What they don’t tell you about headship…Part 2.

The school development plan…

To be honest, I don’t remember being involved with it much as a deputy – the objectives were on the staff room wall and we just needed to remember what they were – I know we were bound to them with percentage points and expectations of progress for our appraisals.  However, I don’t remember thinking about the objectives or getting people involved with developing it.

As a new headteacher, governors quickly expected a school development plan.  As we all knew, this was one of the key documents that was necessary – alongside the 16 page SEF, the equally long SIAMS self evaluation and all the other unnecessary paperwork to prove that we were ‘doing’ things.

So, let’s stop here.

Tip #2: Unless you are becoming headteacher of a school you are already working in, do not assume you know from day 1, what the school’s next steps are.  Your first job is to create a vision with your new team.  But to do this, you’ve got to really get to know your school.

What is successful in one school, may not be effective in another.  Just because you used a certain ‘programme’ that worked wonders for your writing, phonics or maths in your previous school, does not mean it will automatically fix anything in your new school.

You will walk through the doors of your new school and pick up on things that you know need changing right away.  I suppose they call these the ‘quick fixes’ or ‘quick wins’.  But in the same breath, I would say be careful of these as well.  Like many new teachers, I was given the advice to,  “go in tough – let everyone know who is the boss.  Make ‘quick changes’ just to change things so they know you mean business.”

You’d be surprised at how often I was told about these ‘quick changes’ – so many people said that I needed to do this from day one.  My advice would be to be careful about these – I’ve seen other heads get this very, very wrong.

Be human.  You are dealing with people, who may be just as nervous as you are on day one.  You are their new headteacher – you could come in and change everything!  It’s a very tense time for everyone – remember this.

Get to know your new team.  Understand what they love about their school, what drives them, what they would like to see changed.  This will be your starting point.  What is the culture and ethos like?

Get to know your children.  Understand what they love about their school, what drives them, what they would like to see changed.  This will be your starting point.

Get to know your parents and your community.  Understand what they love about their school, what drives them, what they would like to see changed  This will be your starting point.

You must see the school from the perspective of everyone involved.  They know the story of the school so far and are key to getting you to realise your vision.  It is up to you to generate the enthusiasm of all these stakeholders to join you in the new journey the school is about to take.  But remember as I said in my last blog post – you will not have everyone on board – you may lose people along the way, but this is just part of the process and it is ok.

If I’m going to make changes, I want them to have impact.  Therefore, I consider what these changes will mean.  As I have progressed in my headship I now use these key questions to help me with any change: What is the purpose of what we are doing (or what we want to do)? How will this impact our children?  and How will this impact the workload of staff?

The first change I made was during the first Inset with my new team.  During previous visits to the school, I quickly picked up on how late teachers were working and how the headteacher expected this of them.  My husband always highlighted workload and wellbeing with me as a teacher and deputy, so this was forefront in my thinking.  Therefore, I told staff that I expected them to be able to leave at least twice a week by 4:15 with nothing in their hands and that everything we did in school would help us make this a possibility.  This change was difficult for some teachers.  Another thing to always remember is that change, no matter what it is, is change – even if it is to benefit others, it won’t be an easy adjustment for everyone.

So, take time to get to know your school, to evaluate, assess and collaborate.  It is during this time that you will understand your new school more clearly and you won’t make changes just for ‘the sake of making change’.  All change should be meaningful and well considered – no matter what anyone tells you.

Our first draft of the school development plan wasn’t fully produced until January – a whole term after I stepped into my new role.  Obviously things may have been different if I was walking into a school that had serious issues – but again, I would follow the same process.

I’ve seen so many headteachers caught up in making sure all the paperwork is in place (often doing paperwork that is useless and unnecessary) – and what happens is that they spend so much time with their head down that they miss what is going on around them.  I’ve had times where I’ve been caught up with this as well.

What is really important is how well you know your school.  How do you know what needs to be changed?  What are you going to do about it?  How are you going to make sure the change you implement has impact?  What impact will this change have on your children and staff?

When you truly know what needs to take place to begin to realise the vision, then you can begin writing it down.  But know that the school development plan will change and adapt throughout the year – we’ve had things on our plan that just get marked off because we realise that what we thought was a good idea at the start of developing our plan, in practice isn’t going to be useful, effective or have an impact.  So be sure your plan can be easily adapted and changed.  Things change – things adapt – you can’t plan for everything – so to always know what your school needs you need to be present…

And if you are worried about Ofsted (which you shouldn’t be)- you can have the most professional looking paperwork in place, but if you can’t talk about your school they will see right through it.  Know your school inside and out – build a vision with your stakeholders and work relentlessly towards it.  Be human and put children and staff at the centre of it all.  You can’t do this from your office.

Work on getting the balance right and the paperwork that needs to be completed becomes easier and will fall into place.

#ShineOn!

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What they don’t tell you about headship…..Part 1.

I’ve been reflecting on my journey as a head lately….thinking back through the last five years that I have been in post at my current school.

Before headship I had been a deputy in a larger two form entry school for a few years and then this headship came up which I decided I needed to go for (it was the first headship I went for while being a deputy – but not the first headship interview I had applied for – but that is a whole other story!).

As I mentioned, this is now my fifth year in headship, at the same school.  I’ve had both a SIAMS and Ofsted inspection since I have been there, but this is the first year where I really feel like we are finally getting to where we’ve been aiming to get to since I started.  Yes, it’s taken this long.  Obviously lots of things have changed along the way, but to get where we are now has been a journey – but as I’ve learnt, change that is transformational does take time to embed – there are always ‘quick’ wins, but the deeper rooted changes need time and consistency.

Our journey has, without a doubt, had its ups and its downs, ones that you’d typically find in a primary school and others that you could write novels about!  It has definitely been a challenge getting to where we are now, but worth every moment.  We have been working towards what we know is right – putting the children at the heart of our decisions and always using them as our starting point.

Since becoming head, which will resonate with many other leaders, I have often felt like I’ve constantly had to prove myself.  This was my first headship and I was quite a young head.  No matter the qualifications, experience and training I had behind me, I was doubted, questioned and challenged.  I’ve just realised that I am writing this in the past tense – this still happens, but less so for my perceived lack of knowledge – but now more so for often doing things differently or challenging the ‘status quo’.

As leaders we usually have our own vision of what we want a school to be like.  As educators, we often have our utopian view of how children should experience learning.  What we aren’t told is how complicated it all becomes when you add into the mix, staff, parents, governors and of course the children themselves.  Everyone has their own opinion of how education should be and the challenge as head is to get everyone on board.  The truth of the matter is that you may lose people along the way – but this is all right – it is a part of the process, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, transformation happens through ‘time’ and through ‘change’.

My first day was a whirlwind.  One thing happened after another and on my first day I was almost forced to close the school due to an ongoing issue with the toilets and drains.  I was having to deal with day to day issues that I’ve never had to manage before.  But from that very first day, I began implementing change.  I quickly saw things that needed to be swiftly in place before day two even began!  What a learning curve.  These incidents were definitely not a part of my ‘plan’.

Already, things I hadn’t expected, had happened.  I was now in charge.  I had to make the final decisions, the final call.  Nothing really could prepare me for that.  You are suddenly thrown into situations where everyone expects you to know the answer.  The truth is, you won’t always know the answer.  How can you be expected to know everything?  The key is that you aren’t afraid to ask for help…..the key is knowing who you can call who will have the answers for you.

Tip #1: Have a wide ranging, reliable network of people you can get in touch with when you need help or need to ask a question.  Twitter is a fantastic resource for this.  Often just talking to someone else about an issue helps you to clarify things and form a renewed perspective (why reflection is so powerful!).  This is also where having a coach when you become a headteacher is invaluable.

Just remember, no matter what challenges I have had to deal with, headship for me, at this time in my life, is the very best job in the world.  I love what I do and love the team I work with.

Every day is different but every day we have the privilege of helping to influence a community.

We are helping to change lives…..what could be better than that?

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What Memories Are You Creating In Your School? Why this is a crucial question….

The other week I gave a presentation for the NAPE AGM based on our school’s involvement in being a part of a Keycolab research project (in association with NAPE).  The research involved assessing the impact that educational visits have upon children’s learning.  The findings in our school proved what we already suspected – that educational visits, when planned as a part of the learning effectively, can have a massive impact on pupils’ learning.

However, what resonated most during this research and what I made mention of in my presentation, was the idea of the reoccurring theme of ‘memories’.  In fact, I believe that if we were to ruminate more deeply into the idea of ‘memories’ when we began planning for curriculum, for experiences or for the very foundation that every school is built – that education itself may have much more of a lasting impact on everyone.

I’ve been thinking back to my time working as a teaching assistant in an EBD school near Birmingham.  It was my time here that made me realise I wanted to teach.   The teenage boys I worked with, had all, at some point, become completely disengaged from school.  They didn’t see the point of being in class and school for them had become a place they wanted to literally ‘break free’ from.  From the time I spent with these children, I came to realise that every one of them had negative connotations associated with school.  They had bad experiences in school – their ‘memories’ of school when they were younger were flawed with endless negative experiences – from the way they were sanctioned – the way they quickly fell behind their peers when they didn’t understand new concepts – or the way they were forced into class to ‘learn’ when they hadn’t had any sleep the night before, had no breakfast or even what you and I would call a sufficient dinner – but then expected to bury all of their frustrations, anxieties and fears until school was over.  How can we ever expect children to ‘learn’ in these situations? Before we first adhere to children’s wellbeing, we can never expect learning to take place.  No wonder these boys were now in a ‘lock down’ unit – where their understanding of ‘learning’ was becoming more and more tarnished.

These boys will all be their twenties now and I wonder what ‘memories’ they have of school?  I think we all know the answer to this question.

Childhood is over in an instant.  It seems it is becoming even shorter and shorter as society’s expectations of children continue to change – children seem to have to grow up more quickly and schools are playing a major part in this.

When we all think back to our primary school days, we will all have different memories.  There are some memories that are still clearly imprinted – there will be something associated with that memory that makes it so.  Most of us identify with the fact that there are some teachers we remember as being our favourite or being our worst – usually there is a ‘feeling’ that we associate with those teachers – a particular way they made us ‘feel’.

Reflecting on the school I am now leading, I often think about what memories we are creating for the children.  When we plan a curriculum, what will the children remember?  If children don’t enjoy their learning – if they don’t enjoy reading, if they don’t enjoy maths, if they don’t enjoy learning about History…..you can see where this is going.  It is up to us to create the passion behind learning, to create the positive associations with these subjects so that children are engaged and excited about learning within these topics.

Just think about maths or writing – were you a child who didn’t enjoy writing – who found it difficult to think of ideas?  Are you an adult who doesn’t enjoy maths because you found it difficult and complex in primary school?  The way we feel now about these things is usually based upon how we experienced them when we were younger.

The question I pose then is; what memories are we creating for our children?

Is the ethos and culture within our schools promoting positive memories for our children?  Memories are built in the ways we talk to children, the way we greet them, the way we discipline them, the way we interact with them at every single moment.

Memories are built in the way we teach children, the way in which we create experiences for children, the enjoyment we create around learning.

So is your school centred on taking tests or proving progress?  Do SATs tests mean you begin training children and talking to your children about these tests from the time they enter KS2?  Have you taken the enjoyment out of reading and writing, to drill children in their understanding, to prove that children can use semi-colons and commas?

Children will never reach their full potential unless they enjoy their learning and understand the purpose of it.  Enjoyment of learning leads to high achievement but more importantly it will have a lasting impact.  If children are turned off of learning at primary school – they very often will always be disengaged from it.

What memories are we creating for children in our primary schools?

I believe this to be a crucial question we all need to focus on to ensure we are creating the best outcomes for all.  Through the haze of SATs, Ofsted, a national curriculum, ‘data’, evidence, etc, etc….we need to focus first on the ‘experience’ we are providing our children with.

Before everything else…..this must be our core purpose.

As I always say…..if we truly put the children at the heart of every decision we make…..we can never go far wrong.

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Headship…..not a lonely place…..

Dame Alison Peacock said something at the last #LearningFirst event at Canterbury Christ Church University that struck a chord with me.  She said something along the lines of headship not being a lonely place because of the team that she worked with – in headship she was never alone.  And the more I think about it, the more I realise just how right she is.

After coming away from the Oxfordshire Headteacher’s Conference, I have fully understood the fact that headship only becomes a lonely place if you make it so, you can only isolate yourself.  It’s about building relationships with your team, with other leaders outside of your school gates, with networks on Twitter.  With social media, the world is suddenly at your fingertips and any question or challenge you might be struggling with, there is always someone there to help…..but you have to seek it out – you have to ask and be willing to network.

Looking around the room at the conference, I reflected on all the excellent things that we are doing as educators.  Every school that was represented there is doing something amazing.  Our schools all are doing things that we should be sharing – best practice that needs to be discussed and debated on, to ensure we are always providing the best education to our pupils.  We may only have a certain number of children in our schools, but in fact, we are all responsible for the education of every child – we are responsible for working together for the best outcomes for all……not just the children within our walls.

There are musings about competition that exists between schools or between catchment areas.  I understand the need for schools to fill their places, but beyond that, we must stop this competitive mindset, which can often make schools become insular places, becoming so caught up in keeping everything to themselves and often stopping in seeking out best practice from others.  Everything we do must be about making things better for our children in our schools and with this comes a responsibility to share what we find works and equally what doesn’t work to help make things better for children in every school.

So, it’s about collaboration, sharing our stories, sharing our wins and sharing our defeats.  It’s about learning from each other so we can all be better at what we do.  Every person in that room has something to share, something valuable to teach and a story to tell.  The power of this is tremendous and we don’t do enough with this.

Imagine the information we would have if we could go into every school in our county, find out what makes each school successful, what their challenges are, and then share this information for us to act upon in our own schools.  There is so much to learn from each other – so much that has the potential to unlock areas where we may be ‘stuck’ in our own schools.

So, when people say that headship is a lonely place, I am going to challenge them.  In my darkest hours, I’ve always had people to turn to.  An incredible team in school, a network of headteachers who will always be there if needed and a huge network of support on Twitter.  Headship is only a lonely place if you don’t ask questions, if you don’t seek support, if you don’t create a network of people around you who can help you during times of challenge.  You can only isolate yourself.

Perhaps more work needs to be done on ensuring that people new into headship have access to these networks – to ensure they have a strong group of people they can call upon when needed.  Sitting in on the workshop with Hannah Wilson and Julie Hunter further reinforced the fact that there are so many people out there looking to provide support, to give a voice, to encourage all those educators to find confidence within themselves.  The whole #WomenEd movement and focus on coaching, demonstrates the support that is out there…..if only people take a moment to access it….it is literally at their fingertips.

The thing is…..we are all in this together.  Rather than creating barriers, we should be opening our doors, sharing our stories, working together to be a more powerful agent for change.

Imagine the transformation that could take place…..imagine the success we would have for every child in our care.

Let’s share more, let us be there for each other more, let us reach out, let us listen, let us not judge…..

Let us all work together to ensure the very best for education everywhere.

And with that….I’m going to sign up for the coaching pledge….

Have you?

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Roll On 2018….

The time has come…..a new year ahead where we stop to think about what we have achieved and what lies in store for us in the months to come.

This year feels slightly different to me – I’m not sure why.  Usually I have grand plans, a clear idea of what I want to achieve next.  Obviously there are a number of things that I would like to do, goals I would like to attain and perhaps this year I will attain some, but for now I just want to see what comes.  I want to enjoy every moment, grasp opportunities that come and see what life decides to throw my way.  I want to enjoy all the little moments with my family.  I want to be more spontaneous, go out and ‘experience’ life happening around me.  Last night, I decided I wanted to try and learn a new piece of piano music – so I sat down and learnt the intro – I hadn’t sat down at the piano for years!  My daughter is playing the piano now as I write this.  A reminder, that our children watch and copy everything we do – so I want them to see me enjoying the little things, I want them to ‘experience’ life with me.

As leaders this rings true as well – we must model what we expect from staff but more importantly what we hope and wish for staff.  Key to this must be a focus on well being and a work life balance that encourages spontaneity, living life to the full and enjoying the simple things each and every day.  Too often I read about people who want to leave teaching and who aren’t happy in their schools.  This has got to end.  Education is one of the most exciting, rewarding and fulfilling professions there is.  It is up to leaders to ensure their schools are places that teachers want to be, where they feel valued, listened to, happy and excited about the day ahead.  We have got to get the balance right for everyone.  It can be done.

So reflecting on 2017 and my most recent blog about our Ofsted visit – this year I begin with confidence.  Confidence that our school is going in the right direction, confidence that always putting the children and staff at the centre of our decisions, will ensure we never go far wrong.

I’ve read alot of blogs and posts recently about people wavering in confidence, doubting themselves.  We all go through this.  There may always be times where you question what you are doing or question your ability.  Undoubtedly, there will always be people who question everything you do – they will never go away.  The number of times I have questioned myself, wondered whether my ‘doubters’ were right!  I now know that it is during these times when I absolutely need to take a step back to reflect and regain a clear perspective.

We still don’t have everything just right – I will still make mistakes (alot of them!), but keeping our principles and values at the heart of everything we do will keep us on the right path.

So, 2017 was about being brave, having the courage to often stand alone.  But for me, 2018 is just about knowing that we are on the right path – sticking to our principles and standing firm.

2018 will be about taking life as it comes – seeing what happens and making the most of each and every day.

Roll on 2018!  Make this your year to #ShineOn!

 

 

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Ofsted….The Visit….They came and they went….

So, Ofsted finally came.  This is now my fifth year of headship – the last inspection was in November 2012, the year before I started, so we waited a full five years for their return.

We knew they were imminent, had assumed after the third year they were close to our doorstep, but everyday has been school as usual.  In fact, we haven’t dedicated one staff meeting to the topic of Ofsted, nor had we ever discussed it in any detail as a staff.  We had decided from the outset that we weren’t doing what we did for Ofsted……we do everything for our children. I’ve always been of the mindset and been very explicit about the fact that if we put our children at the heart of every decision that we make, we can never go far wrong – I still maintain this – always will.

However, it was the removal of levels that allowed our school to flourish.  It was at that point that we took hold of the opportunity that came and decided to question the purpose of everything that we did.  It has been from this very point, that we have had to be brave – confident that what we were doing was right for our school. We turned everything inside out, thinking about the impact on pupils and our staff.  A focus on workload and well-being has been vital from the very start – in fact, my very first meeting as headteacher, I told all staff that we were working towards ensuring everyone could walk out of the building at least two times a week by 4:15 with nothing in their hands.

There have been many moments where I’ve questioned everything and doubted our path.  But with a step back whilst reflecting upon our core question, “What is best for our children and our staff?”, realised that we must continue to be courageous even against adversity, questioning, doubting and often having to stand alone.  It has definitely not been an easy journey, we have had more than our fair share of challenge, but we have endured – steadfastly working towards our vision.

So Ofsted came (one inspector and his inspector – he was being quality assured)….we were in our third year of a new assessment system that we are still trying to embed.  We have three new teachers (two NQTs) who were in their fourth week of the Autumn term.  The inspector was fair.  He had some extremely positive things to say (though we always seem to only hear what we need to improve).  He trawled through our books (many more than I expected) – most with hardly (if any) teacher marking in them – he had read our glowing Year 6 writing moderation report and could see the impact of verbal feedback in the books.  He didn’t ask to see my ‘progress’ data (I have no numerical data for progress anyhow-a massive thank you Jamie Pembroke for supporting this aspect of our journey), or any data for that matter.  He was more interested to see progress in pupil books – exactly where I would look myself.

The actual day itself was a blur.  In fact, there was so much that we just didn’t have a chance to show him or discuss with him.  So much more that he just didn’t grasp fully about our school – he barely skimmed the surface, but really, how deep can you go in one day?  He was very focused on his key lines of enquiry and as hard as we tried to bring in other bits of information, he was too good at bringing the conversation quickly back to what he wanted to hone in on.  I did feel, even with the advice regarding writing teacher assessment (of 2017’s assessment) that Jamie Pembroke had been tweeting, that our inspector had absolutely focused on our writing ‘progress’ data from ASP – even in light of our exceptional moderation (so glowing, in fact, that our moderator took time to write a letter to our governing body).

So Ofsted came and went.  However, for us, the main accomplishment has been the fact that everything we have been doing, is absolutely the right thing.  We have focused on well-being and workload from the very beginning, have tried to do as much as possible to give staff ‘time’ for additional responsibilities and to help ensure they love coming into school.  The inspector made it very clear that the staff feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Staff in school feel pressure every day – it comes with the territory.  They do not need the added pressure of Ofsted.  They do not need to be fearful of having to do things to constantly evidence or prove that they are doing their job effectively.  Pupil interviews tell me what happens in the classrooms, pupil books show me the progress, conversations with children highlight how their gaps are closing – the teachers do not need to write reams – planning, marking, evidencing, etc, etc.   Therefore, my hope is that staff have felt calm, purposeful and excited about their roles in our school.  When teachers are passionate about what they do, this passion will be transferred to our pupils-excitement and enthusiasm will exude and seep into the corners of every classroom.  This is how I want our school to be…..this is what I want everyone to feel when they step inside our doors.

So, it can be done.  We can reduce workload, we can focus on the well-being of our pupils, we can ensure that children are at the heart of it all.  We can do this and Ofsted will see the benefits and Ofsted will still come and go…..it’s what you do with the days in between that really matters.

Will we change anything as a result of our visit?  All of the next steps that the inspector suggested, were already in our new development plan – nothing was a surprise – so we will continue to put the children and staff at the centre of our decisions – we will continue on the journey we have been on…..

It’s not about being brave anymore – it’s just about doing what we know is right.

If it’s right for our children…..if it’s right for our staff……then surely it will be right for Ofsted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mrs Barton’s Leaving Words for the Class of 2017

Some say that every cloud has a silver lining.
I like to think that every cloud holds an opportunity.
Will you be the person sitting safe inside, wrapped in a soft cocoon,
Or will you be the one perched on top…
Watching, waiting…
For that chance to make a difference?
Will you be the one who sets their cloud ablaze?
 
When the path divides,
Will you be the one who chooses the path less travelled?
When your beliefs are challenged,
Will you be the one to maintain integrity?
When your time is demanded,
Will you be the one to take a step back to refocus your priorities?
When others don’t have a voice,
Will you encourage them and stand up for them with your words?
When you see injustice,
Will you be a leader and make things right?
 
Will you carve out your own path?
Will you stand firm in your beliefs?
Will you take time to continually reflect on your priorities?
Will you be a voice for those without one?
Will you always be a leader?
 
To balance unwaveringly on top of that cloud,
You need courage.
You only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain,
So courage in equal measure?
Imagine the possibilities…
 
Remember that God never gives you more than you can handle.
So, be that cloud surfer,
Poised and ready for the next challenge that is sure to come your way.
Be you…
But know who YOU are.
Be different…
Ready to stand apart from the crowd.
 
Be a leader…
Unafraid to stand alone.
Go out into this world
And don’t hide your light.
 
Be phenomenal
And Shine On!

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