And we keep reminding them of it.

Praise success and effort – Whether it’s with achievement points, stars, emails home we’ve made an added effort to praise effort as part of our deal with students (see above). The old saying, ‘catch em doing good’ isn’t a throwaway comment.

The rhythm of the curriculum and particularly assessment – We’ve ensured our assessment includes lots of light touch/low stakes testing as well as more rigorous assessment, alternating students between things they can be successful at easily and then struggle. If you want to know more about this David Didau explores this in his book ‘Making Kids Celeverer’ and here in his blog

Classroom modelling – this has taken centre this year. Essentially we follow the ‘I do, We do, You do’ method. The teacher models first, then a class attempt or group attempt is put together and showcased before students are asked to complete any assessment questions themselves. Another reason why we shouldn’t be rushing to complete assessments post isolation so that this method can be embedded.

Think about those who have a history of underperforming – how are you going to make any quiz/assessment accessible to them to get them to taste success. Can you link it to an action or an effort they have made to motivate them to make more.

Have we absolutely nailed it? Of course not and I would say we are embedding many of these practices with a backdrop of COVID uncertainty and groups going home to isolate. But our students have proved to be resilient and appreciative of the efforts that are being made day in day out by our staff. There is a heap of things that we are trying to wrestle with, such as hybrid learning but at the centre of all of this is the question ‘Can we take our students on this journey with us’ and the ways to do that has to be at the centre of all of our minds.

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.