I am a very driven person. I want to be successful and by that, I mean, I want to be good at my job. I admire people who are good at what they do. I am motivated through substance. I have little time for people who seem to do nothing more than repeatedly vocalise their virtues. I want my success to have substance. More importantly I want to be a substantive success. I know that obsessing about a singular drive won’t get me that. High results can be a hollow victory. Happy staff can hide a lazy leader. An obsession with Ofsted can tear a school apart. To be a truly successful Head is a near-impossible goal. But, in 2016, I had a taste. Granted, it was during an Ofsted inspection, but when the lead inspector told me that he had never received such a positive response from the staff survey concerning the school’s leadership, I felt pretty good. Reading in the report that the ‘innovative and inspirational leadership of the headteacher has established a professional learning community…staff overwhelmingly support school leaders’ I must admit, I allowed myself to think ‘that’ll do pig, that’ll do’.
Where next for the most inspirational Head of the century? Well, it won’t surprise you to learn that about two days after that report was written I had forgotten all about it because, you guessed it: I have a school to run (Yay!) and that’s a full-time job (Yay!) and it’s really hard (Yay!) and it takes over your life (Yay!) and I’m really tired (Yay!) when will it end (when you’re able to retire at 92-Yay!) No, my hopes for a book deal and @theprimaryhead stadium tour quickly dissolved into a distant dream. Ah well. Still, it’s not all school, school, school. I’ve said that I’d say something at #PrimaryRocksLive in 2017 so that should be, interesting? And I’ll be helping put on the biggest education conference the South West has ever seen! Save the date you edu-keeners because on July 1st #InspireSouthWest launches and it’s going to be EPIC! So, there’s that and rescuing the school from budget annihilation. (Yay!)
Despite being a marvellous leader (I’ll stop soon, honest) governance has never been my strong suit. I have, in the past, tended to find it a time draining distraction. The boundaries can so easily be blurred so that too much time is spent sweating the operational stuff which, in my opinion, is my business. I blame everyone! But if I genuinely think this ship is ‘mine’ then the bulk of the fault must lie with me. Near the end of the year I reflected on my performance in relation to governance. I found myself to be too quick to frustration and this, I know, led to governors perceiving me to be difficult. That ain’t classy. I can blame stress. I can blame personality. But the next step of blaming is doing something about it otherwise you’re just a schmuck. So, it’s time to have a change in mind-set.
I feel born again! OK, that’s going a little too far but I do think I’m ready to believe in the power of governance! Seriously. I feel that there is now some clearer understanding between me and the governors regarding what we’re going to be getting up to this year. My performance management, earlier on this year, helped with some of the granularity on this. There was recognition, on both sides, that maintained schools have some pretty huge challenges coming their way so we should probably focus on them rather than the school at an operational level. In short, they trust me to run the school. Likewise, I need their help with the bigger stuff! As for me personally? I need to relax and not take every discussion at governors so personally. I may be the Head but, during those meetings, I am but one governor in a room full of governors.
So, as you know, we had Ofsted this year. I know I’ve already mentioned it, but, did I tell you that we got an outstanding judgement for ‘personal development, behaviour and welfare’? Our children are polite and respectful and they know that teachers care for them. All staff are relentless in their efforts to meet the needs of all pupils Everyone thinks that behaviour in, and around, school is excellent and pupils are very respectful about all aspects of their learning. You can imagine how proud we felt as we read these words. Creating a school capable of garnering such plaudits is not easy. It takes time, effort and a clarity of ethos that everyone needs to adhere to. Nothing that we put in place was designed so that it would reflect well in an Ofsted report. We did it because we wanted to create a lovely school. I choose the word lovely on purpose. Yes, I wanted an inspiring, super-effective, dynamic school with high standards. But I also wanted it to be lovely. I’m very pleased that we got it all.
So, behaviour was sorted.
Then September arrived.
I’m cheating a little here because most of what I’m about to say happened post September. But anyway…about three weeks into the new academic year and the school was in crisis. For a variety of reasons, there was now a small group of children who were presenting extreme and challenging behaviours in school. To challenge us further, due to the city’s financial cuts, we also found that we were completely on our own in trying to support children who were, if I’m honest, dangerously close to being permanently excluded.
After a few more weeks of trying to manage children, who had incredibly complex needs but who were also demonstrating angry and violent behaviour, I decided to do something radical.
Admit that we were totally out of our depth.
This was the turning point. Admitting this, and being totally honest about these challenges freed us up to think differently. Having no money or outside help forced us to think creatively. We talked openly to the staff about the situation and about our plans. We re-designed a couple of rooms in the school. We wrote a scheme of work that the Deputy and I delivered every morning to a key group of pupils – complete with songs, puppets and dancing. We spent time building relationships with the children, the families and with the staff who were working so hard, every day, with these children. What’s more, it started to work.
It’s early days and we have much further to go in 2017. When I come to reflect on my successes, this time next year, how I managed this behaviour crisis is going to weigh heavily in my judgement. I’m confident I’ll be able to say that I better understand these children. I will support my staff so they do too. I’m also determined that we will do all this whilst maintaining our high standards. Finally, I promise you this: my school will still be lovely.
I have thoroughly enjoyed myself on Twitter this year. I’ve read some marvellous blogs and I follow some great people. The little DM groups that emerged during SATs week were a particular highlight. As were all of @jpembroke’s support with the new RaiseOnline data. The sense of goodwill and camaraderie that you get on Twitter is often unparalleled. I would like to thank everyone I’ve engaged with and I look forward to seeing you all again next year.
2016 also had its fair share of negative Twitter. The arguments. The hyperbole. As far as I’m concerned…I love it. Yes, at times it is infuriating and I empathise with those who have felt bullied. I haven’t experienced that but it can’t be nice. But will 2017 be any different? No, of course it won’t. I may be different though. I may join in a bit more. I’m getting to the point where I think I’ve reached a limit in how much I can ignore nonsense that I fundamentally disagree with. The only thing that puts me off is the time it would take to disagree. Twitter hasn’t really grasped how to do arguments properly. They go on and on and on and on! I think, for 2017, I will invent a special code, or symbol, that indicates the number of tweets you can be bothered to use up on any particular topic. That way, the next time you’re fifty tweets in, justifying the tone of a word you once used in a tweet back in 2014, you simply unleash ‘the grape’ (or whatever I decide the symbol is) and everyone knows that you’re stopping this madness in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 tweet’s time.
This time it’s personal 2016
Still standing, 2016, still standing!
This time it’s personal 2017
I’ve become a runner! Can you believe it? And like an over enthusiastic puppy I’ve even signed up for the Bristol half marathon in September. Get ready 2017, here I run!
Thank you for your insight. This year was particularly challenging with some behaviors as well. We, as a team, had to learn a lot about trauma and brain research, and how to manage children affected by trauma. I was exhausted, but I think we are making progress. Its a topic that is confidential sometimes, so it is nice to connect with other leaders so share insights. Happy New Year!
Inspirational. Thank you, on all levels – and well done on the running!