Raising the bar and empowering learners…….

So, I’ve not been very good at this ‘reflecting’ thing lately…..I think I need to start taking my own advice!  As summer has come, things have slowed down….not in my head, however!  All I have been thinking about is school….what we are doing next year, how far we have come, what is next, etc, etc…..the script never stops!  But it is always exciting….I’m always keen for the next challenge……

I’m currently reading ‘Creating Learning without Limits,’ a real insight into the Wroxham School under the leadership of Dame Alison Peacock.  It is amazing.  Everything that I have read so far is exactly what I have been trying to achieve at my own school.  Allowing children to reach their true potential without ever putting a ‘limit’ on their learning, or ever having that conversation about how a child ‘could never achieve a level x….’  I’m sure we have all been in these schools.  These conversations make ‘us’ the problem..who are we to put or suggest a ‘cap’ on a child’s learning in school?  Let’s raise everyone’s expectations!  Or perhaps even having ‘expectations’ is the issue?

It is inspiring reading this research.  The systems that have been put in place at the school undeniably put ‘the child first.’  I always say that if we always genuinely put children at the heart of every decision we make, we cannot go far wrong.  But, at the Wroxham…..they are ensuring that every child is given a voice.  Children themselves are at the heart of the decision making.  So powerful!

I’m quickly picking up ideas that we can begin implementing in September.  We have the foundations firmly in place and a strong team raring to go and always seeking to improve.  I’m excited to finish reading about the journey that the school has taken……to see a school like this in action seems necessary for all school leaders.

It’s clearly about getting rid of any preconceptions…..giving children a voice and an understanding of what they can do to improve……and engaging the whole school community in the process of learning, evaluating and perpetually moving forwards……

….off to continue reading!

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How do you deal with change…..Are you like A or B?

Sometimes there is just so much going on in my head that when I sit down to write I just don’t know where to start!

I wrote about reflection the other day and this is how I find time for mine….I write.

As a new headteacher last year, I thought that my first year would see the most change.  I was in a new setting, we had a new curriculum to prepare for, and the list went on and on. However, I have quickly realised that change comes no matter what.  Change is happening around us all the time and sometimes at quite an alarming rate.  Therefore, we need to always be able to deal with change no matter how much it impacts us.

Change happens……there is nothing we can do to stop it.  There will always be government change – the external changes that we have to cope with.  Then there may be staff changes, teachers or teaching assistants who move on.  Change not only happens at work but it happens at home.  The grocery store seems to flummox us when they change the isle that certain foods are on!  Change happens……every day.

The only way we can cope with change is to find ways to deal with it.  We can either be the type of person (let’s call them A) who allows change to make them stumble and lose confidence or we can be the type of person (let’s all them B) who greets change with an open mind, sometimes questioning it or sometimes hardly even noticing it has happened.

If you are A, then change will drag you down.  You will become that person in the staff room who only grumbles and gripes rather than person B who takes change for what it is.  They learn to work with it, they find the ways the change can actually benefit them and they use the change to promote a different way of thinking.

So are you like A or like B?

One of the questions I always ask during interviews is about a candidates adaptability and flexibility.  In school, one of your key strengths must be adaptability.  How often has anything gone to plan?  Adaptability is what makes an outstanding practitioner.  If you can’t ‘adapt’ for your classroom and your pupils, then you will never tailor the learning to their specific needs.

So, I ask you again.  Are you like A or like B?

If you are A…..and we all know people that are like A…..what can you do to change your attitude and way of thinking?

We all know A and we all know B.  But, we all want to be like B.

So the next time change happens……take time to think before you ‘react.’

People will want to sit next to you in the staff room……..

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Why reflection matters as a leader……

Today I was reminded of the importance of reflection…..

I’ve not been very good at this lately.  I have been consumed by everything happening at school, the every day details that are constantly hurled our way.  And today I have realised that if I am not careful I will lose my ‘clear’ perspective.  A time for daily reflection and quiet thought on the issues of the day always make one a better leader.  For me, it ensures that I think through my decisions and don’t act on impulse but with clarity and careful consideration.

Of course all my decisions are carefully weighed up, however, having that time to re-focus and consider the ‘bigger’ picture always helps to balance things, helps to clarify reasoning, and helps to allow time to think through every small detail.  It is often these details that make all the difference and can turn good decisions into even better and more ‘impact’ driven decisions.

Reflection makes for a more purposeful leader; one with a clear vision and direction.

So, taking that fifteen minutes every day, to close out the sounds around you and to just think…….and write, or draw, or sip tea, or tap your pencil…..whatever it is that you do that helps you to come back to the realisation that everything is going to be all right, that there is nothing that can be thrown at you that is too much to handle……..

These are your thoughts as you are re-focusing.  This is getting back your clarity……..your perspective.  You finally have a moment to see the ‘big’ picture.

This is necessary as leader….necessary to make the right decisions for everyone involved.

An effective leader builds in time for reflection.

How will you make time for this today?

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All Teachers as Leaders……..

This afternoon we had another headteacher’s leadership session.  Today’s topic was about developing leadership within our team.  It is an interesting thing to begin thinking about. We looked at different models of leadership, from the more hierarchical to the more distributed leadership.

The paper that our group read, by John West-Burnham, discussed a subsidiarity model. This is where there is an interdependence between all members of the team.  Therefore, it dispels the idea of having a top-heavy leadership team that then manages and leads all beneath it, but rather a team that shares the leadership responsibilities.  In fact, the diagram of the model looked like a planet in the middle of about eight other revolving planets.  This article then went on to discuss how a culture of learning needed to permeate the entire school.  Through building  trust, providing time for reflection and coaching, a school can begin developing its leadership capacity – or so John West-Burnham asserts.

Discussing this today, we agreed that this model could be effective and we thought about how we might be able to recreate such a model within our own schools.  Talk turned to what leadership looks like and if everyone had leadership capabilities.  At this point, after mostly listening to the discussions taking place, I chimed in with the fact that I actually believed everyone was a leader in some capacity or another.  Teachers are ‘leaders of learning.’  They are leading the learning in their classrooms and modeling what they expect of their pupils.  It was as if this was a new concept…..teachers as leaders.  Of course this is what they are…..perhaps we as leaders need to raise our expectations and make it more explicit that we believe our teachers to be leaders and perhaps in turn they will begin demonstrating these qualities more overtly.  Making people feel as if they have ‘leadership capabilities’ could promote them to act accordingly.  Like my husband says, “If you treat a person with trust and respect, they will, in most cases, inevitably end up being a highly trusted and respected member of the team.”

Our conversation then turned to how we promoted learning within our schools.  I explained that I had set up a model where teachers share a piece of research/good practice, etc, every two weeks during our staff meetings.  Therefore, teachers are expected to undertake their own professional development by ‘seeking’ out something to share amongst their colleagues. Therefore, they are being asked, very simply, to lead learning in our team.

So, yes, all teachers are leaders and they should be treated as such….

See what happens when all teachers begin believing they really are ‘leaders of learning’ as well……

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A ‘time’ for reflection……

I’m sitting here with my daughter on a quilting weekend. Sewing is definitely not my thing, but my daughter absolutely loves it. She has been doing textiles at school, so for Christmas she received a sewing machine. This weekend she has been on a quilting course which I have had to attend because she is only 12. She is by far the youngest here but keeping up just the same. I’m actually in awe by what she is creating! I’ll have to post the final masterpiece!

I’ve had quite a few days of reflection, as on Friday I came back from the Oxfordshire Headteacher’s conference. It really was an excellent way to network with like-minded professionals and just have time to think. Time is not often on our side as we are always wishing for more just to catch up. Having ‘time’ to be able to listen to inspiring talks and discuss current affairs and ideas has allowed us to clear our heads so that we can go back into school fresh and with a cleared perspective.

Speakers included Tim Rylands, Sarah Neilds, Tait Coles, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Camilla Batmanghelidjh, David Blunkett and Richard Gerver. Lots of ideas…..some truly inspiring things to think about!

I’m so glad that I decided to go and know that next year will be just as informative. I was so enthralled by listening to Tim Rylands speaking that I ran up to him at the end to book him for our staff INSET next year. He was so engaging and I know that staff would be inspired and motivated by him -additionally they would come away with loads of ideas to help them use ICT to enhance the teaching of writing.

On Thursday I attended a Tait Coles workshop about Punk Learning…..again a few ideas I could take away with me.

I was very surprised by David Blunkett’s speech…I think many were. He spoke real sense. He made us realise why our jobs mattered and how we made a real difference to ‘generations’ of children.

The event ended with a closing speech by Richard Gerver. Again, motivational in helping us remember how important we were……we need to begin looking at ‘the gaps between the buildings.’ He also highlighted (what I had been talking about just the day before) how we need to be more ‘American’ in our attitude of building others up rather than constantly cutting people down. I completely concur with this and for one of the first times since living in Britain, was proud of having such an unmistakeable American accent and definitely the American attitude!

Thank you to all the organisers of the headteacher’s conference and to all the heads who were there to network!!

See you next year!!

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It is up to YOU…….

It puzzles me as to how much interest my work-life balance blog entries have gained.  It is almost as if people are suddenly realising the importance of having such a balance in their lives – or that it actually is a possibility.  It is definitely the ‘buzz word’ of the moment, especially with the DFE stressing its importance.  However, as I’ve said before, it is up to YOU to make the change.  No matter whether you are part of the senior management team, a middle leader or an NQT – only YOU can gain your own personal balance between home and work.

When I was a facilitator for the NCSL’s Middle Leadership Development Programme, I told the teachers on the course exactly what I told my staff at the beginning of my first year of headship.  I told them to make the effort to leave at least twice a week by 4:30.  Some of these teachers had a look of terror in their eyes.  They told me that they would be looked down upon if they were to leave earlier than the other teachers in their school – they told me their stories (like we all have) of leaving school with a huge box of marking in their hands to make it appear as though they were going home to do hours more work.  It was clear then, as it is still evident now, that these schools were making them feel pressure to stay until a certain time in the evening and to take stacks of work home.

What I told these middle leaders was that they had to break the mould.  They had to demonstrate their own leadership by modeling what they expected those in their team to follow.  Going against the grain, they needed to walk out the door and leave work behind them…..only two times a week!  You would have thought that I had told them to do the unthinkable!  But, months later, some of these teachers came back to me to tell me that making these changes had actually changed their life.  Such small changes but with such a major impact.

You may not be able to wait for your leadership team to give you the ‘go ahead’ to walk out the door by a certain time.  In fact, you may be faced with quite the opposite.  So, it is up to you and only you.  You need to decide to make the changes required.  It is up to you to gain your life back outside of work…..no one else can do it.

If you are a part of the leadership team, how can you model an effective and healthy work-life balance?

What things can you change at your place of work?

I’ll repeat it again…..making a few minor adjustments to your working week can truly  a change your life…….you’ll enjoy your work and your ‘life’ a whole lot more…….

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Work-Life Balance – An Update – A Year and a Half In…….

In an earlier post that I wrote in January 2014, I talked about work-life balance.  As a new head (I had taken up post in the September of 2013), I was determined to ensure that all staff at my school maintained some sort of balance between work and life.  In this earlier post, I wrote about how I insisted on teachers leaving at least twice a week by 4:30 with no work in their hands.  This was a big change as teachers had been used to working late and had felt the pressure to do so.

It is now a year and a half in.  I have kept to my word.  Twice a week I leave before 4 to be sure I am home when my children get through the door.  It has been a challenge, I have had my governors comment specifically on this fact.  But, doing so has allowed me to keep perspective throughout the week, stay fresh and full of enthusiasm while I’m at work. Distance does wonders and without it a leader can quickly be so entrenched in things that they lose their effectiveness.

I’ve had many people ask for an update, so here it is.  Our KS2 SATS results at the end of the summer term were excellent -in fact, we were listed in the league tables in the top twenty schools for our county.  We achieved 100% pass rate in our phonics test and our EYFS results were above local and national.  So, if results are what you are after, there you have it.

However, the biggest impact has been on staff morale.  We are all working so well as a team.  There is a ‘buzz’ in the school which you can literally feel.  Staff have said how enthused they are and how different things feel with the changes that have been implemented.  On the staff survey at the end of the year 100% of staff said that they enjoyed their jobs.  Further, in the staff health and well-being survey that was carried out in November 2014, the results were outstanding.  Teachers not only enjoyed their jobs but felt they were well supported in their roles and indicated that they had a good balance between work and their home-life.  Areas that were highlighted green showed the highest ratings but there were some areas that weren’t all green, therefore this is what I have now put into an action plan to ensure these areas are tackled.

Further, during the debrief of our results with the external advisor who carried out the survey, she noted how impressed she was with the policy I had initiated in school and with our overall results, that she is now using our school as a case study.

As a headteacher, I have to model what I expect of my staff.  If we as leaders haven’t worked out how to balance our own working lives, then how can we expect it of our teachers?

Since I have implemented this policy teachers now leave twice a week by 4:30.  All teachers now leave school everyday by 6:00 at the latest (unless there are evening events which require them to stay).  PPA can be taken in or out of school as I trust my teachers to use their time wisely.  Our motto is “Working smarter, not harder.”

To help with the workload, I also give my teachers additional time every small term outside of the classroom to complete their subject leader requirements. Especially when teachers may not remunerated for taking on this responsibility, time is an important resource that helps to ensure that these responsibilities are carried out with the highest quality.

What many people don’t realise, until they try the profession themselves, is how tiring teaching actually is.  It is a job that you can never really ‘walk away from.’  Teachers are always thinking about their classroom – on holiday, thinking about the postcards they could send their class, or the seashells they should collect for that topic they will be teaching next term – or worrying about little Suzy Q, who is struggling at home.  Teachers never really get a rest.  At school, I expect 110% from my teachers all the time.  Teaching in front of the class is a full time acting role.  The only difference is that you don’t get a break until everyone goes home.  You are always on the stage – keeping the children excited, engaged and entertained.  No matter what you have going on at home or in your personal life, everything gets put aside when you walk through the school doors.  At the end of the day when you finally get to sit down, you are exhausted!  Then there is always planning and marking to do…..the job never ends.

So yes, work-life balance is a priority as a headteacher.  I will do whatever it takes to have staff who come into work full of life and enthusiasm so that our children learn from passionate teachers full of energy.  Enthusiasm is contagious and children will always soak up so much more ‘learning’ when they are in a classroom that stimulates and excites them.

Work-life balance is a key discussion point at the moment.  But this is all it will be until leaders take action.  The DFE will continue to impose changes – there will always be assessment, testing, Ofsted, etc, etc.  There is nothing that we can do to change this…..at the moment.  So, it is up to leaders to do something about it in their own schools.  Leaders should deal with change in a way that doesn’t completely wreak havoc on their staff – they must initiate the external change in a way that suits their school and the people within it.  Together and as a team they should deal with all and any changes that are initiated.  Further, it is up to the management team to help support staff and to model an effective work-life balance.

Blame cannot always be put on the external pressures – it is time for leaders to take action and to finally support their staff in gaining their work-life balance back.  There will always be stress, time constraints and change, but it is up to us as leaders to cushion our staff from as much of it as we can.

What changes can you make in your school to help support staff to achieve this?   What changes will you make yourself?

I guarantee that you will notice the change………

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