Unrequited Love

When I first met you, you were, to put it mildly, difficult to like. Abusive, violent and full of hate. You spent your days under tables or chasing after other children trying to hurt them in any way you could. You didn’t care for your teacher and, as far as you were concerned, I was the big baddie. I knew your name off by heart by the end of the first week. By the second week people had already tired of you.

I read information about you and attended meetings that were about you. It was clear why you were abusive, violent and full of hate. You had no cause to trust a single person and yet your love for a parent who had spent your entire life teetering on the brink of total collapse was, in many ways, incredibly admirable. I knew that you were going to play a big role in my life for years to come.

And so you did.

I saw a lot of you in the beginning. We would, not through either of our choices, spend many of our days together. You, cross that it was deemed necessary for you to be away from others so frequently. Me, trying to understand you; trying to get you to understand the order of the world within the school gates. I never shouted. I never got cross. I even tried to help you to read, write and calculate – when you would permit me.

I put in place as much support as I could for you. But even the professionals would tell me that you weren’t ready for their help. Something I still don’t quite understand. How were you ever going to be ready? I worked with your parent and treated them with the respect many did not.

Gradually I think you and your parent began to trust me. I wasn’t the explicit baddie any more. But I was naïve. I mistook tiny tiptoes forward for indicators of future successes. Over time these giant strides of progress never happened. We just inched on. And there were so many setbacks. So many times when things went wrong. Other parents would meet with me, feigning sympathy for you whilst baying for your blood. I understood their concerns. I shared them. But nobody seemed content with the concept that you were complex and that you couldn’t be fixed.

I remember hearing a story about you. A story that, perhaps, demonstrates how your brain had been programmed from such an early age. You were playing ball in the street with a friend. There was a big container of white paint on the road. You aimed, kicked the ball, and the paint exploded. It went all over someone’s car. Your friend legged it home for safety. You, apparently, stood looking at the scene for a quite a while before walking up to the pool of paint surrounding the car. You stepped into the paint. You walked towards someone else’s door, leaving a trail of white footprints. When you got to the door you slipped your shoes off and ran, barefoot, away from the scene of the crime. That is how you survive.

Luckily for you, and me, the staff understand. They work hard for you. Over time, through a combination of pastoral support, good teaching and bucket loads of patience, you began to enjoy school. You began to make proper friends. You began to learn.

Gradually, I think, you began to like me. It was surprising how important this was for me. Maybe that’s stupid. Maybe that’s wrong. But I took it as a sign that I wasn’t wasting my time. You stopped lying to me. You shared things with me. We even had a laugh. Your armour, occasionally, came off, and it was wonderful to see you as a child.

You still made mistakes. You still upset and hurt people. You still got angry. At school, we could all see this against the context of your progress. Outsiders could not. I had meetings with people who were convinced you were still the same abusive, violent and hateful boy from years gone past. I stood up for you. I never excused you or let you off but I had your back. You will never know the total number of hours I have spent trying to protect you. Sometimes I wish you did. As if that would enable you to change quicker. But I know that’s just me being selfish. You will never know. I will work behind the scenes on your behalf and you will continue to do better and better.

And then events out of my control began to happen. Things happened to you, outside of school, that nobody would be able to cope with. I am in awe of your survival. I cannot begin to imagine getting up and going to work after putting up with what you have had to. And yet you do. You never want to talk about it. You want to put it in box and ignore it. You want to carry on as if nothing has happened.

And yet these experiences seep out of you. You have become more fragile. Not a word many people, who do not know you as well as I do, would use to describe you. But you are. Fragile. Vulnerable. Full of anger.

I can no longer work behind the scenes. I have had to, once again, become a more visible presence in your everyday life. And you hate me for it. I try to explain that if only you embraced the support we are putting around you, you would find it easier to cope at school, but of course, you don’t see it as support. And I understand that.

It is easy for you to hate me. You hate me because I am always there. You hate me because my school and my staff are never letting go. We are persistent and consistent and we will not give up. From where you’re standing we are easy targets. We will absorb all your hate and anger and we will continue to wrap our care around you. I won’t give up and leave a trail of your footprints to someone else’s door. I am not going to change, no matter how much that frustrates you. I will always be your champion because I know, only too well, how much you need one.

It will be hard, but, it won’t be as hard as being you.

Work-life balance

Before I start, you should probably know this is not a post about actual work-life balance. I will not be telling you about some wonderful new existence I have found this year, allowing me to be Headteacher and father of the year. The way I have managed my workload has not miraculously allowed me to run a successful school and indulge my lifelong passion of building full scale Viking longboats at the weekend. This will also not be a post about how work-life balance is a myth and if you’re not constantly planning, teaching, marking, assessing, reviewing, targeting, blogging or endlessly tweeting some sort of edu-babble then you’re not a proper teacher.

No, this is not one of those blog posts.

This is a post all about school.

This is a post about a Head’s school work-life balance. As in, the balance between engaging with school work and engaging with school life. These two things are not the same. And in my brief career as a Head, I have predominantly focussed on the former: my school work.

By this I mean doing very important headship stuff. The thing is, very important headship stuff often does not require you to leave your office. I can evaluate my school’s effectiveness from my desktop. All I need is data, senior leaders’ monitoring notes, behaviour logs, teachers’ plans and pupils’ books and I can not only tell which way the wind is blowing but in which direction we need to set sail. Once this is done I can busy myself with all manner of external expectations that need attending to. SEF writing, SDP planning, local authority core visit preparing, HMI monitoring visit planning, audits, updates, the list (believe me) goes on.

Occasionally I do have to actually leave my office: conduct a walkthrough, observe a lesson, go to the toilet, do an assembly, have a meeting in a different room. Sometimes, I even have to leave the school to go to meetings. And when at these meetings I spout accurate and insightful descriptions of the state of my school.

There are other times when you have to spring into action! An urgent call to arms is issued and you stride forward. You deal with a crisis. You come to the rescue. Occasionally you make things worse, but on the whole, you do some good and everybody is reminded that you’re the Head for a reason.

This is all incredibly important stuff and this is all school work for a Head.

What you realise, after a while, is that it’s all work and no life. It’s as if the brain is deaf to the beat of the heart. You know how your school works but you’ve forgotten what makes it tick.

Now, normally, at these times, Heads will go crazy. They’ll suddenly outline to the staff some ineptly thought out, incredibly trendy idea that they alone are going to map out across the school. They’ll decree that this is the future and that soon, the school will have turned a corner. They normally keep it up for about a fortnight. After that, the combination of being so actively ‘present’ around the school has taken its toll and the paperwork starts piling up in the office. They quickly retreat back into their cave and start writing a head’s report until their blood pressure goes back to normal.

I have decided that I don’t want to do that. So I’m going for a subtler approach. I’m just going to get out more. I’m going to teach every class once a term. Now when I say teach, I mean a half an hour activity based around a set of ideals that are important to my school. I’m not going to say what exactly, because you’ll accuse me of being in denial and that it sounds like an ineptly thought out trendy idea.

The point is, I’m going back into the classroom at a pace that I can cope with. I’ll experience behaviour management up close and personal, I’ll notice things about the children that I’ll be able to chat to the teachers about. It will make me understand the job they have this year better. I am in no way expecting them to learn anything from me! (I’ll get that out the way now, so you can lower that raised eyebrow straight away) But it will provide me with a greater context through which to support and challenge the teachers throughout the year.

It will also mean I get to know the children better in a different professional capacity. They only know me as the Head who either bores them in assembly, tells them off when they’re naughty, calms them down when they’re upset, fixes things when they go wrong or makes them laugh because I’m bored! They’re now going to know me as a…’teacher’ seems too strong a word but I suppose I hope they’ll see me as someone who can teach, a bit.

I honestly think this will help my school. Not because the concept behind me going back into classrooms is going to revolutionise what we do, but because it’s going to get me back doing a bit of planning, creating a few resources, thinking about differentiation. In short…stop me from being just a Head.

I love the school work of a Head but it’s time I enjoyed a bit of the school life as well.

Postscript

Oh, a few details regarding the opening paragraph that I should probably clear up. I couldn’t win father of the year because I have no children and I don’t even know what a Viking longboat is. Sorry.

Be the light

SpotlightTeaching is a tough job. I don’t care which way you cut it, teaching is hard. Anyone that says otherwise is wrong. If they’re outside education they don’t know what they’re talking about. If they’re in education, well, they probably aren’t doing it right.

And yet…

Schools are happy places. Corridors and classrooms are bright and brimming with life learning, positivity and possibility. Teachers are enablers. They are driven by the knowledge that they are making a difference. Yes, teaching is hard but it’s worth it.

And yet…

Doing the job, day in and day out, can make you forget. Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees – or in the case of teaching, you can’t see the difference you’re making for all the planning, marking, targets, assessment deadlines and meetings.

So…

Enter the Headteacher.

For we are the keepers of peace in a world of chaos. We are the bastions of sanity in a landscape carved out by the insane. We are the shepherds tending our flock of bruised and battered sheep. We are the moral compass, the heartbeat of the community. We are the guiding light.

And yet…

Sometimes teachers find themselves in the dark. And lurking in the shadows are whispers of discontent. The tired will cry, the bruised will vent, and the vulnerable will seek help. Good Heads will respond. Good Heads will listen and reflect. Good Heads will feel the pain that, under their watch, good teachers may be suffering. Good Heads will be big enough to make changes. Good Heads will provide the light.

But…

Some teachers seek out the darkness. They prefer to undermine, resist change, hide from accountability. Challenge is something to be avoided: to some teachers ‘digging deep’ is staying at work until 4pm. These teachers prefer not to empathise with the difficult children in their class but view them as unacceptable performance management targets. These teachers seek unwarranted asylum from their own job description. They do not seek the light.

And…

Good Heads will feel the pain when anyone isn’t happy. Good Heads will ask themselves, again and again, is there something more that they could do. Good Heads will doubt themselves and wonder if they are to blame. Good Heads will secretly hope that someone else will come along and fix it.

But…

Deep down they know. Good Heads understand that self-selecting darkness is bad for business. So good Heads will always find the torch. To do anything else would be unfair and disloyal to the hardworking, and then, well, even the best Head in the world would have a big problem.

So…

Teaching may be hard but so is Headship. Being fair and firm is never an easy task. Maintaining your moral compass whilst making sure your staff aren’t working themselves into early retirement is tricky – but then again, if you find Headship easy, you’re probably not doing it right.