Going Part Time/Switching jobs – The financial thinking behind it

Earlier this year I decided to go part time at work and use that time to see how I might branch out into more than teaching. The opportunity looked like it would arise and it was now or never. This would obviously have financial implications and I wanted to know that I wasn’t going to struggle or regret having made the decision. This is an outline of the things I did to prepare.

Calculate your monthly spending

This may sound ridiculously obvious but I’m surprised by the WAY people do this. Let me be clear, totting up your spending in your head is not enough. This should be a paper exercise not an emotional one. The facts on paper (or web page if you’d rather) should be displayed in the form of monthly bank statements. How far you go back will vary depending on changes you’ve experienced. Just had a baby? Look at your spending before and after to get a real insight into how much you need. I was doing this through lockdown so obviously would not get a real reflection of my spending in a few months in which spending was limited due to external factors, so rather than going back say 4 months I went back 6. Then list your spending each month depending on category e.g. Grocery shopping, eating out, memberships, travel etc.. You may uncover some interesting facts. I was shocked by how much we were spending on a grocery shopping. Not the weekly visit, but all the visits in between, for the odd thing (which then inevitably turns into 8 things because you see them on offer).

Make a list of what makes you happy

It’s important to do this before you start analysing how you amend your spending. For instance, if meeting friends makes you happy then you don’t want to start culling all of your meals/drinks out. Maybe think about whether you prefer 1-2-1 meals with close friends over large gatherings where you don’t get to have a meaningful conversation with anyone and prioritise these meals over drinks. It’s about maximising your happiness with things you do. Or if you love to read and see you’re not spending anything in that area then get an Audible membership which allows you to listen to books. The key here is to get clear about what makes you happy. Because that is where your spending should be going right? It’s also about identifying any areas where you’re spending your money but not getting a great deal of happiness. For example, the thrill of a new Zara top, for me doesn’t compare to the happiness of checking out a new restaurant, yet I seem to be going to the same restaurants (pre-covid, as my receipts show me and buying stuff form Zara I don’t need, go figure.)

The key here is to get clear about what makes you happy. Because that is where your spending should be going right?

Calculate your pay per hour.

For instance say you work 40 hours a week. Do not look at your salary and think I’ll divide it by the 52 weeks and then number of hours worked. This is false. Why? because nearly a third of your salary is going out to the tax man, pensions, NI etc.. So I recommend you take that out first. For instance imagine I earn £30,000 per annum which is now the average in the UK and work 40 hours a week. 30,000/3 x 2 is actually what I’m left with. £20,000. Then I divide that by 52 and then 40 to give me £9.60. For every hour worked I end up with £9.60 in my pocket. This will make you start seeing things a lot differently. Having dinner with someone who doesn’t bring you joy? You sure you want to give up 4 hours of your life? (yeah the dinner may be 2 hours but then your half of the bill might be another 2). Like but don’t love that dress? Oh its on sale, still is it worth 5 hours of your life? You’ll notice you get a lot more pickier about what you spend money on.

Do not look at your salary and think I’ll divide it by the 52 weeks and then number of hours worked.

Ask yourself what is adding value

Look at your spending does it align with the things that add value to your life and make you happy? For instance, are you actually using that gym membership, or reading the magazine you have subscribed to? Perhaps pause some memberships and see if you notice their lack in your life?

Ask yourself what can be swapped out either for cheaper alternatives or alternatives that bring you more joy

For me it was the grocery shop, we switched from Tesco to Aldi and allowed ourselves to go to Tesco only in emergencies because it is closer to home. The great thing was not that we were buying less food as such but the smaller variety in Aldi meant we were going off script (or grocery list) a lot less. Some of my friends have switched to online grocery shopping for this very reason, so that they are not tempted by the bargains in the aisles. I also switched some of my memberships, I replaced my Masterclass membership which I’d had for a year, with Harvard Business Review, for a change and because I enjoy reading it. We then slashed some of tv subscriptions so that we spend more time reading rather than hypnotised by bad tv.

Check your contracts

Phone, Gas, electricity, water, television service the lot. The chances are if you have been with a company for a while you are not getting the best deal. They are relying on you to be complacent about asking for a better deal so don’t let them get away with it. I hate this part of money management I really do. So I assign 3 hours to it. In those three hours I’m going to call all the companies and see what I can do in terms of reducing my costs, after that I call it a day.

Calculate what you can live on

Taking all of the above into consideration calculate how many hours of work you can live on and whether you need to be working full time in the job that you are in. Could you make that money doing something else? You may not be able to make any changes straight away such as go part time or switch jobs, but you will be clear about what it will take to change and that is powerful to identify when you are ready to switch things up.

Some good reading when looking at saving money

Mr Money Mustache This is a great blog with some sound practical advice and also takes you on his money saving journey.

The Minimalists Less Marie Kondo and more sage life advice. These are great at giving a little perspective about the things that are important.

David Bach’s Smart Women Finish Rich – has some exercises in it that make you do some digging around in your finance to get a clearer picture of where you stand.

Why I’m leaving School Leadership

I’m going to say this from the start

I have the uttermost respect for anyone working in School Leadership.

Having said that I don’t think it should be seen as the only sign of a successful career in education. I have been incredibly lucky in my career in teaching, I’ve had some phenomenal managers and mentors who I cannot speak of highly enough and I their support and encouragement taking me towards what I considered to be success, Headship.

Yet I realised over a period of time that the further up the leadership ladder I went the less joy I felt at work.

I love being in the classroom. There is a sheer joy to taking a group of students on a journey of learning whilst they are with you.

I haven’t felt this level of joy during many tasks I’ve completed for leadership. I know that as a leader you get to impact the lives of more young people. I however, felt that I was having a lesser impact. As a teacher I could have up to 150 students in my classroom in a day, as a leader I sometimes found myself going round in circles with the same 5. Maybe in hindsight I will be able to articulate my reasons in a better way, for now however I can only tell you that it didn’t bring me joy, nothing like the joy teaching in the classroom does.

Another niggling feeling was I wanted to explore life the way I was encouraging my students to.

I teach Business and Economics and am forever encouraging students to explore the heap of opportunities available to them in the world. But I felt like a fraud because the last time I had done that was in my 20s when I left Marketing for a career in education. That was the last time I felt fully alive, like I’d made a conscious decision and was steering my life in a way I wanted. As a result of this I’ve decided to teach part time and explore once again what the world has to offer. To figure out what I’m passionate about, to give things a go and see where life takes me. To have an adventure.

So let’s see what happens, this my just turn into a bit of a sabbatical where I explore life outside of school, I may well get my butt kicked or I may well fly. Either way, I’ll have lived a life of choice.

You can read about my exploration of other paths on my page ‘Side Hustles’

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.

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.

Fail Fast, Learn Fast in 2020

I once heard someone say ‘You can have 5 years of experience in 5 years or 1 year of experience in 5 years it’s up to you,’ and that just stuck with me and got under my skin.

I was just starting out in teaching, shifting from a different career and I thought about my previous career and really asked myself how many years I had wasted doing the same thing over and over or going through the motions. I would guess at least 40% of my actions were a repeat, rehashing the same things and not trying new things with risk. At the same time I was beginning my career in teaching and realised that Leadership teams in any school I worked for were desperate for enthusiastic teachers to have ideas and run with them on the condition that they would be self-evaluative, critical and share their thoughts. So I had a prime opportunity not to repeat my past.

How we should educate has always been an area for debate even amongst non professionals, take some of our political leaders for example who have never set foot in a classroom but claim to know what is best. However, we are seeing a flurry of new material and research in the field. The only way to know what is and isn’t worth pursuing is to discuss it in education spheres and then try it.

This has been a thoroughly enjoyable blog to write. Casting my mind back to things that I have tried but have not worked has made me laugh, cringe and eventually feel proud at the things I have tried and tested. Here are some examples of things I have tried and may have failed depending on what we are looking at for an outcome:

NQT year, I took the hardest to reach group of girls in Year 9 with no aspirations other than to marry drug dealers (their words not mine) and did 11 1 hour sessions with them on careers. To be honest this was a pretty easy sell to the principal who just desperately wanted someone to keep an eye on them and wanted them out the corridors so he literally said ‘How much?’ I’d seen an online package for £250 and we went through it. The package failed, was clunky, boring and is no longer in circulation but I had some great conversations with the girls about their dreams. I showed them online listings of the average earnings of numerous jobs and they hadn’t heard of 98% of them. So we would discuss what different jobs did. We calculated the costs of wanting to live the lives they dreamed of. Did it change their GCSE grades, nope. Did it teach them better maths or English or science. Nope. Did it make them feel like someone at school was listening to them and invested in their future. I think so, yes. Failure or success? You decide.

Do you remember the craze with ipads in classrooms? I heard about schools giving ipads to every student in Year 7 to enhance learning. My Principal at the time was considering it. I started an initiative to train a small group of teachers to try incorporating technology into the classroom more regularly. It was a mess. To be honest in my heart of hearts I thoughts I pads could add some value but I’ve always believed in traditional teaching methods and direct instruction over snazzy apps. Failure? Absolutely and thank god for it. I’m so glad that fad is over.

On to my next IT failure…..I love screencasting (basically filming your screen whilst you talk  over it and have used it to give feedback to students on their essays.) I tried to get my dept to take it on and soon realised not everyone feels that way. To be honest it only worked with my A level classes and even then only one class. I don’t know why I got so attached to it, perhaps because the idea was more effective in my head than in real life. Luckily, my dept staff telling me to stick that laptop where the sun don’t shine soon brought me back to my senses.

My first Inset to organise for the Trust. Imagine over 400 teachers. I can honestly say this is more daunting then standing in front of 400 students. Teachers are a hard bunch to please. I booked a speaker who is really popular online. Really popular. I’m not going to tell you who but you will have heard of him. I also booked another in the morning who was not even on twitter but who’s work I read and thought was brilliant. Due to the second in my mind being an unknown entity I vetted him on the phone a lot more. The blog guru I didn’t. On inset day, my unknown speaker was an absolute triumph and the well known blogger killed us with boredom. Now I vet them all equally and politely cancel anyone I don’t get a good sense from. It’s not worth the humiliation, trust me.

My very first observation as a department head was a complete failure. I was desperate to show I was a good dept head. It was the first post I had in that position. I was struggling with a few of my classes but didn’t want to show it. My first observation was with THAT class. It was terrible. When I say terrible I mean my students actually heckled the observer. I could feel beads of sweat down my back. My cheeks were so red with embarrassment I felt like I’d been slapped. In fact that seemed like a better outcome than the observation outcome I was about to get. Long story short. It was awful. I cried all the way through the feedback. I’m talking snot bubbles cried. The amazing AP helped me with the 3 students who made it impossible for others to learn in the classroom. She supported me with the parents. I have never taken behaviour like that in the classroom since. And I have never been able to thank her enough for showing me what kind leadership looks like. Failure? On the day yes. In hindsight no. And it didn’t kill me in fact the same AP encouraged me to apply for a leadership post when it came up and I got it.

I’m sure I have introduced lots of stupid ideas in my time of leading teaching and learning and made more fumbles then I care to remember. But the great thing is whilst writing this there are many I don’t remember. Maybe that is why I don’t mind failing fast. Maybe I’m going senile. Or maybe, just maybe they weren’t that big of a deal in the first place although they felt that way in the moment. I think we spend too much time promoting our successes and are too nervous talking about things that don’t work. There is real gold in that too. So my hope for you in 2020 is that you work through lots of things that aren’t working so you can double down on the stuff that does. Be brave.