Category Archives: leadership

#Nurture 15/16

‘Twas the night before term starts, and all through the land,

Every teacher was stirring, wondering if they had planned;

Good enough lessons to teach the next term, 

With knowledge a’plenty so children could learn….

It would take me all night, probably all week, to finish that as I am no poet so I shall leave it there! I’ve been trying to get this post done for days now, reviewing the year and sifting things through. It’s often painful doing this, dredging up memories you’ve tried to bury.  2015 wasn’t the best of years in many ways, and it’s hard entering 2016 with the shadow of dad’s illness prognosis over us. But 2016 might be the year of miracles! Anyway, the slideshow of pictures reflect some of the moments that left a mark on me in 2015. 

2015 Highlights:

Family :)
Family 🙂
My family. Who continue to amaze me every day. Watching the way that my devoted mum cares for dad every day with total patience and love, and how he never complains and just worries about others. How my sister gives up so much of her time to make things for others, or decorate 26 Christmas trees at different houses to bring cheer! How my brother doesn’t complain when he’s making the hundredth tip run to clear my house, or helping me move house, or spending hours on Skype to bridge the gap to Ukraine. How my brother-in-law is giving up countless hours to renovate my house, despite having no spare time whatsoever as he’s always doing things for others. How all the extended family (I have many, many uncles, aunts, cousins!) have rallied around to support and to visit with dad, including a very emotional family carol sing-a-long with four generations all present. I am blessed and love them all.

Awesome friends
Awesome friends
Old and new friends. Laura, Becky and Jo are always there for me and constantly support in good times and bad. They constantly impress me with their professionalism as well, and I’m super proud of each of them in their work as well as being such good friends, mothers, and soon-to-be mothers 😉 We don’t see enough of each other, and I shall miss being close geographically and seeing the littlies grow up…but I can always travel! It only takes minutes to have each other in hysterics.

Great times with O’Donnell family again this year. The Cairngorms trip was a blast and I’m always impressed by how smart and hilarious the younger O’Donnells are!  I think I’ve heard more about Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Lego mechanics and robotics than I could remember 🙂 You are all awesome. 

When I moved to Basingstoke this year I was apprehensive about the new folk I would be living with, yet they have all turned out to be (in the words of ‘Spud’) ‘super human beings’! Ben, thank you for always making me smile and for cooking the most outrageously amazing meals to spoil us (also sorry about the ice-skating). Philippa, thank you for being beautiful inside and out and such a good listener. Nerea, thanks for putting up with our tea-towel fights, Christmas obsession, and general madness! Richard, thank you for the midnight chats about anything under the sun (sorry for boring you). I hope to see you all soon.

New house back in Kent!
New house back in Kent!
New house! I’ve finally made it back from Hampshire to Kent! After spending ages trying to find a job and a house at the same time it seemed impossible, and then a house turned up on the same street as my parents! It’s quite the renovation project but does have a roof again now at least! Moving was traumatic, leaving broken dreams and heartbreak as well as close friends, but now I’m close to those who need me most.

New job! I’d decided to try for Assistant Head Teacher some months back when I was looking to relocate, but didn’t think I’d get one. I’ve loved being a Head of Geography, and being in the classroom feels natural and I know I am good at it. But I was beginning to feel like I needed another challenge, and to put my knowledge of turning places around to good use. Despite wanting to be back in Kent, I’ve never been someone to do a job for the sake of it and I wasn’t prepared to just apply to any old school. I wanted to feel like I would be in the right place, so I have been picky about where to look. Then when I did apply I assumed it would be just ‘an experience’ and was thrilled to just get an interview, wanting then only to not embarrass myself on the day. It was the hardest thing I have done professionally, and by some miracle I got the job! I really felt an affinity on the day, that this school is on a journey with some really needy children needing support. And I loved that my new Head wants to make this the best school in the world, not just ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and he wants it because the children deserve it. But I will admit, I am petrified at the thought of starting tomorrow. I haven’t felt clueless for a long time and this uncertainty is scary! I wrote a piece on UKEdchat about my thoughts, so feel free to read this here . I just want to make a difference, and give children a good foundation in life. Just hope I have the tools to do this.

Working with amazing team at Eggar’s
Eggar’s itself. What an experience working here. I worked with some truly amazing people. The Hums team were just great. Super supportive and so professional, always seeking to do the absolute best for children. Each member brought something great to the table, whether it was Louise’s chirpiness (I’ll miss being greeted as well as you did!), Claire’s meticulous organisation, Linda’s ineffable charm (who cannot smile around you?!), Emily’s creativity and enthusiasm (though with a bizarre obsession with satsumas), Cathy’s calm presence and support for others, Anne’s amazing baking (!) and support for yr11s, Cath’s steadfastness and constant support for all children (best Head of Year I’ve known), and Gill’s enthusiasm, laugh and patience. Even though we were sometimes accused of being ‘overly questioning’ this was always because these queries were always rooted in ‘how will this benefit children’ and had this core purpose. It was our job as teachers and middle leaders to question, and to ensure we did the best possible for our learners. I would always hope that middle leaders do this, and that staff feel free to talk to me as a member of SLT – after all, we as teachers are all learners and we don’t always get it right. 

The Geography ladies helped me to see the department transform from a place that children loathed and disrespected, to somewhere that children enjoyed and felt challenged in and made progress. From being blue on Raise to green. From poor achievement to better (still not perfect!). From being inadequate to good. From being unknown to being recognised by other professionals outside school as somewhere to come and learn. Anne with her support of trainees and organisation, and Gill with her ideas and willingness to try new things. I may have only been there 15months, but we did some good work. Results day was emotional! Those year 11s who had to learn an entire course and controlled assessment in nine months, and yet still beat national average! Student feedback before and after was so positive, and I loved hearing from them and their parents.We also introduced previously unknown fieldwork, including overseas and a fantastic Iceland excursion. And we had fun with Skype in the classroom that saw one year 7 boy who had never spoken aloud in class suddenly speak voluntarily to a scientist in the middle of the Arctic Ocean in front of his whole class.

Oh and introducing the Eggar’s Experience was great, trying to encourage a ‘have a go’ culture and attitude with students and extra-curricular opportunities. I also hope the ‘This Girl Can’ efforts introduced by my excellent colleague Cathy take off. I could say so much about Cathy, who held me together on more than one occasion and is the most selfless, down-to-earth, thoughtful and professional person I know. I don’t know how many lunchtimes she gave up for students needing someone to talk to, or for colleagues, but she is the unseen glue and I hope she knows how truly valued she is by those that matter most.

Students are awesome
Students are awesome
Students past and present. When I left Eggar’s I was blown away by the generosity of students (and staff of course), but I was reduced to tears by the comments in cards by them and by their parents. To be told you have raised a child’s confidence as they prepare for their finals and that they finally feel able means more to me than a piece of paper with their mark on. To be able to give a lad his first ever C grade on two mock exams when his FFTd is an E. To have parents saying thank you for helping. To know kids want to pursue their learning at college or university. That is why I teach – for those spine tingly moments that say yep, I did some good today. 

I also attended my first student funeral last year, for Elliot. He was the student who changed me most as a teacher, and it is with thoughts of him that I go to my new school knowing that there will be so many more Elliot-like children who need TLC, need their teachers to support them, and need us pushing to get those grades more than they would ever admit.

Getting certified!
Getting Chartered!
Professional bits and bobs. I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at various events last year including BETT and the GA conference, as well as the work with the Prince’s Teaching Institute until September. I was sad to stop with this work, but to be honest was a little disappointed with the upper leadership that did not seem to want to recognise the necessary changes or embrace alternatives.Hey ho.

The GA conference was one of the highlights of my year, especially the first ever GA Teachmeet that had me reduced to tears of laughter with the inimitable Paul Berry’s session. I can only hope that when I am close to retirement like he, that whatever job I am doing I do it with the same level of love and enthusiasm and dare-I-say passion as he seems to. Wonderful man. We also had our last ever TMPompey which was great, even with me knocking myself out before the start. I shall miss working with David Rogers in future and am sad the once dream-team is ended, but grateful to have had some great opportunities in the past. I shall also miss being near to Rachel Jones for her amazing work and joining in her mad antics, as well as her support as a great friend. I am genuinely so impressed with how she juggles everything and has some of the happiest and most confident children I have met which is testament to her and to her new family. 

Taking part in the RGS Explore weekend was also amazing, working with other great professionals and hearing about incredible expeditions current and planned. I hope to be more involved with the RGS in future in the education capacity, and was thoroughly chuffed to receive my Chartered Geographer status this year as a Christmas present 🙂

I was published in a few magazine bits this year, including a revision guide and finally finished the GCSE textbook! What a mission! I never realised what hard work it is, all the research and then trying to put it into something work-able. Being somebody a little bit perfectionist it is hard to know what to do when it is your first go! But hopefully all is well, and will be on sale in March so if you fancy a new Geog textbook please try it!

So 2016?

I don’t know what the future holds, and I am apprehensive about much of it. I’m not making any resolutions other than to be as good a daughter/sibling, friend, and teacher / leader that I can be. I will be running more this year, including a half marathon which will be near to home which is good. I will try to blog about my journey in SLT and other random musings more, as I’ve not been consistent with this. I have a house to finish and a life to build as well though, so perhaps this blog will include a bit more about life beyond school by this time next year who knows!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

‘I am not a leader’ (or Yes you are! Every ONE of us in education is)

Post taken from my Staffrm story in response to the Leadership Artefacts thread. Well worth visiting.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has read the #ldrartefacts thread on Staffrm with interest, and also someone that’s thought ‘I’m not quite there yet, so I don’t have anything to contribute’. After all, I’m ‘just’ a middle leader, not SLT, so does that count? I had been inspired by some accounts, and also thought ‘hang on, that’s what I do!’ when reading them but kept putting off getting involved in the thread as not feeling competent to. Well that was until someone said to me ‘you’re not a leader’…and that caused a reaction. I wanted to slap him (not for the first time!) and my immediate response was indignation…which is of course what he’d wanted. See although I believe I am good at my job, I don’t like to shout about it or pretend I am anything better than others, so tend to shy away from getting involved in social media / public face leadership discussions as if feeling unqualified.

You’re not a leader‘ kept ringing in my head. Grinding away. How patronising I thought! But then, I don’t have any major evidence of whole school impact or long-term change in my own right I suppose? I mean, I lead a department that is gradually transforming and kids have actually learnt something, found high expectations, feel challenged – so there’s a whole culture change there right? I lead whole school numeracy but that’s only been this year so can I really claim much? At my last school I was HoD for a year following from a bit of a high maintenance bloke who I’d helped transform the dept…but he’d take credit for that of course 😉 So can I really say I’m part of this leadership group?

Answer: definitely yes.

You see I’ve been an education leader for a 7 years. How? I’ve led in my classroom. Or on the astro turf. Or in the corridors. Or on school trips. I’ve taken a claim to my physical space, laid groundwork for the mental and emotional space of that learning environment, and every day fought battles with myself or with others to just be the best I could be and ensure that kids got a good experience and were led to be the best they could be.

Every single one of us from day 1 of PGCE stepping in front of your first class and taking tentative steps is a leader. We lead by example. We lead by our body language, the words we choose to use, whether we give ‘the evil teacher stare’ or give a smile, we lead by holding doors open for students and modelling good manners, we lead by the way we encourage them, how we don’t let them give up, when we motivate or praise them, when it is time to sanction them or hold them to account. Aren’t these the traits that ‘real’ leaders portray, whether in education or business? Does it make any difference whether we are leading a class of infants and teenagers or leading thirty sales assistants? It’s the same principles.

After leaving university I fell into a job in fashion retail almost by accident. It led to me becoming a deputy manager within three months and then successively becoming store manager to two large stores, and setting up a national flagship. The stores I ran were filled with staff of all ages and experiences. Some were keen trainees, others were jaded and resigned with a ‘this is the only job I can get’ mentality. Some felt overlooked by previous managers. Some felt they’d not had their potential realised. Some kicked off and didn’t like change. Some didn’t appreciate being given targets and boundaries and expectations (it’s shocking that I wouldn’t let them swing on the fixtures in the loft and steal from the till really). Does this sound familiar in a school context? My wise sister once said to me ‘children are just like adults, only with shorter trousers’ and it’s true. Leading children and leading adults have massive parallels. It’s always a joke at Inset isn’t it how much like naughty kids the teachers suddenly become? And none of us like being treated like a homogenous group and given the same diet of CPD or being made to feel hard done by or overlooked. Same feelings, similar baggage, similar needs.

Day 1 in my classroom as an NQT I started leading. With 19 classes I was effectively leading 490 ish children on a weekly basis. But even just with my tutor group of 26 from that first day I was a leader. Even before I got into any other roles. Being just a tutor is a profound leadership opportunity. I set up my classroom with a photograph of my dog or favourite places on the tutor board and built relationships with those tutees based on their pets & places and from the first meeting I was leading them. In retail my decisions affected a team of 27 and a turnover of over £2.6million a year. Now my decisions affect the Hums team, our students of about 850, and a budget of just a tiny fraction. But those decisions and the leadership we each give day in day out will affect those students potentially for the rest of their lives. Even if they only learn to be polite to each other! I have been doing performance management and leading teams for 11 years now in retail or in school, and I use those retail skills all the time. Same issues, same leadership traits.

And one day, when I am SLT, it will still be the same principles that make me lead: motivate, cajole, inspire, hold to account, recognise, empathise, humour, train, develop, trust, etc.

So my actual leadership artefacts?

1) A quote on the wall: ‘just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly‘. I refer to this with kids or adults often. Something unattractive or seemingly at its end can become something beautiful and a new beginning.

2) Postcards/cards: to give as thank you notes, messages of support, pick me ups. Do them unexpectedly and sneak them onto someone’s desk (or into a student book to find later) so it doesn’t make a big show of it and allows the recipient to just have a surprise.

3) The open door: mentioned by many others but still true. My door is open whenever I am in there and I’m happy for anyone to come anytime. I encourage an open door policy in the department so we will wander in and out and see each other and speak to students. No need to have secrets: we are all on the same team! And the open door extends to meeting minutes and data tracking too using Google Docs. Everyone can see how well or how poorly my classes (and others) are doing or what we are working on so there is transparency. I think this is important.

At the end of the day, we are not chained to a title and we don’t only have an influence when we plan to and have prepared for it – we lead from the first moment we walk through the door. That is both humbling and worrying! It can be the smallest thing that sticks in someone’s mind, so let’s lead in a way that can change the world 🙂

Leadership is not a title.

Thank you to the lovely Staffrm folks for your response to this story. I hope you don’t mind me copying them here.