We broke up ten days ago for the summer and I pressed pause. I needed to breathe.
It has been a really full on founding year as a new Headteacher of a new school and I was feeling physically, mentally and emotionally zapped. More so than I have ever been before. The fatigue was compounded by the early termination of my May half-term and the stressful start to our final Summer 2 half-term due to the Daily Mail!
When I say that our last 7 weeks were full on, it is probably an under statement! I felt like I pinged from one big school event to another across our two school sites and was on an assembly writing and delivering conveyor belt!
At Aureus School – our Year 6/7 transition days (in Didcot they do 2) had to be split as we could not accommodate all 240 for 2 days with the size of our current team; we held a successful Year 6/7 parents’ welcome; we continued to hold open events for prospective parents and carers. At each I ‘shot the elephant in the room’ and spoke directly to the headlines. We held our final Governors’ meeting of the year, we held our end of term/ end of year celebration assembly and we hosted our inaugural Sports Day. None of these events are different to other schools, but each was our first, each was planned and delivered by our small team in our huge site!
At Aureus Primary School – we had the site final completion and it was signed over to us; we continued to log our ever growing snagging list; we prepared for and passed our Ofsted pre-opening inspection; we did multiple site tours for our new parents, carers and pupils; we hosted our welcome evening.
Interviews for our operations team, which is tripling in size next year, took up a lot of our time in the summer term but we have made some brilliant appointments for roles at each school and hybrid roles across the two.
Our new staff induction day was epic – there was a moment of dawning as we welcomed 45 new staff members for the day. 45 new members of staff, for which we have not paid for a single advert! Moreover for which we have interviewed in excess of 250 candidates! I love recruitment but it does feel like a full time role some weeks!
In sharing our vision and values, in reflecting on our culture and ethos, in detailing how we would scale up, I had a moment. I realised how far we have come as a team, and I realised how much we have achieved in Year 1. As I played Emilie Sande’s ‘Wonder’ I was taken back to our induction day last September. It honestly seems like a life time ago! Time passes so quickly in schools, I remember someone saying to me in my NQT year not to wish away each half-term to a holiday, but we all know we do this. The momentum this year has meant we have needed seat belts and crash helmets at times!!
All of these whole school events were done around the normal exam marking, data entry, report writing and Parents’ Evening cycles but for us we only have 11 teachers, including me, who all teach all 120 students, so this was also intense! No wonder we were on our knees.
So week 1 of our official summer holidays I was still spinning, my head was still busy, my To Do List for school and home was still epic. As for the state of my house, my washing/ ironing pile and my fridge, well, they were feeling neglected to say the least!
So how did I start to recalibrate?
A staff night out with cocktails and dancing set the tone for my first weekend off. Nights out have been few and far between this year. Weekends have been about sleep and recuperation. The weather was still beautiful so I then hung out with friends who had come to visit and we chilled out on the river. The real treat came on Monday when the alarm did not go off, I still woke up like a robot at my standard 5.30am, but I rolled over and stayed in bed. This felt like the biggest treat as I normally bounce up and out.
I have learnt over the last 15 years that for me going away on holiday straight away does not work. I need to tie up loose ends and get my environment tidied, resources organised and admin completed to go away guilt free and truly rest. So I went in to school for 3 days – I spent a day with my School Business Leader to sort our finances, a day with our Primary Deputy Headteachers to get things ready for our opening and a day with my PA to get our start of year organised.
Around our office and admin sorting our fabulous site team sorted a very long list of jobs for me so that the site will look spic and span to welcome our new staff and students in September. My Site Manager, my School Business Leader and I reminisced on a year ago when it was just the 3 of us rattling around in the massive school all by ourselves, before the staff and students started. It felt like a full cycle had been completed.
Each night I slept a bit earlier and a bit deeper, each morning I woke a little later and felt a bit more chilled. My osteopath tells me my body is like a tightly coiled spring and I felt the coil slowly begin to uncoil.
My first proper day off, not in school, was spent in London, ironically. I had a lunch date with Shirley Drummond and Jill Berry to catch up on our last 12 months, preceded by my emergency jabs and visa appointment for Mozambique as my personal ‘life-min’ was somewhat in disarray. Over a long leisurely lunch there was much laughter, lots of story telling and quite a few cocktails. A tradition we started last year when Shirley had just completed her first year and I was in my designate role. Jill and her book ‘Making the Leap’ have been a source of advice and inspiration for both of us on our journeys to headship. #WomenEd friends and support network are invaluable in having those professional conversations that your non-teaching friends and family do not really get nor need to get. I did then go home to Devon for a long weekend and was less tired and work focused than I normally am as I had already decompressed!
As my mind began to settle I began to reflect more deeply on Year 1. A quote I keep going back to is one of my favourite by Maya Angelou about surviving v thriving. We have most definitely been in survival mode this year. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated how difficult it was going to be at times, how demanding and draining it would be. It is a cliche but it has been an emotional rollercoaster. The highs and lows have been quite extreme at times. I have felt the need to be both a rock for everyone on my team but also an emotional sponge for them. The role of emotional supporter also extends to our vulnerable students and their families – some of who I have spent a considerable amount of time with this year too.
As a DHT this was also my role but it has intensified as the buck now truly stops with me. I feel very responsible for our team who have made career and life choices to join us on our journey. I feel very protective of our students who topped us back up again with their lovely values thank you cards to show gratitude to all staff members on the last day. I feel the pressure from our parents/ carers who took a leap of faith on us, on me last year.
I think that is the major difference of becoming a Headteacher, I have always been heavily emotionally invested in the school and community I serve, but I feel the level of accountability more keenly. Not in a results, inspection pressure but in a people and relationships pressure. I just don’t want to let anyone down!
This year group, our founding students, are also always going to hold a special place in our hearts. The Thank You cards, messages and presents we received from students and parents/ carers were indicative of our successful year.
Taking on my first headship, changing trusts, relocating, agreeing to being Executive Headteacher in Year 2 before Year 1 was even finished, project managing two builds and founding two new schools could not have pushed me further from the minimal comfort zone I have. Not much phases me, but this change leadership is different to the turn around school improvement I am used to leading.
The magic for us has happened in our conviction in doing things a little bit differently, in our boldness in challenging the traditions of our system.
So I am off to Mozambique for 2 weeks with the Action Aid and Women Leading in Education team. A brilliant opportunity to totally detach from reality, to dislocate ourselves from our emails, from twitter and from thinking about work. Some time out to consider how I will move from surviving to thriving in our 2nd year.
Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher
Currently feeling hopeful about:
- Our trip to Mozambique with Action Aid.
- Our opening of Aureus Primary School in September.
- Our second year for Aureus School.
- Our brilliant new team and the energy, ideas and expertise they will bring with them.
Currently reading and thinking about:
- I read a brilliant piece yesterday about creating a good school culture which I will share with the staff in September.
- I really enjoyed Jill Berry’s blog on do less and achieve more – encouraging us to subtract rather than add.
Currently feeling grateful for:
- Surviving Year 1, relatively unscathed!
- The resilience my parents have instilled in me as it got me through this year.