The Best of Days/The Worst of Days.

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The true test of where you are comes not on the days of languid sunshine, when the birds arc lazily overhead,  cooling wind brushes across the glistening white crests and you skim along without a care in the world. Whilst we should be grateful for those days, those days when everything works and all the bits seem to fit together, those days of glorious tranquility. In my experience of almost five years being a head, those days are definitely in the minority.

The true tests come on the days of biting cold, and howling gales. You know those days by the ominous black clouds swirling angrily overhead. The true test comes when you realise that after hours of work there are pieces of the jigsaw missing and the box is empty. The true tests don’t just come alone, they arrive with their mates ready for a ruckus. Those are the days when you find out where you are.

This week is one of those weeks…A perfect storm. A week where you batten down the hatches, aim your bow into the waves and crash on. Not easy but when you step back and look, school is  running  like you’re sailing in the calmest blue ocean.

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Staff absence/ lack of capacity (when you have 12 High needs pupils in a one form entry mainstream primary school any staff illness is a challenge) has crashed upon our good ship relentlessly. Not really the New Year we wanted…we had such plans. Thing is, it is what it is, this is the reality rather than the dream.

This blog is a thankyou to the commitment of our brilliant staff…

That the children haven’t noticed, that the education hasn’t suffered, that school still feels like a well-oiled machine is testament to their sheer, utter bloody-minded commitment  to doing a good job.

So thankyou and once more into the breach dear friends…then it’s the weekend. Hopefully the weather will turn, the clouds will clear and we’ll have a sunny updraft. If not we’ll keep riding the storm.

 

Those who are absent take care, look after yourself, don’t rush back. We miss you but we want you properly better.

 

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New years revolution…Keep it simple

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The Christmas break is a great point to stop and take stock. To reflect on the good and the bad and to look at what is next. Sometimes it takes people from outside to really come and help you see where you are. When you are in the midst of it genuinely it can be really hard to see the wood for the trees.

I was lucky this term to have some people visit school (Karl, Kate, Mary you know who you are) and see us warts and all, they didn’t see a show (we never put on a show). They saw a picture of an ‘ordinary’ school doing what I consider to be ‘ordinary’ things. For me it was great to see the school through their eyes.  You sometimes miss the good stuff that is going on when you’re stuck in the middle of it. So I want to say a huge thankyou to them and also the fantastically challenging Darren Holmes and Jaimie Holbrook who regularly hold up a lens to the work of our school.

As a head for me the key is honesty about where you are and that allows to focus on the priorities and get the next steps right.

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What was great for me was that firstly they saw teachers totally focussed on the job, no distractions just getting on with teaching.

Good Teaching…what is it in your school?

They saw really well-behaved, focussed pupils driving their learning without draconian behaviour policies. They saw a curriculum that has after three years of really hard work by everybody, especially my amazing deputy @MeganSuggittDHT who has driven it, is now really impacting on pupils. They saw the everyday, it’s not showy, there are no bells and whistles we keep it simple sticking to what we know works with our children. None of this stuff has been instant. It’s not quick -fix stuff. The key is playing the long-game.

Mary was kind enough to send me some feedback. This again allowed me to hold it up as a lens, it also made me a bit teary.

In 4 years Headteacher has transformed the schools…

  1. However, this has been achieved without ‘bells and whistles’ and mega publicity. Rather, the understated, intelligent focus on getting the fundamentals right.

  2. Behaviour is now brilliant: the school has a calm, purposeful atmosphere where children truly love learning. Again there is nothing showy about any of this: it is the product of important things, carefully thought through, done well.

  3. There is a real, shared purpose in classrooms. Teachers talk to pupils as intellectuals and as a result they share their ideas, build on one another’s idea and are very keen to sharetheir work with other adults

  4. Pupils are unself-consciously mature: beautiful behaviour at lunchtime with individual pupils serving one another.

  5. The focus on reading has a significant impact not only on  pupils’ enjoyment of reading, but also on their imagination and the quality of their writing. Pupils in Y6 were producing work of real wit and sophistication as a result of reading rich material. Again, their own voices came through in these compelling accounts. None of it forced.

  6. The school makes a commitment of ‘pledges’ to pupils, important experiences such as visiting a city, building a sandcastle.

  7. The curriculum beyond English and maths is carefully planned to allow pupils to investigate in depth.

  8. Standards now significantly above national.

  9. Very interesting models of staff development again characterised by understatement: a ‘running commentary on teaching.

Mary Myatt 2018

I don’t think what goes on in my school is replicable not because it’s so amazing but because it’s very much down to that group of people, in that place  at that time. I’ve visited schools and brought back ideas, some have worked others haven’t.

So here are my top tips…

  1. Keep it simple. Know what works with your children.
  2. Be honest…
  3. Real change takes time, it’s not instant and sometimes you have to hold your nerve. (Play the long game)
  4. Believe in what you’re doing and why.
  5. Keep it clear. Do a thing but do it well and see it through.
  6. Keep the focus on the teaching and learning, create a culture where teachers talk about the work and look and reflect on their practice, (Dump lesson observations and data-related performance management)
  7. Create a culture of honesty…(honest discussions about what’s going on helps you get it right)
  8. Get behaviour right (Clue…it involves teaching children how to behave). Create routines and systems that develop the behaviour you want.
  9. Keep assessment simple. (Is it a tool to help teachers?…if not why are you doing it)
  10. Marking and feedback…if it helps pupils get better, then do it – most of that is in real-time in the classroom.
  11. Curriculum…get the underlying core of what it is right. This is where the body of your work should be. Spot that gaps and fill them. (Our pledges are weaved into our curriculum – not a ticklist bolt-on “DfE passport”)
  12. Don’t constrain teachers let them play to their strengths.
  13. Create opportunities for your children to show the best of them. They will constantly surprise you.
  14. Treat children with respect and trust. (They will become whichever version of them we want to create)
  15. Believe in the people you work with, trust them.
  16. Listen – a lot
  17. When something needs doing , do it.

Happy New Year. Make its a good one. The power is definitely yours.