The 12 Days of Leadership

One of my many aims for 2017 was to blog about my role as an Assistant Headteacher in a large Junior School in Exeter. Well I guess the problem with this aim was as many of you find that are leaders in schools, there just doesn’t seem to be the time. Well I’m wrong about that one, because whether you are an NQT or Head, there are still the same number of hours in a day and if you want to achieve something then you have to find ways of making it happen. However I am not naïve to think that the barriers stopping me are challenging, hence why I am writing this reflection. Some will understand and appreciate every part of it, some will find it amusing, some will just say it’s another leader moaning about how hard their job is. You decide which category you fall into.

With all of the festivities I have decided to commentate on 12 parts to being a leader, mainly because at this time of year I love the song, The 12 Days of Christmas and also I think there are many parts when singing the song that just get quicker and quicker and you have more to remember – sound familiar leaders?

Day 1: Ofsted

As much as you tell your staff not to worry about it and try to keep them calm, we all know it is there just looking over our shoulder waiting to come crashing down. Well for my school this year when the call came it was quite a comical moment! Naturally there is never a good time, but ours was great. Back in late June, my Head was off ill, I was on a Planning Day and the Business Manager who took the call thought it was a joke. My wonderful Office Wife @clmckimm who is the other Assistant Head came into the Meeting Room and with a very stern look on her face said ‘Jamie, I need you now’ The short walk to our office had all sorts of thoughts racing through my mind, major injury, major behaviour, parent problem, but not ‘They’re coming tomorrow!’

We know what our schools strengths are and what we are continuing to work on, so no need to panic. Year 4 were not due back until 5.00 (they were in Bath – damn those Romans!), the Head got off his sick bed and everybody just remained calm. Well of course as a leader you have to remain calm – don’t you? If you’re waiting the best advice I can give is to constantly reassure your staff and make sure all of the stakeholders know everything they need to about the school, you can’t tell them overnight and expect them to remember.

On the day it really was just the Head, myself and Claire, a bit of a wander round, popping into lessons, a brief look at 2 books and then an afternoon on data. Safeguarding was the first part and it is something that you can’t take short cuts with and so we breezed through that. We must have got something right as an SLT, because one member of staff commented ‘It’s as if Ofsted weren’t even in school, it made no difference to me’

Ofsted is always a challenge and one that hangs over you constantly, know your school, know your staff, know you children and know what you need to do next. Try not to worry but be prepared and remember do what is right for your children, not what other schools may tell you, or every scary story you read on line.

Day 2: Staff Absence

Ok so these are not in any particular order, but one of my roles is dealing with staff absence. When somebody is ill, we have a procedure in place that people call be by 7.15am or the night before. It’s just one of those many unseen jobs that SLT do. There I am getting ready, thinking about my own lessons, saying goodbye to my family and then suddenly it’s a call to the supply agency, communication with others in the year group to try to get them to help. Then an hour or so later the children have a teacher, the work is ready for the day and it just happens.

At my school we are fortunate that absence levels are relatively low, there are always peak times when the illness spreads around, but it is the return to work meetings and then dealing with additional meetings if triggers have mean met that takes its toll and time to organise. They can’t be left, it’s an important part of accountability and people understanding that they may be great at their job, but they’re only great when they’re in school working.

Day 3: After School Events

Productions, Music Concerts, Governor Meetings, PTA events to name just a few, are all incredibly important events in the life of a child at school. How hard is it to have that happy smiley face at 7.00pm, when discussing water bill with Governors, or listening to the same songs in the show that you have heard practised every day for the last month. These are the events that we as leaders have to be very careful with. They can seriously take their toll and for me that’s when the aches and the pains kick in. Then of course it’s in as normally the following day and if nothing has happened. However the emotional challenge is always there – it’s the children and these are great events.

Day 4: Everybody Needs You

‘I’ve got Jimmy who is being rude to me and never has their reading book, SLT are just sat in their offices’ Now I hope this isn’t the case at my school, we try to be as visible to the children both in classrooms and playgrounds. Being around and about at lunchtimes for up to 90 minutes each day can be very demanding, but consider what happens in your lunchtimes and how often problems get brought to you by MTAs. What if you were out there, chatting to  and playing games with the children? Would you have less problems?

Never lose sight of the challenges facing teachers in their classrooms, particularly if you haven’t taught for a while. A big challenge for me is balancing the role of Assistant Head with teaching my Year 6 class, but hopefully this keeps me close to the chalk face. You can be an easy target for teachers at stressful times, but again it can be the little things you do that often go unnoticed that can help ensure things run smoothly.

Day 5: How many children’s names do you know?

For me the answer is all of them. For me in reality I find this really hard. I have 3 days a week when I talk to 360 of them and the other 2 days it’s mainly my class or the other children in year 6. I am constantly impressed by my Head, who seems to know them all. I tend to play games with them, whilst trying to guess, it hides my ignorance. However when you remember a name in front of their parent, particular new ones, there are really brownie points to be earned.

Day 6: Data

Ok, I am going to keep this one short. How complicated can data be? Tables, graphs, graphs, tables, you don’t need to know them all. Share with your staff what they need to know, don’t bore them with numbers you don’t even understand. Ask your self this. Does our data collection, show what we need to know? If so use it to improve teaching and learning, if not don’t collect it.

Top tip is to look out for the time of term when you are most tired, because that is when the Government sneak out data facts and figures or really important new initiatives. How joyous to be able to compare your school to everyone in the country just 2 days before the end of term this week. Thank you to the BBC website who mean that parents can do this too. Happy Christmas all!

Day 7: Building relationships with staff

When I first took on my role several years ago this was one of the biggest challenges. I went from somebody in the staffroom to someone holding my friends to account over their performance. SLT have to make sure that they don’t distance themselves from those who they need to succeed if their plans are to work out. I think at our school we try to go further and over many years we have developed a family atmosphere where everybody pulls together for each other, noticeably during Ofsted as I mentioned earlier. We don’t have a huge turnover of staff, positives and negatives to that I know, but people seem to like working there and so we must be getting something right. We also try hard to integrate new staff and give them the same chances we have had and probably better. Remember all those statistics about teachers dropping out, well it’s our jobs to make them see that their dream job is worth sticking around for. If you’ve got teachers finding it tough, build those relationships and question whether you as a member of SLT are doing all you can or are you missing something.

Day 8: Budgets

Like all schools budgets are a continued challenge facing leaders. We all want to be creative, stimulate staff and challenge ourselves to be the best that we can. However budgets in schools are being cut left right and centre, regardless of what the government tell the country. We do everything we can to protect staff and children from the cutbacks, but I can honestly say it has really taken grip this past term. It is the sort of thing that does leave you awake at night. You’re trying to plan for the next generation on a shoe string, whilst having people’s careers weighing on your shoulders. It shouldn’t be this way, but I’m not sure it’s getting any better soon. Fairer Funding Formula – not sure what is fairer about spending more money on some children than others!

Day 9: Meetings

I hate the days where it is one meeting after another, I try to avoid this happening but it’s these days where you have to listen and give everybody their piece of your time. My head can literally be spinning at the end of the day. At least on these days you have a plan, the challenges are often more when somebody knocks on your door and asks ‘for a quick word’ I feel honoured that people often confide in me and all I can try to do is listen, respect and try to offer advice. Sometimes it’s on a personal level, other times it’s a disagreement over a school policy and others times – well it could be anything. So if you feel bogged down with meetings my advice is simple, go into a classroom or out at break and remember why you do it.

Day 10: Parents

If I could write down the many different discussions I have had with parents over the years it would be a novel not a blog and so this one is all about advice that I have heard and try to follow. Whilst you would love to think that every time a parent walks towards you it will be to say something positive, we know that that is rarely the case – perhaps that’s human nature? When was the last time you thought about saying well done, rather than having a moan?

I’ve heard my excellent job share @sportrelief2018 and my Head @Exe_Head say to parents this term ‘You have to trust us’ How right they are? Would you say to a surgeon I’m not sure I agree with how you are doing that? We have spent years getting to where we are as leaders and actually we do know best. It’s ok to have a different opinion from parents and ultimately if they disagree they will choose a different school for their little ones. It is really important to make parents feel welcome to express their opinions and have their questions answered. We encourage parents to talk to us as leaders and teachers. Don’t isolate this key group just because they can cause you the greatest problems.

Day 11: School Improvement Plan

You have to plan ahead and have a clear vision as a leader. Don’t wait and react or you’ll end up with it being done to you, rather than you wanting to do it because it is right for your school. We have simplified ours hugely over the past couple of years. The front cover is a simple collection of boxes with statements linked to our vision and values. Don’t reinvent something that is already in place. Yes we do have action plans linked to the boxes, but it has made less work and much more easy for staff to revisit. Do your staff get given it at the start of the year and never look at it again? What’s the point in all that hard work that you’ve put in?

Day 12: Well-Being

My final thing is something that I feel very strongly about. Nobody that knows me will know how much my body has hurt over the last few years. Well that’s it they do now, if they are reading this. I don’t want sympathy, I have a great job, which I love and it’s me that needs to take care of my well-being. As a school we have put well-being at the heart of our School Improvement Plan and will we ever get there? I don’t know, but you need to listen to little comments made to know whether it’s working. Don’t think it is everyone walking around with a smile on their face.

Anyway back to me. What have I tried? Exercise is really important and I have to thank my wife (also a teacher) for something she said a couple of years back. At this time of year you get all of the fitness video’s, particularly Davina! Well thanks Davina, because you said about everybody finding 10 minutes a day to exercise. Do you know, I think she I right! Are you seriously telling me that if you want to get started and improve your well-being, you can not find 10 minutes (600 seconds) a day to improve the way you feel? Just ponder that.

It’s a tough job, bur sometimes we make it tougher as leaders. Do what needs doing, not what you think everybody else thinks you should be doing.

 

Well that’s my take on leadership and it’s link to The 12 Days of Christmas. For me there is one part of the song that sums it up. Imagine you’ve plodded your way through the whole song and got to the twelfth day. You then know you’re on the final stretch as the song reaches it’s conclusion. Then you get to the slowed down part – 5 Gold Rings and then it speeds back up to an exhausting conclusion. Perhaps when you think about this song with your children next year, you’ll think about your own style of leadership and also what you can do to enjoy it as much as you can.

@jamie2034

 

 

 

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Will you be quiet?

I have constantly been fascinated by children who find it difficult in the classroom or playground due to the amount of noise. It is really hard for some children and I have to add in my experience they tend to sit somewhere on the autistic spectrum. This is not a piece on autistic children, but just my own observations.

Any how I wonder what it would be like if you were the one that really struggled and simply wanted to say (or shout) ‘Will you be quiet?’ Sounds simple doesn’t it, but what if these are the groups of people you were talking to?

  • Your Class

Now most teachers want to say this to their class a dozen (or more) times a day at least, but seeing as we all have superb behaviour management strategies that we have read about or copied from somebody else, there is not the need!

It’s hard though isn’t it? What a delightful bunch we have? From the ones who share their whole life stories with you, to the ones that know everything and never let others get a word in, to those really loud ones, to the ones that are just naughty and can’t seem to follow the rules…

WILL YOU BE QUIET?

  • Staff

Yes I can sense you thinking about your staff as you read this! Who is the one you really want to utter the immortal words to? Maybe they’re in your Year Team and you never get a voice. What abut the ones that are just really clever and never stop letting you know about it. Then there are the moaners and the ones that are still stuck in the dark ages and can not move past an idea that happened 20 years ago. Finally do you have staff that really don’t need to work and continually talk about it, as if they are some saint for doing so and if they weren’t there, the school would simply close.

WILL YOU BE QUIET?

  • SLT

They’ve always got something to say – it’s their job isn’t it? New initiatives can mean more work. Isn’t the job tough enough? When am I going to do that? No more, just let the latest Government idea bed in so…

WILL YOU BE QUIET?

  • Parents

How many times have you wanted to say it to a child’s parents? Perhaps some of you are braver than I am, but most of the time it’s because emotion takes over. There is a problem with their little darling and therefore that becomes your problem. Most of the time it comes first thing in the morning. The morning that has seen the other half use up all of the hot water in the shower, the teenager that has blamed them for losing their phone, the child who won’t get dressed and eat their breakfast, the missing homework, getting themselves ready for work and then the ultimate, finding the parking space to drop the children off. Does it make it right that you get it in the neck? Of course not, you may have experienced all of these things as well. So whether it is that their child is struggling with the work, or friends, or the work is too easy, or they have a cold…

WILL YOU BE QUIET?

  • Governors

Now I better be careful with this one, so let me explain. I’m talking about the Governors Meetings, you know the ones that people convince you to be a Staff Governor, because it will look good on your cv. The Governors volunteer to take on this crucial role, but do forget that you have been there all day since 8.00am and its now past 8.00pm and they are debating why the water bill is so high or whether the grass needs cutting more often. Ok I’m being a little disrespectful now, they have to know about some big parts of your school, but sometimes…

WILL YOU BE QUIET?

  • Government

WILL YOU BE QUIET?

 

Now maybe you are somebody that likes a lot of noise all of the time, but spare a thought for those of us that just sometimes need a bit of peace and quiet from you your voice in order to just get on with the jobs we love.

Watch yourselves or you may find that you’re the one that gets asked…

WILL YOU BE QUIET?

Take care

@jamie2034

2017 – A Golden Year For Education?

Having returned to work, like many teachers this week, after a really relaxing time during Christmas, I found myself driving in with an element of fear. Whilst I’m always a little anxious at the start of a new term, this feeling was stronger than before. Strange for some body that has been teaching since 1999 I thought to myself.

We had a really good training morning, looking at staff well being, closing the gaps in Maths and having time to work on the new EAL census, before year group time together. The only down bit was a recap of the budget and how dreadful it looks. ‘Don’t buy it if we don’t really need it is the clear message’ I’ll come back to this in a moment.

As a team there is a real sense of rolling up the sleeves and getting on with the situation. I looked around our staff and noticed what a range of ages and experience we had and it was clear that it was the more experienced people who were saying that it had been far worse than this back in the 90’s. ‘Had to ask the Head permission to photocopy a sheet’

So I urge you to think of education in 2017 like this – What if this year is the best it will get for you in your school?

Let’s consider the evidence

  • A couple of years back we had new assessment systems (which we are still getting to grips with), SEND Reforms and a brand new curriculum. The Education Minister this year told a conference that we needed a period of stability. Great because that will mean something major is around the corner in 2018 – so make the most of it.
  • There is a huge shortage of Heads and depending on what statistics you read, a huge number of teachers are leaving the profession in their first five years. Maybe there won’t be enough teachers in the future and class sizes will be 10 bigger than that huge 28 that we complain about. If your school currently has a Head imagine them not being there – what extra does that mean for you?
  • The country doesn’t have any money and every sector is making cuts. In reality teaching is a fairly safe job, enjoy it whilst the little money is there, maybe we won’t all be here in the future.
  •  If the Golden Age really was when our parents were at school, then standards now are higher than ever. Compare your school results at whatever Key Stage over the last 15 years. They will be significantly better, it’s just never quite good enough, because the bar keeps getting raised until we become as good as China! IWB rather than chalk boards, I Pads and computers every where (I’m young enough to remember the one BBC computer in the classroom that was a reward if the teacher knew how to use it!)
  • Google – enough said
  • BREXIT has to be mentioned in relation to everything because nobody knows what will happen, less money, a less diverse balance to your school, less jobs for our children to aim for. Who knows what 2018 will be like after BREXIT really kicks in?
  • Donald Trump is similar to BREXIT because who knows what havoc he might cause to the world?

So when the going gets tough in 2017 and it will, focus on the positives. We are in a privileged position to have a job that shapes the future of the world. If we preach doom and gloom we are imposing this mindset on the people that we want to make our world better in the years to come.

Maybe it can’t be afforded in one form, but the most valuable resource education has is you. Look after yourselves and help make 2017 the best year for you, your class and your school – you never know it might be the best it gets!

Take Care

@Jamie2034

 

First blog post

As you will have guessed from the title of this piece, I hold the rewarding and yet daunting role of Assistant Head at an amazing Junior School in beautiful Devon. This is my first attempt at blogging and even if no one reads it then at least I can say I had ago. Funny that isn’t that what we too often say to children ‘Have a go’ or ‘Do your best’

I have been inspired to do this for two reasons. One I told my class that I would learn to do something new, this is inspired by the #teacher5aday movement which aims to improve well being amongst teachers working in schools and also the fact that for many years I have hundreds of funny stories that I have threatened to put down on paper one day when I’m old and retired. Well I’m far from retired and so it better go down here instead.

This is my sixth year in the role and being a Senior Leader has changed so much in that time that I would bore you all to tears. Unusually for somebody in my role I was promoted to Acting Head a couple of years back within my own school when our Head was seconded to another local school. So with this in mind here is my first confession,

  1. Being  A Head Teacher is Really Hard

Ok so not mind blowing stuff, but it’s lonely at the top. Trying to please 350 children and their parents and your staff of 60 and your Governors, local residents, oh yes and O******. I had two staff resign on the first day – honeymoon period over! I’m lucky that I had a very supportive team around me and a new Asst Head and SENCO in their first roles kind of meant we all learnt together. So if you’re a teacher reading this, even if you have little respect for your Head and SLT, just allow that 1% of you to sympathise and if you can’t – then get yourself on to NPQH and give it ago, there’s a shortage you know.

    2. Being a Senior Leader Does Damage your Health

So this sounds scary to say let alone write. Well in the 6 years I have done the job I can honestly say that parts of my body have taken the brunt of the job that shouldn’t have. Now ok we all have external factors that could contribute, but when it feels wrong, don’t battle through it like I have and let it do damage. This is the time to stop and re evaluate your leadership style. I am delighted that at our school we have put well being at the heart of our development plan. The job is not getting any easier, so lets look after our most valuable resource – the staff. I love taking on the responsibility for well being, it feels like doing a job that can really make a difference.

3. I Have Sometimes Made Mistakes 

Assistant Headteachers can make mistakes can’t they? Their lessons have to be the best, their books held up as a model to the rest of the school, their class has to be the best behaved and when there is a job the Head doesn’t want to do, they have to be able to get that right too. My mistakes are plenty, but the ones I try to make are Honest ones. You’ll earn more respect by holding your hands up and being honest, rather than talking the talk and walking the walk. One of my funniest was giving a chef’s hat to a Year 6 boy that had won a competition. His Mum (one of the ones that always has an opinion and a moan and how nothing is quite good enough) was so proud. Cracked it I thought, I then overheard her telling one of the other Mum’s that he’d only been given ‘A bloody hat with a girls design, that’s too small for him’ Heavens, as Acting Head I had gone on e bay at about midnight and bought a suitable prize out of my own pocket – what a nasty person I was. Anyway I went and saw them together, sort of said that may be it was suitable and between us we had a real laugh in front of many of her mob of meerkats (look it up if you don’t believe me).

 

As I come to the end of my first set of confessions, I must add that I love my job and the people I work with. This is not always the case and I know of many Senior Leaders that work in near impossible teams, but I urge you all not to pat me on the back and patronise me with ‘You’re simply the best Asst Head in the world’ because I know I’m not and it’s easy to take the t off of Asst Head and get a completely different person.

However if you are thinking about the role, go for it, but remember it is hard, it can affect your health and it’s ok to make mistakes. Look after yourselves and each other.

Best wishes

@jamie2034