Treat them well


It’s taken me a while to write on here. Firstly because I am never sure which blog my reflection may refer to most. With two, that are supposed to serve different purposes, I often feel that there are some areas in which the lines are blurred. I find myself stopping in my tracks just when I feel inspired to write and then, suddenly, I cannot decide where it best fits. The one about the working mother or the one about my journey to headship. Oh well, on this occasion I have decided to post here. Hopefully it is the right decision.

On commencing, I recall a conversation with a friend who asked me the outright question “why do you want to blog?”. Suffice to say, I was a bit taken aback. Not wanting to seem as though I have a big ego, that I want attention but at the same time, needing to have a purpose and reason, I mustered up the response that it was an opportunity to vent… share… learn… network and grow. However, it did remain in my mind that the urge truly came when I had heard about a woman who had blogged and became a bestseller due to the number of followers she had gained. Okay, so I don’t assume that I will do the same, but I must admit, this did inspire me so I guess a little bit of my ego did get nudged to ‘just do it’ like Nike says.

Image result for nike

Indeed, it really has taken me a while to write here.

That being said, I have spent this entire week telling myself, I must blog. So much has happened, so many thoughts have meandered their way into my mind, from the early, groggy 6am mornings until the evening shifts when returning home to do my second job. What has stayed in my mind is the impact the early days have had and I hope to hold on to them for the entire academic year until the next summer holiday.

First came the 3 Rs introduced. Changing a culture in any school is no easy feat, especially a culture around the expectations and management of behaviours. However, my senior leader colleagues helped us all to sleekly drift into a self-reflective mode, allowing us to dig deep and consider our own behaviours when dealing with those of our students. Powerful and necessary I say. Every school should make the staff do this every now and again. Needless to say, by the end of the next day, we had a whole staff ‘gang’ ready to take on the most challenging with the agreed mantra: All our students will be ‘ready, respectful and responsible‘; chants in the first assemblies,  echoes in the form periods and shouting it ‘quietly’ around the school has somehow made its way to the lips of all staff on site! Brilliant.

 3 Rs

Secondly, was the phenomenal input my colleagues and I had when preparing for these first and second professional development (PD) days of the year. I wondered, ‘how many hours collectively  had gone into that?’ It was met with a resounding happy-clapping audience, not sure how many schools had that, but I believe it was because of the fact that every message was delivered with passion, meaning and consistently. Our key word for this year being that, CONSISTENCY.

This leads me nicely and finally, to the encouraging way in which the new head of English and her deputy have embraced the ethos of my school and come in to rescue a department which had two leaders leave in the words of ‘Tommy Cooper’,  “just like that”. And I am the lucky SLT to line manage them.

What a pleasant surprise to read the positive post from @thosethatcan #emmakell in her post (Re-)finding my groove … as a new colleague and fellow leader, joining our school. The fruit of our fantastic PD days, demonstrating the effect of helping others to  jump on board the bus… you know, the right people in the right seats and all of that good stuff? Let the networking begin as thanks to her, I will venture into the #WomenEd world of female leadership.

So it started like this, with a quote from the infamous Richard Branson that my direct report, the AHT used to kick start the day. I felt like a proud mother watching her daughter or son, presenting at an auditorium filled with famous onlookers;

“train people well enough so that they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.

As DHT for teaching and learning, we know how demanding this can be, but even more pronounced when you have come from a school whose journey has been from outstanding, to the new framework version of ‘requires improvement’. Which means CHALLENGE ahead. Getting it right is not easy, it is always being viewed, renewed and up scaled. So much so that the expectation can become unprecedented in terms of the work-load and life balance.

So, it was a lovely surprise to see the article from a new colleague who was able to quote the quote but also to see how the PD had given way to laughter, enjoyment, participation, shared delivery, learning and growth, through PD by ourselves for ourselves, in order to increase the life chances of our children. Let’s face it, we all know of schools where achieving in the upper reams of 85%+ A* – C at GCSE is the norm. Though many wouldn’t dare to say this, and we don’t like to talk about what I will term the ‘disadvantage phenomenon’, we are aware that for reasons such as the demographic, the employment status of the parents or even the background and nature of the population of the high performing school,  the students may be in a more privileged starting position,  one which promotes academia, style of learning, understanding of the purpose of education in the deferred state and hence can sustain the drive towards such success and results.

Are all schools on the same playing field? Certainly not! So it becomes even more crucial in a requires improvement school, to lead the improvement in the quality of teaching, to narrow the achievement gap between those who ‘have’ and ‘have not’,  whilst ensuring that the well-being of the teaching staff remains paramount. This we achieved well through the high quality PD.

As a head teacher, I’d like to think that I will be in a position in which all my senior leaders know they have a responsibility to look after the staff (and themselves). If we can succeed at this, we can rest assured that they will be on the journey for the long haul rather than the short haul where many colleagues will face burn out, negativity and the inability to fulfil my vision of outstanding teaching and a culture of excellence.

We are going for ‘outstanding’ by the way. Remember, consistently good is outstanding so I figure if we fall back a bit, we will hit ‘good’.

Keep calm and be awesome!

While the SLT meeting was in full swing, I realised that every member of the team that I line manage appeared to be under some sort of attack from members. Perhaps ‘attack’ is too strong a term to use but there was no denying that the level of challenge was much higher than had been experienced before.

Being a newish SLT, not yet engaged in team building activities, I feel, has meant that the team have quickly moved from what Tuckman coined the ‘Forming, storming, norming and performing’ model of team development and transition towards becoming high performing.

I also quite like the idea that the team moves form ‘performing’ to ‘adjourning’ when the team then spends time reflecting and planning and also recognises the contributions from all members!

Something very much needed as I watched and winced (a little) at some of the backlash from members of the team about the exposition of our school to others perhaps, or the need for a curriculum that would allow our students to both have breadth and balance but ensuring our ‘Russell Group’ cohort can still achieve, as well as securing the Ebacc for all those who we believe have a good chance at obtaining it and meeting the government’s accountability measure of progress and attainment 8!.  Or should I say ‘attainment LATE!’ given the delay in deciding upon it’s actual calculation and just to add more confusion and anxiety into the melée, we need to consider that this very year group will be judged using the new 9 – 1 GCSE scale and the new year 7 and current year 8 will have assessments without levels.

It made me wonder if we were at the ‘storming’ phase or on the cusp between this and the ‘norming’ phase. No matter how uncomfortable it may feel, it would lead to decisions being made and movement in a direction – let’s hope it is the right one.

Being a leader of others, being conscientious, you think about how you are leading; is it effective? do they have enough direction? if so, why is the idea they are presenting being met with so much challenge or resistance? How can I support them satisfactorily, empower them better and enable them also to exercise their impact and influence effectively? My emotions were up and down during the meeting where one after another each colleague would present their section of the SLT meeting. Not sure how it is done in your schools but I’m sure they would combine some form of discussion, task or activity with summary and decision making – usually a list of actions ‘to do’ for the individual who has presented their section of the school improvement plan. Throughout the meeting, this is when the leadership powers kick in, powers of being calm, measured, attentive and composed.

What a surprise it was then, when after reflecting on the meeting, how, as the SLT line manager you have stepped in to support without dominating your colleague’s presentation section, to be told that you have been ‘superb’ in leading, managing, supporting, reassuring and re-instilling confidence in members of the team. Awesome feedback, did I just say ‘awesome’? Yes I did! Because I intend to be the world’s most awesome headteacher… with some way to go of course till then. Someone once said to me ” you know when you are ready for headship when you look at how something is done and you think about how you would do it differently… or dare I say it… better.”

I think in terms of NPQH I can say I demonstrated analytical thinking and developing others.

A ‘No excuses’ assembly… ‘Cant’ does not exist!

There is indeed a myth… The myth of ‘cant’ and I have long used the ‘can’t doesn’t exist’ strap line in my classes. This encourages perseverance, determination and willpower to be mustered up as it is the business of every teacher to do this if their students do not already possess these powers. Powers? Yes! These powers lead to ‘super learning strength’, lack of fear and absence of fear of failure.
There is a Christian concept and from scripture which mentions

“for mortals things seem impossible, not for God. For God all things are possible” (Matthew 10:27)

I’d like to think if we have a God-like spirit within, then we can consider the possibility of our impossibilities starting with our students. So…..
In preparation for assembly, this brings me to use the example of Jennifer Bricker, the gymnast born with no legs. That’s right, the GYMNAST born with no legs.

I think I will share with them how on leaving my secondary school, there was ONE computer being installed and we, the ‘leavers’ rushed to the single location to view this miraculous piece of technology that would assist with extended writing. Not fair! I would still need to write by hand for a longer time, this would disadvantage me in achieving… Or so I thought… But as for these students now, use of technology is not exactly scarce, information is so widely shared and available, they have (and they will shout) ” NO EXCUSES”.

Next would come the example of overcoming adversity, looking at how we can be placed into certain ‘boxes’, SEN, FSM, EAL ‘rich’, ‘poor’, Black British, White working class, ‘Freshy Indian with no English’ and once we are aware it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of underachievement. Well in my own case, had it been around I’m certain I would have ticked the Pupil Premium box and some but today I represent only a tip of what can be achieved. No matter the label you may have, have ‘NO EXCUSES’.

Incidentally, on the subject of the pupil premium, only last week I was asked by a colleague about what to say “if an inspector asks what we are doing for our pupil premium students”. It seems that although the government has set this priority in their agenda, there is a mismatch with how teachers view this. Perhaps because it is a ‘no-brainer’ for some teachers, we should all just be doing everything we can to ensure disadvantage means ‘NO EXCUSES’ in how we prepare, encourage, uplift, confidence-build and motivate our young people, because that’s what teachers do. Alternatively, and frightfully, it may be because some teachers, do not realise the mission, the moral imperative to achieve this and so they feel they need to do something ‘additional’ or ‘extra-specific’ for the pupil premium. I am here to tell you that if you are not meeting their needs in everything you say or do anyway, then you are not doing right by all  the young people. Pupil premium or not.

Back to my assembly then, I will reveal finally, the inspiring video of Jennifer Bricker’s story which I’ve included here. I used to dislike assemblies but I suppose after having delivered ‘a few’,  I’m really looking forward to delivering this one.

Jennifer Bricker (Morceanu)