CPD, Observations

A good leader is…

Image adapted using Typorama
Image adapted using Typorama

There have been many Twitter conversations and debates of late about the qualities and the failings of Senior and Middle Leaders. It seems that the experiences teachers have with their SLTs and Middle Leaders varies massively from school to school. I have clearly been very fortunate: I have taught in the same school for the whole of my 15 year career, but I’m now on my 3rd Headteacher (plus an Acting Head for a short while), and the SLT members, and indeed structure, have changed since 2000. In all of my time at the school, I have always worked for a very supportive team. Friends too often share their experiences; many of them have families, but as yet, I’ve not found anyone whose stories match those of this week’s Guardian Secret Teacher.

Reading the story of this teaching mum filled me with horror. You would hope that hers was a one-off story, but sadly, reading comments on the page and those that followed on Twitter, it would seem not.

As I have written before, I am beginning my venture into the world of Senior Leadership this year by taking the NPQSL. I have also taken on the role of Phase Leader for September, so for me, thinking about what will make me a good leader is incredibly poignant at the moment. I’m pretty sure I will make a good leader, but when I tried to think why, I struggled.

This article by John Dunford, outlining what he thinks makes a good Senior Leader, listed 8 skills needed. Although this article is now a few years old, surely the skills and principles haven’t changed?

Dunford’s principles were:

  • keep a relentless focus on teaching and learning
  • hold to the values that underpin the work of the school
  • be visible around the school
  • build a learning community among staff, as much as among pupils
  • ensure that leadership style suits the occasion
  • find good ways of involving parents and the community
  • prioritise
  • communicate endlessly.

I’m so very glad that I read this, as so many of these are principles that I hold dear. I am desperately trying to promote the sharing of ideas and learning experiences throughout the school; I’m forever talking about the value of sharing good practice on Twitter and want to encourage others to visit other classes in their phase to see what goes on. Parents have had more involvement in the school this year (especially in KS2, and in my year group) than ever before. We have worked hard over the last 12 months to decide on the Key Drivers that underpin our planning, so our values are reflected in everything that we do. Many of the other skills I have blogged about before (here and here) .

For me, the biggest challenge has been my leadership style. Until recently, I’m not sure I had one. I would speak my mind and, although never one for confrontation, I would say what needed to be said and deal with the consequences after, whether it be parents or other staff. I think I have learned to stop and contemplate a little more, to consider what I say, and to perhaps think a little more before speaking. I still say what needs to be said, but in a more measured way. That, I think, is a crucial skill for any leader.

I don’t want to be the kind of leader that the Secret Teacher wrote about. I want to be a leader who gets the best from the people she works with, who is fair and reasonable and understands the demands on staff outside of school. I hope that, by combining my own skills and work/life balance with the support of my school’s SLT, seeing how they work and cope with the demands of Deputy Headship and learning a great deal over the coming year, I can become that kind of leader. Perhaps if more of us shared our experiences of good leadership and how leaders have supported us, then we can prevent more good teachers like this week’s GST from leaving the profession we love so much.

Observations, Workload

An age old dilemma…

Image from Pixabay under CC0 License
Image from Pixabay under CC0 License

Is it just me who has this dilemma?

To work, or to not work?

Summer holidays are for spending time with the family. Of course they are. That’s the main priority. I’ve made sure of that with my #summer10 list. But there is always the big stack of stuff that needs doing for school: tying up loose ends from last year, planning for next year, getting your head around a new class, INSET preparation… the list just seems to go on.

But when is the right time to do it? At the beginning of the holidays, I am always keen to get on and do it (no, I’m not being saracastic!), but equally, I’m ready for a break. This year, I have spent 2 evenings working (I’ve had a week off so far), which set the cogs whirring about everything else that needs to be done. I want to get on and do it, but equally, I begrudge doing it a little too. The problem is, I find, that if I do my planning at the start of the holidays, 2 issues arise. 1). By the time I go back to school, I’ve forgotten what I’ve planned, and 2). I always find more to do which then spreads further into the holiday.

So the obvious answer is to leave it to the end of the holidays, right? But then, it hangs over you for the whole 6 weeks. Who wants to spend the last few nights of their holiday working when they could be chilling out, drinking wine and making the most of the last few “lie-ins” (which aren’t what they used to be when you have two young children!)?

I pride myself on having got my term time work/life balance to a mostly manageable state (see my Guardian article here), but I’m not sure I’ve ever really cracked the summer holiday workload.

So, a week in, what’s the answer? To work, or not to work? That, still, is the question.


My #summer10

Image attained under CC0 License
Image attained under CC0 License
After reading Rachel Jones’s summer10 post today, I have decided to choose myself 10 things to achieve over the summer holidays.  It’s all too easy to let 6 weeks pass you by and then realise when it’s too late all the things I wanted to do.  So, after much deliberating and crossing out of items, here is my #summer10 (including only one school-based item – let’s get the balance right here!).

  1. (Get the school one out of the way first) Write a SPaG plan for the whole year. A boring job, but it will save many a late-Sunday night panic.
  2. Don my swimming costume, get in the paddling pool with the children and have a real life, full on, water bomb and water pistol-based water fight. Obviously on a very, very hot day!
  3. Vaguely related to the above, but buy a bikini. For foreign holiday use only (NOT for back garden use where the neighbours with the big balcony overlooking the canal can get an eyeful!). The last time I wore one was when I was on my honeymoon, very nearly 8 years ago. I may not have the perfect beach body, but no-one apart from the three gorgeous people I’m going with will know me, and they won’t mind whether I’m in a bikini or a potato sack! Although, to be fair, I’d probably get a bit sweaty in a potato sack.
  4. Make pasta. We gained a pasta maker a couple of years ago and have used it all of about 3 times. Our speciality so far seems to be butternut squash ravioli, but some serious pasta invention with the children is definitely on the cards.
  5. Sort the children’s bedrooms. Ok, a dull one, but definitely a necessary one. How do children get so much stuff?? Their bedrooms are overflowing, T has grown out of all of his toys, G will inherit them plus has a birthday soon. I’m guessing the 5a on this list may include “go to Ikea”. Which obviously includes 5b “buy meatballs”.
  6. MNQTH and I looking gorgeous, as ever.
    MNQTH and I looking gorgeous, as ever.
    Go on a date. MNQTH and I actually went on a night out together at the weekend, and it was brilliant. A nice meal, a stop off at a party and then a few(ish) drinks in the pub afterwards. We just don’t get to go out for the sake of it any more. But we will.
  7. Take T on a bike ride. He finally mastered cycling last year, but since then has only really pootled around the streets by our house. A proper bike ride with at least one of his parents on their bikes (both, if we can sort a bike seat for G!) is well overdue.
  8. Maybe even linked to 7: go for walks. There are lovely walks around where we live, and we have the Forest of Dean on our doorsteps. We should make the most of it.
  9. Read a book. I managed it recently (“I do not sleep” by Judy Finnegan – I really enjoyed it!) but I’m aiming to read at least one during the holiday. I might even be ambitious and take a few away with me. The Kindle will be fully loaded!
  10. Play the piano. I love my piano, but rarely play it. When the children are awake, my awful playing is made all the worse by some either very high or very low plinky-plonking of small hands. When the children are asleep, I can’t play for fear of waking them up. I’m going to choose one piece I love and crack it over the holidays: I’ll practise until the neighbours are sick. I’ve got a few ideas brewing already… musicnotes.com, here I come!

Never mind the list, THIS is what my holiday is all about.
Never mind the list, THIS is what my holiday is all about.
None of these tasks are particularly big ones (well, except the bedroom sort outs… that may well turn out to be a mammoth task!), but all completely achievable.  Whatever happens during the next 6 weeks, I know I’ll have an amazing time with MNQTH and the children.  I’ll report back at the end of August with lots of ticks on my list.


Trust in me.

I came into teaching for the children.

Not for the holidays.

Certainly not for the money.

For the children.

They are at the heart of everything I do, every decision I make.

Every decision is for the best of the children. Not just for one, but for all of them.

Sometimes, those decisions are tough, sometimes really tough. But they are always carefully thought through.

You may not always agree with my decisions, but you need to understand that I see a different picture to you: a bigger picture, with far more complex angles and points of view and twists and turns than the picture you see.

It would be so much easier to make decisions by viewing that smaller picture, but sadly, in the long run, that would be detrimental to everyone.

I always have the children’s best interests at heart, to help them to succeed academically, but just as importantly, socially and personally too.

Whether it’s me who teaches your child, or someone else, please, please trust us. We want what you want: happy, successful children.


A change for the better

Today, for the first time, some of the children in our school were mixed into new classes for September.  In my time of teaching there, we have always had the same classes from the time they start in Reception, up until they leave us in Year 6.  Many of the children were also together in Nursery, making their journey together an even longer one.

We never have mixed the children up before, but the more I think about it, the more I think we should have done in previous years.  The classes are set as they join us in Reception with the very best intentions: a mix of boys and girls, some friendship groups kept together, a mix of Autumn, Spring and Summer born children in each class, abilities of children spread across the two classes.  But things change.  Children leave, new arrivals join.  Children change, as do friendships.

Looking back over the many classes I have taught, there has almost always been a clear divide between the two classes in a year group.  There is almost always a “quiet” class and a “sparky” class.  We ability group for maths: often, it seems the majority of the children in the higher group are in one class whereas the lower ability group come from the other class.  More often than not, one class appears to “gel” as a whole, whereas the other has many smaller friendship groups.

Why is this? Is it just coincidence? Or is this a school-based version of the nature/nurture debate? Have the children from the louder class learned their behaviours from their peers? Or is the quiet class lacking that “oomph” because there isn’t anyone to start up a debate?  Is it teacher expectation? Do we treat classes differently because of the reputation they come with?

I think, by mixing the children up, we could well end up having  the best of  both worlds: the louder children have quieter role models, but the quieter children have someone to initiate discussions.  Those children who are adept at forming relationships will continue to do so in their new classes; those who have difficult relationships with certain children have the opportunity to form new ones.

The more I think about it, the more I would like to know what effects this could have on our classes.  Obviously, there will be clear indicators such as the friendship groups, quality of learning etc, but I would be fascinated to know if any research has been done into the effects of mixing classes.

If anyone has had experience of this previously, I’d love to learn what you found out.


A personal action plan

Image from Pixabay and modified using Word Dream
Image from Pixabay and modified using Word Dream

What next?

This year has been a really great one, with many, many highs and very few lows.  Even the lows have been good.

Initially, I had planned to write my reflections on the year, but it’s very hard to do so without going into lots of specific details.  So instead, I thought I would reflect on what I want to achieve as a result of this year.  I’ve never really done this before.  I’ve written action plans for subjects and as SENCo and Assessment Leader, but I have just drifted along before now.  If I want to progress my career, it’s time to set some targets.  So what are my aims for next year? Obviously, I want to continue to deliver good quality lessons and motivate and enthuse my children, that goes without saying.  But what to I want to achieve beyond the classroom? Perhaps by committing my thoughts  to paper (well, a computer screen!), I may feel obliged to stick with them.

So, next year, I want:

  • To further develop new initiatives in school, whether it’s Successful Learning, using the Learnpads (I WILL get everyone using them, even if it means they aren’t available for me as much!) or the new assessment system;
  • To begin (and, timescale permitting, complete) my NPQSL qualification, putting what I learn into practice in my current role;
  • To continue to develop my PLN on Twitter, engaging with more people and joining in with more debates and discussions;
  • To continue to develop support networks in “the real world” with local people who I can offer support to, and who can provide support for me;
  • To  make decisions about the future path of my career (see earlier blogs here and here about my dilemma!);
  • To further my knowledge of areas of interest – there is a huge amount of reading and research I would like to do about assessment, and I’d love to find out so much more about what I can do with Learnpads;
  • To reflect regularly on my practice through my blog, and to write more based on research and my readings rather than just personal experience.

IF the right opportunity arose, I would also like to present at another event like Pedagoo London, but I am not going to commit to this one definitely – I need to have something of value to talk about.  This year, assessment was a hot topic, but I don’t want to churn out the same presentation if the need is no longer there.  But, as I said, if the opportunity was right… Similarly, I would consider writing more articles for educational press, but again, only if the project was right for me.

I am sure, as soon as I publish this, that I will think of a huge list of other things I want to achieve, but for now, this is my action plan for 2015-2016.  It’s been incredibly useful to write this: it’s really focussed my mind and my intentions.  I’d encourage anyone who writes regularly to do the same.

This time next year, let’s see how many I’ve ticked off.


Professional development…

Click image for further information
Click image for further information

So I’ve done it.  After much deliberation, I have finally submitted my application for the next round of the NPQSL (National Professional Qualification for Senior Leaders).  Ok, so I’m not a senior leader.  Yet.  But I’d like to be.

I’ve asked around about the course, on Twitter and amongst people I know, and there seems to be a fair amount of debate about the value of it.  Some say they didn’t learn much and begrudged the research and projects.  Others say they really enjoyed it.  I don’t know whether I have made the right choice or not, but I know I am looking forward to the challenge.

Just after returning from maternity leave with my first child, I was thrown into the precarious world of the NASENCO award.  The timing wasn’t great and, if I’m completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have undertaken it given a choice, but I really enjoyed it.  I loved having to read educational books (without pushing, I wouldn’t have read any of them as it’s tough to find the time), I loved having to carry out a research project and I really loved having to write assignments.  Yes, I know that’s weird, but I really enjoyed being forced to learn something new.  I know we are learning all of the time in school (I was fairly ignorant about most of the topics we taught this year 12 months ago), but this is a different kind of learning.  It’s grown up learning.  Learning that takes me out of my comfort zone at times.  Learning because I want to, not because I have to.

I may well regret this decision in time: having two small children, most of my time out of school is spent with them.  I already spend most evenings planning and marking, my Assessment Leader role seems to be constantly expanding, plus I have taken on a Phase Leader role from September.  I’m still not entirely sure how much extra work this is going to lead to.  So the additional workload from the NPQSL may just tip the balance.  There’s only one way to find out.  I do know that I will see it through, though, no matter what the workload.  There aren’t many more free hours in the week that I can fill, but maybe for next year, I may just have to abolish the “no work on the day off” rule.  I know there is no financial gain to be had from having the qualification, nor does it guarantee me a Senior Leader role anywhere, but there is personal pride and satisfaction to be gained from taking it.  Hopefully, it will make me a better leader. I’d like to think I have lots of the skills needed to be a good leader, but there is always room for improvement.