What I Wish I Knew Then……The School Development Plan…..

I was just thinking about a conversation I had with another headteacher about a year ago.  She said that it took her many years before her school finally began to take the shape that she was working towards. It was heartening to hear that, knowing full well that many changes had taken place in our school, but yet there was still so far to go.

I’m updating our SEF at the moment and thinking over how much has changed in these past two years.  I’m really enjoying reflecting on last year’s development plan, the things we have implemented, our development plan for this year and still how much more we have to do!  Our work is never complete!  Saying that, coming into my third year, the school is starting to look much more like the ‘visionary’ school we were imagining during my first few weeks in post.

As most headteachers probably do in their first term of a new post, I held many sessions with all stakeholders to imagine the school we wanted in four years time.  At the time it seemed so far away and now it is just over a year away!

It has become much more apparent to me that as things change (internal and external changes) our goalposts move and the development plan must adapt accordingly.  Our overall ‘vision’ and ‘aims’ still remain the same but the little steps that we thought might get us there, can often look very different as the year unfolds.  I have actually come to think that if the original development plan looks exactly the same way at the end of the year and hasn’t had things added or completely disregarded (after trial and error perhaps) then it isn’t the truly ‘developing’ and ‘live’ document it should be.  In a time where classroom research is paramount to ascertaining outstanding practice – trial and error will be a vital component.    Therefore, there must always be flexibility.

Take assessment for example.  We all knew that we would have to develop a new system to adapt to ‘a level free world,’ but I never expected our conversations and debates to take us on this extraordinary and exciting journey into truly creating a school that thinks about the ‘purpose’ of everything we do.  Never did we think we would have the opportunity to reshape assessment and feedback in such a transformative way.  The outcomes from this work we have been doing in school were in no way ‘expected’ when I developed this year’s plan.  But, this doesn’t mean we don’t do them……it means we adapt our plan accordingly.

So, this is something that I wish someone had told me before I stepped into this role.  During my first year I felt as though our plan was rigid and we had to tick each action off one by one.  Throughout the year, I was constantly reassessing where we were going but never feeling as though I was allowed to change or adapt this ‘key’ document.  Further, no one mentioned how difficult it was to create a development plan for a school that you hadn’t yet been a ‘part’ of – you can’t write an ‘exemplar’ plan and expect it to fit any school you walk into.  As a result of this, I didn’t draft a plan until after my first full term (December) of being headteacher.  Everyone kept telling me to make sure I had a development plan in place – but having not actually seen the school in action, watching the team, talking to the pupils – I felt completely ill-equipped to do this.  To put an action plan in place to improve the school during my first term seemed completely fabricated and false.

Now, looking back, I know I did the right thing for our school, for the children, for the staff and for the parents.  Knowing that our SDP is a constantly evolving, reflective and ‘live’ document, I am confident that we will always seek out best practice because we ‘change’ and ‘adapt’ based on our research and reflections.  When things don’t work, we try something else………we do what is ‘right’ for our children based on practice……not because it is written down on a ‘plan.’

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