Finally, it’s the weekend and I sit and reflect on my first 3 weeks as a Deputy Head Teacher.
This is the first real opportunity I’ve had to do this. The start of term is busy in any school and my new one is no different. Its only multiplied when you’re the new boy in town. I was unsure of the systems, policies and had no idea who half of the staff were or what they do / teach. As a result anything I wanted to do in my first few days took three times longer than expected.
After three weeks I now feel like I’m getting there. On accepting my new role in Spring I knew that in September I would be entering very different school to the one I was leaving. That I was coming into a school where “but that’s how we always do it” and “well, at least its better than last year” are common place phrases which meant that the students had been getting a raw deal for too long!
However, I was not expecting to find that the timetable was not ready and that my English department had no SOW and had no data on any of the students in any year group – they were not the only department in this position either! It is now that I find 10 mins to relax and gather my thoughts that I am thankful for the fantastic teams and colleagues that I have previously worked with.
I know what excellence looks like, how an outstanding team operates – relentless in the pursuit of perfection, reflecting on how everything can be done better, running through wall to remove barriers to students achievement and keeping the students (and their faces) not the data at the centre of everything we do.
It is this wealth of experience and high expectation that I will lean on in the coming weeks / terms to ensure that the students are no longer the losers because of teachers whose standards and expectations are too low and where every failing can be filed away with an excuse.
At my previous school we created a mantra for our year 11’s with regards to them giving 100% and meeting our expectations – “No Exceptions, No Excuses”. I think I’ll need this again but with the teaching staff as my audience this time.
I now prepare myself for the week ahead and will continue to model the leadership I expect from the rest of the senior leadership team. I will be visible both in and out of lessons, welcoming students at the gate and seeing them leave at the end of the day - continuing to build relationships with them. I will continue to challenge and support the teaching staff and support my colleagues to do the same to ensure that standards are raised. My aim is that all staff and students are striving to become the best versions of themselves.
My Headteacher has a clear vision for the school, one that made me want to join her and be part of her team – the priority now is to pull the staff together to follow the spearhead and to ensure the best outcomes for our young people. This will be no easy task but with clarity of the “Why?” it should be easier to get support for the “What?” and the “How?” as we start to remold the culture of the school to one that strives for exemplary teaching and learning.
Here’s to week 4 – I’ll keep you updated!
At the start of any new career the need to reflect constantly, is a necessity to ensure the first days, weeks and months allow for a successful transition. Ten days into the new role of Deputy Head Teacher, finding time to reflect has been minimal. Everything that I have learnt from my Masters in Leadership has been put to one side, as being operational during this early stage of the job is the only leadership attribute I have relied on.
The need to be ever present for staff, students and parents, has allowed me to embed myself quickly into the fabric of my new school. The challenge that lays ahead is huge, due to the context the school finds itself in. The difficulties of learning new IT systems, timetables and teaching a new subject is insignificant compared to the breathing life back into a school that has been forgotten for far too long. The need to embed systems and processes which allow teachers to teach and students to enjoy learning has been the sole objective of mine since the start of term.
How have I done this? I have given staff the belief that the new systems work and have been appearing in lessons to offer support but also ensure that consistency is maintained throughout. Rebuilding trust amongst the students, to believe in the school they attend has started to be achieved by providing them with clear boundaries and high expectations. Like any young person from a challenging background, they have embraced the new way of thinking and the majority have acknowledged these changes will only improve their school.
Being everywhere and seeing everything has been my internal mantra from the start of term. Walking the corridors, being out at lunchtime and escorting students away from the shops at the end of the day, indicates to the students that I care but also reinforces the high expectations that are now required from them every day, all day.
I expect to continue this approach for the rest of this half term, as this will encourage staff to continue to believe in the new way of doing things but more importantly it shows the students that we are here to stay and this will only strengthen the relationships that are starting to develop.
The only downside is I will have to buy a new pair of shoes as my current ones will have holes in the soles by the end of October!
One of my many dilemmas has been how to manage the work/life balance to try and ensure some sense of perspective and promote my own health and #wellbeing.
I have tried to ensure that I run from school to various stations on my commute home, depending on how far I wanted to run. A short but quick 2.5km across Clapham Common to Clapham Junction, or a slightly longer 4km or 5km to Earlsfield or a longer 7km to Wimbledon. This was equally an issue when cycling in and out of school!
The problem, up until now has always been the logistical planning to make this happen, transferring suits and multiple shirts & tie combinations (pre picked by my wife to avoid horrendous clashes - as I struggle with colour blindness!) in and out of school, whilst remembering which items of clothing I have left where. The net effect hasn't been one of wellbeing but rather increased stress trying to work it all out.
That is, until I discovered the Henty Wingman Backpack, which has been a complete game changer. I naturally did some extensive research and following some great advice from Melissa the UK distributor, I made a purchase; it isn't cheap at £155 but then what is? but then running back packs aren't and I wanted to carry a suit etc (Melissa kindly offered a discount on the basis that I would review honestly and share on the Relentless Optimism blog - Melissa has extended the 15% discount for anyone using the code RO15 at the checkout until the 31st October).
The concept is simple. The Wingman is essentially a reinforced, light weight suit carrier that rolls around a waterproof inner tube insert, to keep suits, shirts & dresses crease free in transit. The origins of the design come from a cycling heritage but the back pack works with my runs now into and home from school.
I have included some photos, kindly provided by Mel for you to see.
This has been a revelation for me! I am now able to transport, daily, suit, shirt and tie in the carrier bit, my shoes, towel, wash stuff etc in the inner tube bag, as well as my reading book, keys etc in the backpack laptop pocket and know that when I take it out at school everything is completely crease free!
When running, the bag is comfortable (certainly as comfortable as any running backpack is) and I personally didn't find it too heavy. The shoulder straps and waist strap are completely adjustable and offer a secure anchoring. There isn't a great deal of bounce when running and everything stayed where is was supposed to. The velcro outer taps and clips keep the bag secure and it is weather proof - I used it on its first outing in a horrendous downpour and everything remained dry! In other reviews, reviewers noted that it was warm running with the Wingman but I didn't find it any warmer than other back packs.
You do need to pack the inner tube carefully, I tended to follow the advice in the video below and ensure that the tube was tightly secured by the wrap around bag and 2 securing clips - on my second outing with the Wingman the inner tube slipped down, I had to readjust and then off I went again. I do agree with the Road CC review that the more you put in the Wingman inner tube the better - not only from a comfort point of view but also in the crease reduction! My only 'Even Better If' comment is that it would be nice to have some kind of pocket on the waist belt for mobile phone and travel card - otherwise it's perfect!
In terms of customer service, Melissa was fantastic and really helpful in advising which of the Henty bags to go for. I had thought maybe the messenger version or the compact version may be worth considering but the fact I wanted to run and carry suits etc I went for the full sized backpack option. A colleague, who has just ordered his own Wingman, pointed out that the bag would be equally ideal if flying and could count as hand luggage.
If you have any questions then I would urge you to email her at : Melissa Wilkes
So, in summary, the Wingman has certainly made any attempt to balance work/life with some exercise a great deal easier! I am now able to pack what I need for my run to and from school with ease and know that when I get there, my suit and shirts remain crease free.
The Henty Wingman does everything you would expect from a commuting backpack. I am loving it and the flexibility it gives me running in and out of work knowing that everything stays the way that you packed it.
As long as it goes in crease free, expect it to come out the same way!!
Great job Henty!
Dimensions & Weight : Wingman Backpack – Regular – 1.7kgs (3.7lbs)
Rolled – 56 x 23 x 26cm (22 x 9.1 x 10.5 inches)
Unrolled – 56 x 101cm (22 x 39.7 inches)
Inner Tube 0.4Kgs (0.9lbs)
52 x 20cm cylinder; 18 litres
**** Backpack Straps
Wingman Backpack (suit and garment compartment):
18L Dry Bag (gym/utility bag):
I really enjoyed the HBR CfHP research article on How the Best School Leaders Create Enduring Change https://hbr.org/2017/09/research-how-the-best-school-leaders-create-enduring-change and also reading Andy Buck's response 'Rome wasn't built in a day!' and like many readers got me thinking.
Having reflected, on the both Andy's and the HBR CfHP research team articles, here are my thoughts! I am not totally convinced about the whole 'architect leader' as I believe leadership and change is fundamentally about people, noticing and engaging in the journey.
It is clear that system leadership is key in the long journey of transformation but you also need to ensure a focus on the people element as well as the performance metrics. In schools, there is an abundance of data/information for leaders and Governing Bodies to focus on and judge improvements by, but very little on the qualitative data on the 'climate' aspect of the organisation.
The CfHP team highlighted for 9 'building blocks' in turning around failing schools, 3 resonated for me more than others;
2) engaging its community
3) improving teaching
The article suggests that if you can nail 6 of the 9 you'll move your school forward - but it will take time and that no one measure was found to be more important than any other.
Here I disagree. For me, the most critical aspects relate to climate and culture, which are notoriously hard to shift and change and this is where I will focus this response.
This is where the challenge and engage aspects come into their own. Challenge the existing 'status quo' and using this as a powerful lever to engage all members of the community. Easy... if only!
The CfHP research team identified when new Headteachers committed to the school and it's community, improvements were seen. This is a total and relentless desire to pursue one of our mantras 'how can we do it better?' and links directly with our 'running through walls' approach.
They focused on engaging and invovling their communities - within the school and the communities that they served, challenging them to be 'better'. The CfHP research team suggested this took on average 5 years, if you focus on climate and feel of the organisation then this could be quicker - the challenge for leaders is that this is one of the hardest things to change and can take the longest!
If we can get the people aspect of the organisation right, then the performance side can start to grow - the problem is being allowed the time to do it when we face a high stakes accountability culture. If we look at the OFSTED framework at Inadequate rating and its sub categories, the key difference between Serious Weaknesses and Special Measures is recognising the 'capacity in leadership'. However, for our 'architect' leader - time is not something that is recognised and that capacity is often not allowed time to fruition, hence jittery Governing Bodies and strong arm academisation..
Surely, an opportunity to reflect on the people aspects of improvement would be useful here?
How does it feel to work in a school that is on an improvement journey? How engaged are all members of the schools community in securing the change and improvement? If these are both positive, then there will be improvements in learning and teaching and ultimately exam performance output.
The is no argument, Qualifications and results are essential for the life chances of our young people but we also have a duty to enrich and develop 'better people' who feel valued and part of their communities and these are simply things that aren't measurable in the current performance climate.
I am not sure how we will ensure the immense challenge in changing schools is meaningfully measured but I do feel we need to allow all leaders, 'architect' and otherwise time to change the feel of their organisations. I have previously reflected on the 'better people make better All Blacks' approach and maybe this is part of the reason I have yet to secure the Headship I desire, where there is a focus by Governing Bodies in turning around and improving results fast, often at the expense of the Headteacher, the climate and what it feels like. You can do both, the problem is that one isn't as easily measurable as the other!
The school I want to lead will be built upon this:
Too much in education and school operates under the tyranny of the results and high stakes accountability structures. The core principle at the school I want to lead, is that we strive to gather talented people together, with the same core values and passion for our young people and we treat them unbelievably well. In return, they will try unbelievably hard to be exceptional in everything they do. That is it! Everything else, OFSTED, exam results, governmental change are secondary. They are not our primary aim. We exist to have a positive impact, nurturing and releasing the potential in as many young people and colleagues as possible.
I do believe that you can create people centred, high performing organisations without solely focussing on exam results.... if given time!
I was lucky enough to go to the Royal Opera House in July and despite being blown away by the opera, (which if you haven’t ever been to, I urge you to go!); the delight in seeing a photo of a former student completing her set design apprenticeship; I noticed the work of the conductor and the orchestra.
They were totally mesmerising and got me thinking about how we can ‘orchestrate and conduct’ in our leadership.
The significance became more apparent after reading one of Dr Tim O’Brien's (@doctob) pieces in #MarkPlanTeach by Ross Morrison-McGill (@teachertoolkit) as well as reflecting on some of the great tweets and conversations that happened at #ResearchEd this weekend.
As you watch the orchestra, the stand out person is the conductor – arms moving, flicking the baton, highly expressive and animated from the front, adding their own interpretation on the piece of music being played. The natural leader! I wonder how many conductors we have seen in leadership! This might be all we see. The orchestra playing in complete unison and consistent to produce an auditory sensation. Each musician and section knowing their roles, the value of their contributions and where they fit in.
Organisations run like that! A conductor at center stage leading the team into daily battle, in a consistent, scripted approach…or not!
Now, I must say that I am not a musician, absolutely don’t get ‘rhythm’ as my wife and children will support, so these are just my thoughts! As the performance continued,
I became particularly fascinated by the string section.
Have a watch below.
I began watching the individual nuances and differences in technique, grip, size of stroke (if that is a thing) and yet within the different techniques the overall sound was stunning! I began thinking about the whole consistency issue in school and organisations and the often relentless pursuit of it.
The string section showed that you can produce brilliant music but still be individualistic in how you use the instrument. In fact the orchestra as whole is the embodiment of this! Could the same be said in school and organisation? I believe the answer is ‘yes’ and it has nothing to do with consistency but more an understanding of coherence.
Philippa Cordingley explored the issue of consistency and coherence in her blog: Putting the pedal to the metal; Gaining momentum in accelerating pupil progress. Philippa identified that the very systems and effort that are put in place are often barriers to further progress. She noted that with reference to behaviour, "a strong focus on consistency in behaviour management, which had been essential to establishing order, sometimes obscure the moment when the majority of the pupil community had internalised behavioural expectations and were ready to move on to focus on behaviour for learning'.
So, in pursuing consistency, could we lose coherence? Philippa suggests "coherence that derives from clarity of purpose and developing systems that create and them remove scaffolding for teachers and pupils". Once systems are in place, so if we go back to our string section, the piece of music has been learnt, we can create an environment to harmonize, yet still be coherent.
The challenge for leaders is to allow the flex in the system, without feeling like it is a loss of consistency, enabling a coherent flow through the organisation, underpinned simply by not just 'doing the right things' but by ensuring that "everyone understands the purpose and principles well enough to use them to remove the complex obstacles to learning for vulnerable learners".
Dr Tim O'Brien likened inclusion to an orchestra, (see above) where we perceive the orchestra to be both diverse and inclusive but coming together in a coherent community, "where difference is celebrated, collaboration critical and everyone's contribution is valued'. making fantastic music!
So I guess the challenge for leaders is to reflect on how much we are striving for consistency without over looking the importance of coherence.
Does the desire for consistency mean we miss the opportunity to develop coherent communities, built upon values and shared contributions, even if we do it with slightly nuanced ways?
I shall leave you with the finale of Beethoven's 9th, with Ricardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and ask are they consistent or coherent!
Beethoven 9 - Chicago Symphony Orchestra - Riccardo Muti The full piece can be watched here!
#Mark.Plan.Teach is an honest and refreshing read, which I would recommend for EVERYBODY that works with young people in education. #Mark.Plan.Teach will enable you to reflect on successful strategies that will add the most value to your work and its impact on your students.
Ross Morrison-McGill aka (@TeacherToolkit) is straight to the point and tells it as it is, whilst presenting a solution to how it should and could be! Senior Teams, Middle Leaders and Teachers, need to read and reflect on how the essence of teaching can be re-framed in the #Mark.Plan.Teach approach.
Dr Tim O'Brien (@Doctob) shares psychological perspectives that help remind the reader that there are 'students' at the centre of everything we do. If we can understand them and ourselves better, then this will help with our own practice and improve our effectiveness.
#Mark.Plan.Teach should be a mantra and 'call-to-arms' for the profession, to take back the classroom and manage the balance between workload, well-being and ‘The Grim Reaper’!