leadership, Observations

Acting Up!

Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statler_and_Waldorf

From very early on in my career, I’ve always been asked if I’d like to be a headteacher. The answer has always been a resounding “No.” In the classroom – that’s where I belong.

18 months ago, I became a Deputy Head at the school I’ve worked in since I was an NQT. Again, the headteacher questions. Again, the resounding “No.” No way. Not ever. Not part of my career plan. I’m not sure I ever really had one, but if I did, then headship didn’t feature.

And yet here I am, 18 months on, just back in the classroom after a 4 month stint as Acting Co-Headteacher. And did I enjoy it? A resounding… “Yes!”

When the opportunity arose for myself and my wonderful Deputy Head partner to take up the post in our school, I was excited. I never thought I would be, but it didn’t take long for me to think it through. It was a chance to find out what headship is like, in a school I know inside out, with colleagues I enjoy working with, and with children and families I have known for years. And most of all, a chance to do it all with a partner who I knew would be amazing at the job… far better than she would (or does) ever give herself credit for.

So we did it. We gave it a go. And, in more ways than either of us could have imagined, it exceeded expectations. More exhausting, more challenging, more demanding, more varied but more rewarding than  I ever thought it could be. Before I started, I didn’t really know what a headteacher did all day. I’m not being disrespectful to anyone I’ve worked with, but I just didn’t know. I’ve done the job for 4 months. And I still don’t know. The time just flies by in a flurry of children and parents, staff knocking on the door, phones ringing, emails pinging, things needing signing… some days it seemed we had not stopped all day and yet achieved very little. But somehow, we managed to get the big jobs done: we wrote a SEF and an SDP, we went on learning walks, spoke with children, looked at children’s work, planned and delivered staff meetings, renovated the library, visited other schools, wrote governors’ reports … when I think back now at what we achieved in a short space of time, I’m honestly amazed. Not least because, with 18 days left of our headship, we got THE phonecall. Yes, to round off our time, we had the headship Ofsted experience. Not the most enjoyable of experiences, but an invaluable and rewarding one. It was on those two days (Yes, we were one of the lucky schools who had the full on 2 day inspection!) when I realised just how lucky I have been to be part of an amazing school community. No headteacher could do it alone: you need to be a part of a team in order to succeed.

We were very fortunate to receive a huge amount of support.    All the staff and governors at school were amazing – not least our incredibly knowledgeable Inclusion Lead, Secretary and School Business Manager, without whose support, life would have been much, much harder.  Local heads let us know that they were there for us, and that no question would be too stupid.  The LA run a “New and Acting Headteachers” course once a term for a year, which was a great opportunity for us to learn about HR, finance, governance etc.  Also, we have the most incredible Education Advisor who could not do enough to help us.  He kept us on our toes, but also kept us well informed, putting us in touch with other advisors who could help when he couldn’t.  There is no doubt that his support played a huge part in preparing us for our inspection.  And of course, there was Google.  No school can run without it.  Who else knows quite as much about the health risks associated with pigeon faeces?  I certainly didn’t.  Although I’m quite knowledgeable now.

We are clearly very fortunate to have received so much support from so many people.  But of course, it wasn’t a completely positive experience: there were days which were incredibly hard, when we had to call on the support of professionals who we would rather not have had to contact.  It was on these days when I was so glad to have my headteacher partner with me: we could chivvy each other along when the days got long, pick each other up when we were down, even finish each other’s sentences in the end.  Working together with her was undoubtedly the absolute highlight of the experience. I’m sure headship shouldn’t have been so much fun: not a day went by (even the bad ones) without the office being filled with the sound of uncontrollable laughter. And, having shared an office for four months, know her SO much better than I did before!

So now that I’ve had a taste of the job, ask me the question again: would I ever be a headteacher? The answer now is “Yes.”

Of course, it would never be quite like the autumn of 2017. The next time, I’d have to go it alone: I wouldn’t have my other half of the Acting Co-Headteacher double act at my side to spin on a chair with when things got tough, and I wouldn’t be in a school where everything was familiar.  The learning curve next time would’t be quite as steep as the first two weeks as September. For two days, we sat in a daze wondering what to do.  And then we got on with learning.  I would wait until my family were older: there were times when I got home when my 4 and 8 year old children were about to go to bed.  I know my husband (who is also a teacher) would never, ever have complained, but my job impacted on him, having to leave work earlier to pick up the children and our nicely established home routine had to go out of the window.  His support was amazing.  He would never want to stop me applying for a headship, but until the time is right for my whole family, then Deputy Headship will be enough. There are exciting times ahead at my school, and I am sure that, with our new headteacher now in post, the school will continue to grow and succeed.  There is much to look forward to and so much learning to be done before taking on a headship of my own.


By the way, should you want to read it, our Ofsted report is here. We’re very proud of it!

leadership, NPQSL

Early lessons

Labelled for reuse under CC licence


This time last week, I was getting myself ready for my first “proper” day as Deputy Head.  I’ve worked in my school since 2000, when I started as an NQT.  In 2009, I took some time out to have my first child, and again in 2013,  but since then, I realised that I was ready to move into Leadership.  I had been looking around for a vacancy, but just couldn’t find the school to move to.  I was over the moon when the opportunity to become Acting Deputy Head in my own school: new opportunities and responsibilities but without having to find my feet and carve a niche in the school.  However, staying in my school is not without its own difficulties.  These are the lessons I have learned in just one week:


Coming out of the classroom is strange

I’m still teaching 2 days a week, but this means that I’m no longer the main class teacher.  Taking a back seat, not having PPA with the team and letting go of the planning and day to day running of the year group takes a real effort.  I’m a natural control freak and letting go of the reins is hard!

There’s a lot of walking involved

Just getting part way down the to do list involves talking to lots of different people in various parts of the school.  It’s not a massive school, but my step count must have been huge on Friday. Stupidly, I wore some glamorous heels as I wasn’t in the classroom.  The green shoes will not be making another appearance in school!

The already full email inbox suddenly becomes even fuller

Everyone copies you in on everything.  Those emails that people aren’t sure who to send them to come your way.   Many don’t involve any action, lots do.  But they all need reading.  And deleting.

You find yourself with things to do that you don’t remember saying you will do

Reading minutes of meetings is vital – my name appeared a few times against actions I don’t remember signing up to.  Nevertheless, they got done!

Things can’t always be done straight away

Many of the jobs on the list involve talking to others (hence the aching feet), but of course, most of the time, they are teaching.  I’m not going to be someone who wanders in to ask random questions during lessons, but it is infuriating when you reach a point where you can’t get on with anything.  I guess that’s a perfect time for a walkabout.

Being visible takes some getting used to

I desperately want to be a visible part of the Key Stage – I want to know what is going on in the classrooms, to see the children’s work and for them to come to me to show me things they are proud of (I have a stash of special personalised smelly stickers waiting!).  I want to wander round the playground and chat to children and know the names of those I don’t teach.  But wandering into classrooms is hard – being on the receiving end, I know I have wondered whether I was being checked up on or if it was just a friendly visit. I don’t want anyone to feel that way – I want them to know that the random visits are friendly.

There is a fine line…

…between being visible and “swanning around”.  I know that staff in my school appreciate a visible presence, but  I would hate to think that anyone thought I was strutting around the school because of my new role.  I suppose this is the time when a clean break would have been easier – I would be there as Deputy Head and nothing else.  However, I know the kind of leader I want to be: hands on, involved and accessible, and so it will take time to become this.

I think I’m going to like it

One week in, early days, but so far, life is good.


#NPQSL – Leading Professional Development

typoramaHaving read the initial ThinkPiece for this module, I was immediately interested.  As a Middle Leader, there have been some frustrations for me in the way that we support our staff.  As a newly appointed Deputy Head in the same school, with some responsibility for Teaching and Learning, I am now in a position to implement some change.

CPD in our school largely takes the form of staff presentations in staff meetings, some external training as Twilight sessions and, if we are really lucky, the odd course.  All of this takes the form of teachers being talked at, rather than teachers doing.  Feedback from appraisals in the past has largely been “what do you think went well? What could you improve?” and then being told the “answers” anyway.  For me, I would rather use a coaching style in these conversations.  This year, during the feedback I gave for one of my appraisals, I asked the usual questions and was told “why don’t you tell me? I’m sure you have an opinion.”  However, I didn’t want to give my opinion and, after a while, we managed to have a really useful conversation. As a result, this teacher went away and tried something new in her lessons, a different approach which she really enjoyed and led to far more participation for the children.

For me, the most effective forms of CPD would be: coaching, peer observations (which I have tried to implement over the last 2 years but have yet to manage it – a challenge for this year) and individual or small group R&D.  Staff need to find an area which interests them to develop themselves: personal motivation needs to play a huge part in CPD.  I have attended TeachMeets and used Twitter extensively for my CPD, but others are not interested in this. They need to find their own interest to develop (within the remit of the school’s SDP) which they can then introduce to the school.

Developing T&L is something which I am very excited to be involved with and am sure I will learn a great deal through this module.


Summary of practice

Having read the account of practice, there is much that I could take away from Skipton Girls’ High School.  However, I am not sure that we are ready for staff-pupil collaborative learning.  For us, we need to develop a staff support network first before we even consider involving the children.  As a primary school, we would also have to carefully consider which children we chose to involve.

The use of the VLE for ccollaborative learning is another area which I am not sure about for our school – some members of staff actively embrace the use of ICTand do so all of the time, whereas others are fairly technophobic.  One of my goals is to broaden staff use of ICT where possible, especially in their teaching, but using it for the sharing of resources would not yet be a priority for us.

Despite perhaps seeming a little negative about what I have read about the Skipton School, their coaching ethos definitely interests me.  As far as I am aware, we have one trained coach in the school – as a 14 class primary with many teachers, this is clearly not enough.  Coaching is something I would be interested in developing, and, if one or two others felt the same, we could easily begin to develop a more open culture of development. I have often talked about having an “open classroom” system of training: previous observations have highlighted strengths and areas for development in all staff, so we could begin to pair people up for peer observations.  We would have to ensure that this was seen as a non-threatening environment – I know that some would be  more open to this than others.  This would need to be developed “in house” before we began to invite staff from other schools in to see what we do.

Summary of learning

This module has confirmed much of what I had already suspected in my school – that there is a great deal we could do to make professional development more effective.  After reading about Hargreaves and Fullan’s 6 types of professional culture, I struggled to identify an y of them (een the negative ones).  We perhaps go some way along Warren-Little’s ‘Continuum of collaboration, but certainly not as far as joint working – any collaboration is generally informal and takes the form of storytelling or asking for help and assistance.

I have thought for some time that a coaching ethos could be beneficial to our school.  I am a new Senior Leader, and I feel that Clutterbuck’s observation that effective leaders spend a high proportion of time coaching others is one which will inspire me on my way to becoming a good leader.  My frustration now is that we are in the school holidays – there are many ideas which I would now like to take into school and discuss with the rest of the SLT.  I know that I will be given some freedom to develop my new role, and hope that coaching and enhancing the learning of others can form a big part of it.

Next steps

My next steps will be:

  • to review what CPD procedures and policies are currently in place;
  • share reading and research around developing a coaching ethos;
  • investigate the possibility of using som PPA time to go into others’ classrooms, developing more of an “open door” ethos;
  • follow up on intial enquiries made about an coaching qualification;
  • following appraisals inthe autumn term, identify potential support pairings;
  • discuss the possibiliity of building “sharing” sessions into staff meeting time, to share problems and offer solutions and share ideas and resources.

There is a great deal that could be done in my school, but as I have just ben promotoed to DH (and the previous DH is still worrking there), I will need to introduce any new ideas slowly to avoid causing any offense or treading on toes.

CPD, leadership, NPQSL, Workload


typoramaI have been meaning to write this post for a while, but it seems, for the last couple of weeks, there has always been Something Else To Do.  I have a feeling that Something Else To Do is going to be a very familiar feeling in the year ahead, as I have accepted the next big challenge.  I am about to join the SLT of my school as Acting Deputy Headteacher.

In a time where many teachers are leaving the profession because of the strains put on us, the unfair demands on children and the ever increasing workload, part of me feels that I am crazy to be taking it on. But the problem is that, for some time, I have been wanting More.  For a while, I wasn’t entirely sure what More was, but I knew I wanted it.  I love teaching: I’ve been doing it for 16 years now, and while no two days are ever the same, I need new challenges.  I became SENCo and completed the NASENCo award.  Then I became Assessment Leader, with all the challenges that came with that role.  Those challenges continue, and I have loved getting my teeth into them, but still that concept of More kept niggling away at me.

A couple of years ago, I enquired about the possibility of undertaking my NPQSL, and whether it would be worthwhile. At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure whether Deputy Headship was the route I wanted to go down, but it would give me More: new challenges and stretching my brain in a different way.  I was told it wasn’t necessary, that if I decided to apply for Deputy Headships, my application would speak for itself. I had a new baby (my second), and so took the advice to just carry on as I was.  Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at Pedagoo London about my experiences as an Assessment Leader, and, whilst it terrified me, I vowed at that time to do more to take myself out of my comfort zone.

As the last school year came to an end, More reared its head again and I asked once more about the NPQSL.  This time, I was given the go ahead, and so I enrolled.  I’ve loved it – I’ve learned a huge amount: my competencies aren’t all up to top standard yet, but I’m well on the way. I’ve enjoyed the additional reading and taking my findings back into school.  Yes, as I promised myself, it took me out of my comfort zone initially, but most importantly, I worked out what More actually was.

More meant responsibility, involvement , knowledge and understanding. More meant learning how others work and finding ways to support them. More meant having the chance to make an already great school even better by researching, reading and acting upon what I found. More meant joining an SLT as a Deputy Head.

Maybe, in time, I may find I have more More than I bargained for. I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure I’ll cope – I know that, even though I’m organised, I will have to be more so.  I will perhaps have to learn the magic word “No” – something I’ve not been great at saying until recently.  I might even find that Deputy Headship isn’t for me (although I think it is!).  I have the support of a great SLT who I know well, and colleagues whom I have worked with for many years and consider great friends.  Of course, that could be my downfall – I started in the school all those years ago as an NQT and have grown and honed my craft there.  To me, I’m Mrs E, the soon-to-be Deputy Head, but for many there, there is still a hint of Miss E, the 21 year old who got caught standing on a table putting up a display when potential candidates were being shown around.  Or Miss E, the NQT who got mistaken for a Y6 child in assembly and told to sit down.  Or Miss E, the founder of the End of Year BBQ who… well, the least said about the beginnings of that tradition online, the better!

For me, taking the next step is the right thing to do. If all the great teachers leave the classroom, then what hope do the children have? And what hope do the teachers left behind have of surviving? Schools need great teachers and great leaders: people who will stand up for the needs of the children and for the needs of the teachers.  I’m not proclaiming  for a moment that I am A Great Leader, but I know that I am going to do everything in my power to be the best leader I can.

The next big challenge is one that I cannot wait to get started with. Wish me luck… I may well need it!

leadership, NPQSL

#NPQSL classroom observations

Teachers are fragile creatures. We spend our days being judged: by OFSTED, by our SLT through our appraisals, by our colleagues, by the children we spend our days with, and by their parents.  We don’t like to hear the outcomes of these judgements, because how often do we really share good news?  Just listen in the staffroom: how many teachers sit in there and celebrate the amazing lesson they just taught? You don’t hear it.  You hear us talking about how the children didn’t get it, or how they were half asleep, or how we will have to teach the lesson again tomorrow to make sure they all understand.  We are hopeless at celebrating what we do well.  But we are all professionals with something to offer, a success to celebrate and an idea to share.  Our classroom doors should be open – we should be allowed to wander in to other people’s lessons to see what’s going on, so we look at their displays, see how they are teaching a particular subject, get ideas for how they organise their classroom.

Perhaps if our doors were open, we would be better at professional dialogue. As it is, we aren’t great at talking.  Yes, the words come out and we listen to what each other are saying, but do we listen?  How many times have we sat in a staff meeting, listening to someone talking about a resource or a strategy or an idea that they want us to take back to class?  We listen, we nod, we take the handout, and then we put it in a folder and forget about it.  We should share the ideas, and then have the opportunity to see it in practice in different situations.  I raised the idea recently at a Phase Meeting about peer observations.  It was met with mixed feelings – my colleagues loved the idea of going into other classrooms, but not necessarily the idea of being observed themselves.  But why should colleagues be threatening?  Formative observations are an opportunity for discussions: the outcome can surely only be improved teaching and learning, following the sharing of ideas and reflection on performance.

Appraisals and summative observations don’t necessarily provide this opportunity for discussion, as there isn’t the equality of status between appraiser and appraise: one is there to make a judgement on the other. Summative observations have a rigid agenda, and often don’t allow for such creative discussion to follow.  Familiarity with formative observations can only lead to more productive summative observations too: if you are used to people being in your classroom, then the observation is less of a “big deal” – the teachers, teaching assistants and children get used to others being in the room and so don’t feel the need to put on a performance.

As someone new to carrying out appraisals, less formal observations would be a great opportunity to develop my skills of coaching. While, in my first round of observations, I didn’t have “bad news” to deliver, there were points for development that needed sharing. This sums up exactly how I felt!

observation feedback
Taken from LSSW’s Improving Quality of Teaching module


The opportunity to have professional discussions around lessons in an informal situation would make the formal feedback far less threatening, and we could come up with strategies for improvement together rather than skirting the issues or providing excuses for the children. I love, too, the idea of starting a conversation around a particular point rather than just sharing what was seen.

subjective objectiveProbably, for most reading this, this image is completely obvious.  But it wasn’t to me – no-one ever teaches you how to observe or how to feed back findings.  My next observations will be different, and hopefully more productive.

While I have scheduled appraisal observations to carry out next month, I am not going to let the idea of peer observations drop – my quest for open doors and accessible classrooms will continue. I will get teachers celebrating what they do well; I will get us talking about how we, and our colleagues, have succeeded with our children, I will get the children talking about their teachers and their learning, and I will get us to see each other in action.  And perhaps, as a result of this, we will become a little more confident in our abilities and recognise what an amazing job we all do.

leadership, NPQSL, Observations

#NPQSL focussing my attention

Today, I’m spending my day reading about “Improving the Quality of Teaching” across a school a part of my NPQSL course. It doesn’t sound like the most fun way to spend a day, but, an hour and 20 minutes in, and I’m actually hooked.  As part of my reflections, I was asked to consider these questions:

Taken from LSSW’s Improving Quality of Teaching module


I’m not going to share my responses here, but rather my sudden awareness of how visible we are in school. I’m a Middle Leader, not part of the Senior Leadership Team, so I’m certainly less visible than others,  but my role means that I now have a more visible presence than I have done previously.  Question 4 was really interesting:  “In terms of others’ perceptions of you as a leader, what kinds of things form the main focus for your attention?”  In my head, I know what I focus on, but is this what others see?  My head is always a jumble of new ideas and developments that I want to try out in my classroom.  Inevitably, if these ideas are a success, I want to share them, but does this meant that I flit from one thing to another, trying this and that and talking about another “next big thing” in a staff meeting?  Is it infectious enthusiasm, or just downright annoying?  Much of what I have read today talks of leaders having to “walk the walk”, of practising what they preach, under the scrutiny of others who are watching to make sure that words and actions are in agreement.  By jumping from one thing to another, can I do this? Can I make sure that I am staying on top of everything before introducing something new? Perhaps I need to slow down on the pet projects and focus on one thing at a time.

In so many ways, the internet, social media platforms and courses such as NPQSL are an absolute asset to education. In times where professional development and courses are barely available, we have to find our own ways of progressing our careers and developing our skills.  But a non-stop source of support , advice and ideas can be such a bad thing too – there is a world of creativity and inventiveness available to us at all times: my Facebook and Twitter feeds are constantly me showing me another  “next big thing” to take into my classroom.  As an aspiring Senior Leader, I will have to rein in my enthusiasm a little – focus on one thing at time, embed one idea before moving on to the next one.  Perhaps then, if asked what others’ perceptions of my focus are, I might have some idea what the answer would be.