Seat Belts On: Strapping in for the Ride

I might be an adrenaline junk and thrive under pressure, but I don’t like roller coasters. I don’t mind speed nor heights, but think it is the lack of control that freaks me out. I like speed when I am in control or I know and trust who is in control. I don’t like danger and don’t put myself in dangerous situations. I also don’t like fair rides, I had a bad experience as a teen where I hurt my neck as it was unsupported as I am so tall, which put me off going on rides.

The last week has felt like I am on a roller coaster, one that is being driven by someone else, one that could become out of control if I don’t get in the driving seat, one that has made me look for my seat belt. I have ended the week in one piece, but the warning lights have made me stop, look, listen and think.

seat belt

I have pinged from one meeting to the next, I have bounced from supporting one issue or solving one problem to the next, I have rushed from one school to the other and back again. I have apologised a lot to everyone  as I have felt like I have not done anything 100% and I have not given anyone 100%. My brain hurts from all of the thinking and problem solving.

On reflection, Week 1 of being an Executive Headteacher across two sites was calm, positive and although it was hard work and I juggled lots, the week ended well and I felt like we had achieved a lot.

By contrast, Week 2 was busy, really busy, it was exhausting as I worked silly hours, I juggled lots but dropped lots, thankfully our DHTs and my PA caught them mid-air. The number of meeting requests nearly pushed me over the edge – there is simply not enough time in my diary! The week ended messily, compounded by me leaving my keys at work and being locked out first thing when I had gone in to attack the to do list. I left on Friday feeling like I had not scratched the surface of my workload, I felt physically and emotionally zapped.

I know this is exasperated by the need to get myself and others back into a new routine and that things will settle as we move into the new term, and the new year, as the team settles and routines are embedded.

I shared the change curve with my team at the start of term. Change is tiring and we have been through a lot of it in the  last year, and moving in to our next chapter we are going through as much again. We also talked through the imminent changes at the end of last year with our students and then again at the start of term to guide and support them through the changes affecting them. Their little bubble from year 1 has well and truly been popped with the arrival of lots more staff and students.

change curve

I have seen the emotional responses to the changes reflected on the faces of staff and students all week. The braver ones have voiced it to me as the week has progressed:

“We thought year 2 would be easier…”

“You told us working in a start up school was hard and we would need to be resilient but this is really intense…” 

“We need to clone you…”

“You must be spinning…”

Teaching is hard. Leadership is full on. Start up schools are intense. Headship is extreme. Executive Headship is highly-demanding.

pulled in different directions

Friday was dinner with a friend who is a fellow Headteacher, so she gets it, we had a good catch up, dinner and wine, lots of laughter but she understood when I exited at 10pm. Saturday was lunch with the #WomenEd team to plan our calendar for 2018-19. Both topped me up and made me smile.

On reflection do I (and other teachers) socialise with my friends in education during term time because they get my lifestyle and there is empathy and no guilt, nor judgement?  Similarly, do I (we) socialise with non-teachers during holidays because I am on better form and don’t want to talk about school?

I came home on Saturday after a lovely lunch and thought a quick power nap at 3.30pm would be a good idea.  I woke up confused and dazed at 1.30am. A quick nap was not going to fix my fatigue.  A deep sleep would catch me up on myself.

Why am I sharing this? Well mid-week I reached out on twitter to see if there are other Executive Headteachers who work cross-phase who can share workload and wellbeing tips with me. Following 3 days of working 6am-9pm and having dinner from the M&S garage in the car on the way home each time,  I was looking for some advice from those who had broken the back of it.  Part of the #WomenEd philosophy is to share ‘warts and all’ to not paint a rose tinted image of our profession. I am pragmatic and know things will settle and calm but think  it is important to share each bend and dip on our journeys as leaders.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Establishing a daily and weekly routine.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • Talking to the other cross-phase EHTs via a DM group on Twitter to learn from their experience.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Our team who rock.

 

Feeling Blessed: Sibling Schools

It has been a FAB-U-LOUS start to the new academic year.

Being the founding headteacher opening a new secondary school was an exciting prospect last September. Our first year at Aureus School was full on but fantastic. We established lots, we achieved lots, we learnt lots. This September we have opened our new primary school. Our sibling school Aureus Primary School. We are just as excited a year on, opening our second school, but we are calmer, as we have a reference point for lots of the newness to build on from last year.

As an English teacher, who encourages learners to interpret the pathetic fallacy in texts, it has felt appropriate that the sun has been shining on us all week.

So Monday 3rd September was a memorable day as our Aureus team grew from 25 to 70. We can no longer fit our team into the community room nor the library for  training sessions and meetings. We now need to use the main hall to fit everyone in.

The scale up has been significant. Recruiting 45 new team members means that we interviewed in excess of 220 candidates last year. We have been inundated with applications for roles, when we long list we keep our talent pool interested in Year 2,3, opportunities as well as the live vacancies. When we shortlist we usually interview 4 candidates for operations and 6 for teaching roles. We have appointed a fantastic team and have still only paid for 3 adverts out of our 70 roles! All of the money saved goes into the staff professional learning budget. We take PLD very seriously, we are committed to our staff being life long learners.

So this year we have 17 team members based at Aureus Primary School and 53 team members based at Aureus School, but many of them are doing specialist operations roles across the two schools, such as Finance, Admissions, Catering and Site. Longer term we will have teaching roles across both schools too. As I shared the numbers of student and staff numbers over the next five years, as we grow from 25 staff and 120 students to 200+ staff and 1600+ children, I took a few deep breaths.

We spent out first day together reflecting on our values, discussing how they shape our culture and ethos, sharing how we can work together as a team on providing a holistic, values-based education for our 2-16 learners. The GLF Schools MAT is an extended family of schools, we celebrate our individuality but share our mission for education that enables our communities to grow, learn and flourish. Our Aureus Schools are siblings,  we will share our vision and values but we will interpret and embody them in a personalised way. We are not an all-through school  as we are on two sites, a 10 min walk/ 5 min drive apart, but we will come together for community events and once we have KS2 we will be able to collaborate more on the curriculum.

There has been a palpable nervous energy in  both schools all week. The 45 new staff have been understandably nervous getting their heads around new roles, new systems, new faces and a new culture. The founding team, our trail blazers have also been nervous as our small bubble, our intimate team dynamic, has changed. Everyone has a lot of change to manage, so we have taken a few moments to reflect on this.

As we welcomed our 210 Year 7s (our Class of 2023) to Aureus School on Wednesday our school began to fill busy. For those of who have come from large urban secondary schools, it began to fill like a ‘proper’ school! As we welcomed our 120 Year 8s (our Class of 2022) back on Thursday, they too were feeling apprehensive: who were all of these small people invading their space? We all have a lot of adjusting to do! My welcome back assemblies invited our learners to reflect on their Hopes, their Dreams and their Fears. We acknowledged the fact that everyone is feeling a myriad of feelings and that is okay.

Whilst the secondary team adjusted to having triple the students and double the staff in the building, the primary team spent the week in training: a new assessment system, a new phonics programme, a whole school singing curriculum. The team bonded before my eyes, the school came to life as resources were unpacked and classrooms were prepared. On Thursday Sue Webb joined us from VBE to scope the teams values. As I dipped in and out of the session emotions were high and relationships were strengthened as the team met each other with their core values, their shared vision and their collective mission.

Everyone on our Aureus team is on the same bus, heading in the same direction. A values-based recruitment process has enabled us to attract and recruit a team who are passionate about a holistic, inclusive education model. As I sat in on training sessions and meetings, I heard our values reflected back to me, I heard our shared language used, unprompted. The time and energy we have invested in our culture and ethos makes the strategy easier to implement as our why and our what is clear, it is just the how that will evolve.

fab teams

In September, our value of the month is Wellbeing, we will nurture the students, the staff and the parents through the stress points of the transition into a new school, a new year group and a new role. Mindfulness is a core part of the inner curriculum at both schools. At the secondary 360 students will do a carousel of activities each morning to mentally and emotionally prepare them for learning, at the primary 110 pupils will have a micro mindfulness session at the start of each learning session, settling them as the come into the classroom from break, lunch and playing outside.

Friday was our history-making, legacy-building moment at Aureus Primary School as we formally welcomed our Reception, Year 1 and 2 pupils in to their new school for the first time. As parents, carers and pupils lined up outside our stunning new school to sign in, I smiled at the pride our pupils had in our lovely school uniform, I welled up at the beaming faces radiating their joy at joining us. I think there were more tears (of joy) from our team than there were from the children and their parents!  The pupils settled quickly into their new learning environment as their parents and carers settled their nerves with a cup of tea in the school hall.

More shared team training mid-week saw Ann Marie Christian joining us for a hard-hitting safeguarding session and our week ended with Mike Armiger from Pivotal Education delivering a dynamic session on our restorative culture with relentless compassion at its core. Our staff had spent their first week with us and had met our pupils so they could now reflect on how our values come to life in how we interact with our stakeholders, how we model our values and nurture hearts and minds, how we embody our high expectations and deliver our challenging curriculum in a holistic way.

aristotle

Our first week as Aureus sibling schools was a whirlwind of activity – I met myself travelling between the two schools on several occasions and I left stuff at the wrong school/ on the wrong desk more than once but that is the change for me to get my head around, how I clone myself to support two teams, how I split my time and attention to nurture both schools. This year the plan is that I will be spending a half day at each school each day so that my presence is felt and I am a constant in both schools.   Once we settle into the routine of our working days and weeks I will review this in discussion with my four Deputy Headteachers.

So I am feeling blessed. Blessed for the opportunity to be an Executive Headteacher, blessed to now be a primary school leader after leading in secondary schools for 14 of my 15 year career, blessed to have recruited a brilliant team, blessed to have attracted a parent body who are as passionate about a holistic, values-based STEAM education as we all are!

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Year 2 of Aureus School and a bigger operations team to support the growing teaching team in embedding our routines and systems.
  • Year 1 of Aureus Primary School and nurturing the hearts and minds of our 2 year olds who will hopefully one day become our 16 year olds and amazing Aureus Ambassadors who are values-led global citizens.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • Our new staff will be reading From the Heart by Dr Neil Hawkes this month, our trailblazing team will be reading High Challenge, Low Threat by Mary Myatt and I am going to proposed to our Aureus Leadership Team that we read Legacy by James Kerr.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The brilliant training from Ann Marie, Sue (VBE), Jo (Voices), Natalie (GLF), Gareth (RWI) and Mike (Pivotal).
  • The patience of our team as we navigate start of term issues with IT and orders!
  • My fabulous PA, Zoe, who has kept the plates spinning this week, across two sites!
  • Our brilliant Deputy Headteachers, Nicola, Kate, Bennie and Julie who are swans gliding through any chaos and keeping the calm at both schools.

grateful 1

Pressing Pause: Reflections & Recalibrations

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!

pause 3

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!

pause 5

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.

angelou thrive survive

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.

comfort zone

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.

C8SwhD9XoAAKDoU

Breaking the Mould: Creating Your Fit

Wow!

I knew the #WomenEd Breaking the Mould event was just what I needed to top up my energy reserves for the last two weeks of a long first year as the founding Headteacher of a start up school, but the speakers today have been beyond inspirational. What a amazing network of #WomenEd role models we have to draw strength from? I feel privileged to listen to, to know and to be friends with such wonderful women.

Our why for this event?

When Debra Rutley, Alison Rooney, Cecilia Payton, Charlotte Bishop and I met to discuss the needs of WLIE SE (we are mobilising the troops in Berks, Bucks and Oxon) we wanted to do an event about leading differently and finding our fit. The title Breaking the Mould provoked us to consider how we are confined and defined by others.

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In my opening I asked everyone to share why they had joined us in 30+ degrees heat at the end of a long and full on year. Why many of them had travelled from London, Suffolk, Wales, Leeds and Scotland! I shared my why of needing time to reflect, to re-calibrate and to re-energise. It was only a shame that Bennie and Julie, our DHTs at Aureus were unable to join us as it clashed with the #WomenEd NPQH dates as they would have got a lot out of it too.

Our 8 Cs were embodied and personified by our 8 speakers. 8 women who have broken a mould, their mould, in different ways, for different reasons. The diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of each women built on the narratives to create a toolkit of self-worth, authenticity, conviction and integrity.

Earlier in the week we had received some flack – ‘breaking the mould’ to some suggested we had created a perfect version and the model was now being broken. To the contrast, we are breaking out of the mould to create unique forms, not cookie cutter leaders. As Germaine Greer says “women should not be wedging themselves into man-shaped holes but creating woman-shaped holes to fill instead!”

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Each speaker was humble and many struggled to own the word ‘leader’. Without a job title with leader in it, without the office sign/ parking space/ business card confirming positions in a hierarchical structure, the traditional concept of leadership can be a hard label to own. But our event was exploring the idea of leading differently, how we can extend our reach and influence others, how we are vision and though leaders in a messy educational landscape.

Our Part 1 speakers and my live notes from their thought pieces:

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Jaz Ampaw-Farr:

“I broke the mould by embracing vulnerability”.

  • Know and articulate your why.
  • Change your perspective.
  • Reclaim what is there.
  • Step into your vulnerability.
  • Tell your truth.
  • Embrace your authentic self.
  • Be comfortable, not confident!

Rae Snape:

“I broke the mould by using the resources I had”.

  • Use your imagination.
  • Be creative.
  • Use what your have.
  • “Know stuff!”
  • Do and learn the things they do not teach you on the NPQH!
  • Break the mould yourself, noone will do it for you.
  • Look for your resources in the community.
  • Be the person who taps people on the shoulder, the person who passes the baton on to others.

Lee Ryman:

“I broke the mould by opening my own school”.

  • Be innovative and creative.
  • Be resourceful and resilient.
  • Be courageous.
  • Be mutually respectful.
  • Be the change you want to see.

Debra Kidd:

“I broke the mould because I didn’t know how to fit in”.

  • Connect with one another, we need to create these spaces.
  • Embrace our vulnerability, we need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.
  • Take off our masks.
  • Call yourself a leader.
  • Be a thought and vision leader.
  • Embrace that walking away is also breaking the mould.
  • Exist in a rhizomatic structure – see our career paths differently and carve different routes to progress.

By lunch time there was a palpable buzz in the room as people connected, reflected, discussed and started sharing their stories.

Our Part 2 speakers and my live notes from their thought pieces:

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Alison Kriel:

“I broke the mould by choosing to be me”.

  • Embrace and share who you truly are: Who I am? Who did I choose to be?
  • Alison: “I am quiet, I am sensitive, I am introverted. I value freedom, inclusion, equality. I inherited breaking the mould from my family”.
  • Re-mould our world and how we see it.
  • Re-mould how we accept each other.
  • Be the teacher you wanted to have as a child.
  • Invite those who are opposite to you in.
  • Give licence to be different and to do things differently.
  • Be whole.
  • Be courageous.
  • We need to be us, we need to know ourselves, we need to stay true to our values, we need to make ourselves a promise, we need to be true to ourselves.

Paulina Tervo:

“I broke the mould by fighting my fears”.

  • “I am a documentary film maker, not an educationalist”.
  • Broke the mould by co-founding an edtech organisation.
  • Do not take No for answer.
  • Pick yourself up when you fail/ when you are rejected/when you are undermined for being a woman in a male dominated industry/ when you are ignored as a woman.
  • Take the rough with the smooth.
  • Challenge your preconceptions as they are based on fear and social conformity.
  • Find your role models.

Carly Waterman:

“I broke the mould by doing what no-one expected me to do”.

  • Tune in to and listen to your inner voice.
  • Is it loud? Is it positive? Is it helpful?
  • Your inner voice will change as you evolve: “I turned 40, I had my 2 children, I had spent 9 years at the same school, my voice began to chip away at me”.
  • Reflect and tune in to what it is saying: “I was surviving,  I had become narrow, I was inward facing”.
  • Be aware that your inner voice will be filtered by the fear that your dream is not going to be realised.
  • Take a risk, take a leap of faith.
  • Control your inner voice.
  • Follow your own path.
  • Tell “Doris to do one!”
  • Do not let our inner voices de-rail us!

Mary Myatt:

“I broke the mould by concentrating.”

  • “I have never had an inner voice, I have a mother who does that for me!”
  • “I have not broken any moulds, I am on the edge of the next big adventure”.
  • Never look for an easy life, seek an interesting life.
  • Nurture your concentration.
  • See your work as a gift, as a way of escaping grief and pain.
  • Be robust and  be kind at the same time.
  • Be a human being first, and a professional second.

We need to show up, we need to look up, we need to speak up, we need to team up, we need to never give up, we need to lift others up.

What an amazing day it has been.  It has been a privilege. A big thank you to this wonderful group of women for going naked and bearing their souls with us!

wonder women womened

We asked everyone to make a pledge, a commitment to themselves about what they were going to do differently as a consequence  of attending.

What will your gift to the world be? What is the universe telling you?

If we are going to change the world, we need to be the change we want to see.

 

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Blogs from the #WomenEd community who were in the room: Lena, Freya, Kiran

Blogs from the #WomenEd who were following from afar: Lisa 

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The opportunity #WomenEd has to break the mould, change the mould and shape the future.
  • The remarkable women who came, who connected and who will collaborate.
  • We have already pledged to run it again next year and mentor others to share their stories of leading differently.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The blogs that have started being written of the personal epiphanies yesterday has triggered.
  • I am reviewing Wholesome Leadership by Tom Rees for TES.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The 8 Wonder Women who have joined us to share their stories for breaking the mould to inspire, empower and motivate our #WomenEd community  – I love you all dearly and have so much respect for each of you as humans and as professionals.

Nurturing Hearts and Minds: Our Values Audit

This week we had our Values-Based Education audit from Dr Neil Hawkes and Jane Hawkes. We are delighted that we have now officially been awarded our VBE Quality Mark! We get asked a lot what being a VBE school means, how we planned our vision into provision and why we chose our approach.

I have captured my thoughts and reflections on our VBE journey below ahead of some presentations I am doing on how it has impacted our school.

What is our school Vision?

Our mission statement is ‘Nurturing Heart and Minds’. We strive to strike a balance between the academic and the emotional development of our students. We are committed to a holistic educational approach that focuses on the whole child development. A values-based education means that our values shape and frame our decisions and our actions in an integrated way. 

How do our values underpin our Culture & Ethos?

When the Leadership Team started to plan our provision we agreed some non-negotiables and some principles that would define our approach. We decided that daily mindfulness practice and weekly gratitude practice would top and tail each day and each week. We also made a commitment to our food education, an approach that would nourish our students to enable them to flourish. We all agreed that the social skills developed in a Family Dining Experience would develop the softer skills in our students.  We all use the Pivotal Approach as our behaviour tool which is based on a restorative justice model, this is underpinned by a ‘Relentless Compassion’ in how we work with our young people, many of who are quite vulnerable. 

How did we scope our Values?

As a new team, in a new school, located in a new community, we spent our first few days together last year in an extended induction. Our first day of INSET together focused solely on how we would #GrowLearnFlourish. Sue Webb, a VBE trainer, led the full day of reflections, discussions and coaching style conversations about what had shaped our moral compasses. We considered what kind of young people we wanted to co-create at Aureus and what sort of ethical vocabulary we wanted them to acquire. 

How do we teach our Values? 

We distilled our individual values down to a collective core of 12. This means we focus on and explore one value each month and then repeat the cycle. Each week starts with an assembly that introduces or develops the value, e.g. last month it was resilience and this month it is integrity. At the end of each assembly one of the children reads our values homily. Every assembly is followed up by an individual reflection task and each week 10 students are nominated for our weekly reward of #HotChocFri for their embodiment and exploration of the value. Every lesson has a focus on the values with a reference to it, so that each day and each week the understanding of the value is being embedded. Our family dining experience and inclusive ethos model the values we want to see.

How do we show our values in our environment?

As a new school we have a lot of white space and the school is a blank canvas. It was quite overwhelming how much space we had to fill when we first moved in! We have taken a slow and steady approach to the creation of values inspired art work. Each student has been involved in the creation of our   Values Totem Poles and our Values Chandelier which are proudly displayed in our main hall. Art club  each term produce a new art piece such as our Nurturing Hearts and Minds canvases in reception. 

How do our values shape our student wellbeing programme?

At Aureus we do not have tutors, we have coaches and our Coaching Groups meet at the end of the day to reflect on what has happened before they go home. Our days start with our Mindfulness programme. Students rotate around sessions on Mindful Strategies, Mindful Art, Mindful Movement and Mindful Reading. Our afternoon coaching sessions include the delivery of our Global Citizenship curriculum. Within the core curriculum our interventions have emerged into what Neil and Jane call our ‘Inner Curriculum’ Our Art Therapy Room, Sensory Room, Nurture Room and Thrive Programme develop the emotional awareness and resilience of our students.  

How do we explore our values in our SMSC programme?

Our Global Citizenship programme helps our students to develop their sense of identity and their sense of belonging. We develop a social consciousness and a local, regional, national and international perspective. All of our students committed to an #IWILL pledge at the start of the year. Our SMSC, PSHE and Citizenship components are integrated into a fluid, thematic delivery.

How do our values underpin our rewards and sanctions?

We reward students for showing our values. Stickers in lessons, Postcards for going above and beyond, #hotchocfri nominations are weekly rewards. Each term we have the formal awards of Certificates and Badges. Our sanctions start with restorative conversations, restorative meetings and restoration time where the values are discussed. It is explicit in our communication with parents and carers which of our values has been contravened and we reflect on how to embody the value moving forwards. E.g student x is being isolated for contravening the values of kindness, respect and diversity in his use of prejudiced language.

 

What did the values audit involve?

The audit was 1 full day at the end of our first full year. 2 Auditors from VBE joined us to shadow a normal day at Aureus. Our Student Council delivered a Values Assembly, then the observers participated in staff and student led activities including a learning walk of mindfulness, lessons, coaching and our personal development programme. They sat and chatted to staff and students in our Community Time, including students who were being rewarded and sanctioned for their values-led behaviour. The day finished with a Parent Voice session with our Parents and Carers’ Association and The Art Rooms summer showcase. I didn’t print anything!

What was our feedback?

We had a reflection session at the end of the day where Neil and Jane, together with the researchers who were shadowing them, gave us feedback on what they have seen, heard and absorbed. I found the feedback quite emotional as my heart swelled with pride in some of the things they said about our students and our community. They were particularly impressed by our students’ “communicative competence” in expressing their understanding of our values and why they are important, moreover how they will help to guide them in the future. Sue has recorded some of their responses and will publish some of their stories which we are excited to read and listen to as they were umprompted/ unscripted.

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What are our next steps?

We are a year in and will strive to embed what we have started and develop the next layer of our values-based education, starting with inducting in 40 new staff and 360 new students! Our plans for the future include nominating Values Ambassadors (students) and Values Champions (staff and parents). Engaging Values Partners such as Dauntless Daughters for Equality, RWS for Resilience and Educate and Celebrate for Diversity. We will launch a Values Newsletter capturing our activity such as the #MyValuesStory writing competition which one of our students won their age category for! We will start to build our Values Library and are looking to underpin our Values with the VIA Character Traits at Neil’s recommendation. I am most excited about our Marketing Officer producing video content with our students and one of our new Lead Practitioners doing action research into our values ethos and the impact it has in time.Slide22

How can you find out more?

Dr Neil Hawkes has written two books which I highly recommend: From the Heart and Inner Curriculum. He has also recently delivered a TED talk at  #TEDxNorwichEd

How can you get involved?

We are delighted to be hosting two VBE events next term:

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Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The ethical vocabulary our young people are developing.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Meeting Sue Webb through #WomenEd otherwise I would not have know about VBE, nor met Neil and Jane!

 

 

 

Our 200 Days Celebration: Glorious Aureus

 

Tuesday 27th March 2018, was a landmark for us in our  history at Aureus School as we celebrated our 200th day and our official opening. We opened our doors to our visitors, partners & friends who came to celebrate with us.

We reflected on how much we have achieved in our first two terms in a student-led assembly. Our CEO, Jon Chaloner, our Vice Chair of our School Strategy Board, Bogusia Wojciechowska,  our Oxfordshire County Council representative, Allyson Milward and local resident William Darley who found the Didcot Hoard that named our school,  joined us in reflecting on our journey from an idea, to a building, to a school, to a community.

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Our students shared their ‘Magic Moments’  from our first two terms together including Mindfulness, Family Dining, Personal Development Time, PGL, Student Council, Shakespeare for Schools and Hot Chocolate Friday!

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Our guests all had a student-led tour of our beautiful facilities to experience the Aureus Way. Our staff and students showcased our different daily activities within the  values-based education they experience at Aureus. It was great to have our Mayor, our local councillors, our community and our collaborative partners all there to share our celebration.

Being outward-facing and developing partnerships to bring value to our community is central to our shared vision and values. We were delighted that we had supporters with us from VBE, SSAT, Whole Education, TES Institute, Ambition School Leadership, Oxfordshire Teaching Schools and a number of our local primary school headteachers too.

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We celebrate Arts being at the Heart of our school and have connected with lots of local artists and art organisations. We are proud to be the home of the Didcot Art Room, an art therapy space. This was an opportunity for our guests to see for themselves our stunning Art Installations from our STEAM provision. Thank you to Lorna Carmen McNeil who created our Light Up Your Life chandelier that hangs proudly in our assembly hall from the inspiration of the Didcot Mirror, held proudly here by Sue Wright from Oxfordshire Museums.

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Dr Neil Hawkes officially opened our Sensory Room sponsored by Kitbox & our Thrive Room sponsored by McCarthy Stone. He has recently published his new book called The Inner Curriculum and he acknowledged that is exactly why we have created these 2 safe spaces at Aureus to nurture our most vulnerable students to enable them to grow learn and flourish. Sue Webb, one of the VBE consultants has been instrumental in helping us to scope and frame our values-led school.

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Thank you to our fabulous catering team for a delicious afternoon tea including Aureus cupcakes. Thank you also to EagleSSL for our stunning fruit trees to symbolise our GLF mission to grow, learn & flourish.

The last 2 terms have flown by. The momentum of opening a new school is like a whirlwind of activity as each day, each week, each half-term  there is so much for us all to do. All educators and school work hard but this really had required a new level of energy, commitment and resilience! Thank you and well done to all involved with Glorious Aureus – it is a team effort that has made us a success. The STEAM dream works because of our brilliant extended team.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Our next 200 days – where will we be/ what will we have achieved by Christmas?
  • The feedback from our School Evaluation Review today
  • Our VBE audit in the summer
  • The opening of our primary school in September
  • The brilliant team we have recruited to join us in year 2 at Aureus and in the opening year of Aureus Primary

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Our fantastic team at Aureus School
  • Our support from GLF schools
  • Our STEAM collaborations
  • Our community partners

Women Leading in Education: The NPQH Launch

2 years ago I was a DHT in London. I had resigned without a job to go to. This had initiated me moving into a role at Head Office leading Professional Learning for staff across 42 schools for a year before I left. It gave me head space to work out what the next move would be. I was being coached to recalibrate and to  find my direction. I had just started my NPQH with Ambition School Leadership.

2 years on I am a Headteacher, I am an Executive Headteacher in fact as our 2nd school opens in September. I have led Aureus School for 4 terms: 1 term as an idea, 1 term as an empty building and  2 terms with a staff and student body.

2 years ago #womened was 1 year old, we are now about to turn 3 and have increased our reach to 18,000.

How things can change in a matter of time. In 2 years I have moved from frustrated and in conflict to feeling grounded and anchored. I have found my fit.

This weekend Ambition School Leadership launched their inaugural women only cohort for the NPQH in partnership with  #womened and Leading Women’s Alliance. This weekend it was me delivering an after dinner speech about my leadership journey to headship, not me listening as a participant.

 

 

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I am used to being the event organiser and host, doing the welcome and the housekeeping not the address.  I am used to delivering assemblies with a screen so delivering ‘naked’ (clothes on but slides free!) after dinner was totally out of my comfort zone. Doing keynotes is my #10%braver challenge, it is me modelling that you need to Lean In and step beyond your comfort zone. It is me living my conviction that you say yes and you work it out later. It is me showing that you make mistakes and you learn from them, the more I do them, the more confident and comfortable I will become in the public speaking space.

I only had 15 mins to share my thoughts, reflections and advice so I did not go into detail about my leadership journey, although it would have reassured many in the room that I have had my fair share of rough seas to navigate through, they can read about this on my blog.

 

 

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Instead I shared my journey to headship. I reflected on the power I have drawn from the #womened community. Both Kate and I addressed some of the barriers that women leading in education experience. The imposter syndrome, the inner critic, the fear of failure.

As well as the barriers we reflected on the crowd-sourced solutions. We both shared what could have held us back and how we pushed ourselves forward. I can remember the first time I met Kate at our inaugural #womened unconference, she spoke about the ‘taps on the shoulder’ that women need. I have been fortunate to have had peers and line managers who have tapped me, and I in turn nudge others on.

 

 

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After the speeches I joined Karen Giles and her dinner table – we reflected on women who work silently and do not promote their work. I shared with them the article I had read about the strategy the women in the White House use – the illumination technique – which they came up with to amplify the ideas and work of others to ensure that credit was attributed to the owner.

 

 

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Lack of role models and the absence of a support network can hold some women in education back. Part of my motivation for co-founding #womened was to find my tribe. My source of inspiration in giving so much of my time and energy to our gender equality movement over the last 3 years has been the contacts that I have made. I am surrounded by strong women, by brilliant role models, by inspiring women leading in education.

 

 

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The power I have drawn from the #womened community, together with the skills and experience  I gained from my NPQH with ASL, enabled me to be empowered in finding the right headship for me to be my authentic self. Following many years of school improvement in turn around schools, a start up school was a new challenge. The blank page gave us the opportunity to co-create a forward-thinking school.

The combination of all of these experience and opportunities over the last 2 years led to me being involved in initiating and steering the women’s only NPQH pathway. Had I not have been outward-facing, I would not have met these amazing women.

My motivation for contributing to and supporting this bespoke programme is the opportunity to create a ‘safe space’.  There was a sense of urgency in the room that we need to change the system. There was a sense of agency in the room that these women would be the changemakers to #pressforprogress.

My final plea to them all was that when they secured their 1st headship that they would negotiate, that they would challenge the pay gap and ask for what they need, that they would hold on to their power and not give it away before they had even started.

 

 

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What I did not have time to share was my recommended reading, so here it is:

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This weekend there was a palpable energy in the room. Magic was being created before our eyes by the wise women sculpting the residential – facilitators Carol Jones and Karen Giles, superbly supported by ASL programme leaders Deb Fisher and Abi Brown. Thank you for being Wonder Women.

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I am really excited to see what the future holds for all of the participants.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • 31 future female Headteachers  who will be leading our schools in the future including our 2 DHTs at Aureus School Julie Hunter and Bennie Kara

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • We are all starting Leadership Matters as our summer read for the team at Aureus

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Ambition School Leadership for curating the women’s only cohort launch – especially Deb Fish and Abi Brown
  • Melanie Renowden and Kate Chhatwal for initiating the bid for a women’s only cohort for NPQH
  • The partnership between Ambition School Leadership, Leading Women’s Alliance and WomenEd
  • Carol Jones and Karen Giles for facilitating the inaugural residential for this very special launch cohort of the women only NPQH

Authentic Leadership: Relationships Matter

I have been reflecting a lot on relationships recently and how they make or break a team and hold the space for a school’s culture and ethos to grow, learn and flourish.

Relationships in any team matter. Relationships in a school are the cogs that make the culture work. Relationships when you are values-led are even more under the spotlight of scrutiny. When relationships are strained the ethos could be shaken. It is the culture that holds the team together, the values that create the space to reflect, to discuss and to stay pointing in the same direction. Our team have started the Fierce Conversations training model, we are taking steps to connect and collaborate in a coaching culture where we communicate and challenge in a constructive and collegiate way.

Growing a team from scratch is intense: it takes a great deal of investment to establish new relationships; it takes energy to get to know one another; it takes time for team dynamics to embed.  The Values-led approach has helped us to accelerate this process, but we are still in the early days of team formation.

Becoming a Headteacher both changes and enhances the relationships you have with others. The complexity of the different dynamics and the sense of trying to be everything to everyone, but feeling like you are spread too thin and letting everyone down could become quite overwhelming if not managed carefully and constantly.  Being the figurehead of a school community brings with it the responsibilities of modelling the types of relationships you want to see across all of the stakeholders, but heads are humans too and we make mistakes like the next person. Our approach is also shaped by previous influences, what is trust, or support or autonomy to one person is received differently by another. Our understanding is based on context, perspective and previous experiences.

We/ I have got some things right this year, and we/I have got some things wrong. It is our learning as leaders and educators that enables us to reflect, refine, realign and recalibrate.

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HR and people management are a vital part of  the role of a Headteacher, but the training opportunities are few and far between. HR CPD tends to start at Deputy Headteacher level when you start your NPQH, and tends to focus more on capability and competence than performance and harmony. Reading beyond education into organisational cultures there seems to be a greater focus on structures and systems beyond the school gate that we as school leaders can draw from.

In 15 years of teaching I don’t think I have ever had any words of wisdom imparted to me about the pivotal relationships for a headteacher. So I hadn’t realised until a term in to our school opening, just how important the relationships with my PA and my SBL were going to be in keeping my head above water. I have been involved in the recruitment of teachers and leaders for most of my career so feel quite confident in this domain, but I had not really been exposed to the appointment, training and line management of operations staff before becoming a headteacher. When do we learn these softer skills as a leader?

My thoughts on who to appoint, what to look for and how to foster these relationships are shared below. I have reflected on what worked, what didn’t work and what we have learned. It is still early days but going in to our 2nd round of team members we can consciously adjust things as we scale the team up:

The relationship with your PA: When we first recruited for this role, I was advised by HR to go for the opposite of me: someone with school experience, someone who was meticulous with admin, someone who knew the lay of the land, someone who was quiet and calm, someone who would be a swan to counter balance me as a ball of energy. We had a strong field  – we were down to our last 2 candidates – they were both great potential appointments. I was happy to work with either of them as I could see what they could both bring to my role, but my instinct said I needed someone to compliment my leadership style rather than contrast it, but I listened to the external advice and went with the panel’s choice. The skills were all there to support me as a new headteacher in a new role, in a new school.

A term in, we parted in mutual agreement that it was not working –  she returned to her old school to a new role there. We both agreed that our working styles had not gelled, our expectations were not aligned and I felt like I was compromising my workload and my wellbeing to support someone who was still growing in confidence in the role. Line managing and performance managing a PA was totally new to me, I had made some mistakes, we had struggled to get in to a daily/ weekly groove of how we communicated and organised ourselves as a unit. Moreover, I realised that I had not looked for the qualities of  resilience, confidence, ability to be proactive or use initiative at interview and it had come to light that this was more important than school-based experience.

I went back to the other candidate and had a honest conversation about the recruitment process and the opportunity, apologising for my error in judgement and for not listening to my instincts. A term in, my working patterns have been revolutionised by someone who is always one step ahead of me, whilst running behind me and catching the balls I drop along my way. My PA was a virtual administrator for a long time, she works flexible hours, she has a ‘can-do’ attitude and we talk openly about what is working and not working. She is my gatekeeper – I trust and respect her to make sound judgement calls. We jest at school about life before my PA, that is the impression and impact she has made on all of us.

The relationship with your SBL (we moved all SBMs to SBLs at our trust and they sit on our SLTs to acknowledge their vital role in the school leadership structure): Our field was really strong at application and interview, we had a talented group of experience professionals who we could all see would bring value to the school in different ways.  Managing a start-up budget is not for the feint-hearted – we needed a creative thinker to make our money go as far as possible and someone with tenacity to fight our corner when needed. Moreover, I had heard testimonials from experienced headteachers that the support staff team are often the hardest group to lead change with. Fixed mindsets, traditional systems and ring fenced roles were not part of my vision for an effective and efficient school operations team. I knew I needed someone who could drive this.  I was also aware that managing upwards to challenge me needed someone really confident, someone with a voice who could balance setting up the systems in a brand new school with  being strategic about the longer term bigger picture.

If my PA is my sentry at the gate, then my SBL is the guard dog (not the most flattering of images but metaphorically you get what I mean). The dynamic between the two of them is also of vital importance. The 3 of us are a unit and our skills set compliment one another.

The relationship with your Site Manager: If I am honest I have always found this relationship a tricky one to manage. For most of the schools I have worked in they have been a difficult person to work with for an array of different reasons. Moreover, as a young feisty female leader my requests have not always gone down well! Especially as I have led PE, P.Arts and events/ CPD so have by default made more demands of the site team than others have.  As someone who is very house-proud, this has translated into me being very ‘school-proud’ too – I am the one who sees the cracks, the chips, the litter, the rips and breakages that need addressing. I can hear them rolling their eyes as my requests come in.

From the outset I have built rapport with our site manager and we have an understanding about our direct, honest, open and transparent lines of communication. I can tell him he is being grumpy and he can tell me I am being demanding. The Fierce Conversations training for all of our staff has enabled this and I have not shied away from the difficult conversations but in return I get loyalty, respect and understanding. We have a sparring dynamic and we can laugh off what could become tension and conflict  in other contexts. In different schools I have worked in the Site Manager has been line managed by different people in the Leadership Team, my SBL is responsible for this area of the school   and as our team grows this is a relationship I will need to invest in and preserve from a distance, as I need to empower her.

The relationship with your DHTs: My relationship with my Headteacher when I was Deputy Headteacher was strained. I moved from being an empowered Assistant Headteacher who was trusted and respected by my then Headteacher to someone who had to prove my credentials over and over. I hated being micro managed and felt like my autonomy had been removed.  I had a lack of female role models in both Leadership Teams which has most definitely influenced my leadership style. The relationships and dialogue between the male-heavy Leadership Teams I developed in were of a particular style. Moreover,  I have been shaped by working in a highly successful MAT, with high performing schools, leading in very challenging schools with a focus on rapid school improvement, with rigorous systems, serving a community of high social deprivation and high staff mobility. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on where lies my authentic leadership style and how much I have inherited from my training years.    

So I have made conscious decisions about the space and autonomy I give my DHTs to develop their leadership styles in their new roles and their new context. I have actively encouraged them to be outward-facing, to be governors, to develop partnerships, to find a coach and to apply for the NPQH. I have tried where possible to remove some of the barriers which stifled me. I have tried to  be supportive without micromanaging, whilst still quality assuring what we do as we are setting our own standards in each new task, process and system we create. I also plan to expose them to some of the areas of Headship that you do not experience as a Deputy Headteacher. Why do we have hidden aspects of the role? There are areas of my role I could have been better prepared for had I known what I needed to know. The 3 of us are really different but our experiences, qualities, skill sets and personalities compliment one another well.

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The relationship with your Governors: I have presented to Governors in previous schools, I have had link meetings re areas of responsibility, I have been a primary school Governor and Trustee to gain insight, but nothing really prepares you for the relationships you need to develop with your Governors. I found myself in the unique situation  of recruiting my own interim board of community members, and supporting their transition to our new MAT structure of SSBs (School Strategy Boards). Governance within academies has additional nuances to interpret and landscapes to navigate as we also have trust members on the SSB. Agenda setting, chairing, reporting and lines of communication and accountability have needed defining and clarifying by and for all of us.  There have been learning curves and pits for all of us in our first year.  Our Chair and Vice Chair have spent an increasing amount of time in the school, getting to know our staff and our students, their support of our team, our community and our vision and values has been unwavering and is really appreciated. This culminated in a full day’s experience last week for them to shadow us from 8am-4pm to see what a day in the life of our school is truly like, warts and all!

The relationship with your Staff Team: Being part of a start-up school is a unique experience for all of us. The initial team is small, so relationships are intimate and intense. Whatsapp groups for the different teams have helped us to bond and stay connected. We know each other really well in some ways, but a year in still have a lot to learn about each other. We are like a family in that we have strong bonds but we are passionate and committed – we wear our hearts on our sleeves and have our tense moments too. We are conscious that as we scale up we need to try and hold on to what is working and learn from what is not working. My whole team as a Headteacher is the same size as my team as an Assistant Headteacher, but it is going to grow exponentially over the coming years. When I reference this in conversations that in 5 years’ time we will have 1650 students across two sites with staff in excess of 150 I do have to brace myself as the butterflies start flapping inside! I am grateful to have 5 years to grow in confidence and experience as we scale up together.

At the moment although we are all busy and stretched we do not have a structural hierarchy,  so I am quite accessible to staff and students – my open office door feels like a bus stop most days as people pop in to see me.   I don’t like things to fester and have always had the office that is dubbed the ‘crying room’ in the school as I am  a ‘fixer’ and often the human sponge for the emotions that need expressing and managing.

As we move into our 2nd year and our 5 leaders, 10 teachers, 15 support staff and 120 students triples in size at our secondary site, alongside our primary school opening with our sibling team and pupil cohort I am already thinking about how I am going to manage  existing relationships, whilst establishing new ones. I  have started reflecting lots on is how to maintain these relationships when we scale up  next year and when I am split across two sites. There is definitely a book or  a blog out there I need to find and read to give me an epiphany about this as we move into year 2!

Connecting and noticing are part of the wellbeing 5 and are key to relationships and I am thinking about booking in a weekly staff clinic and also having a weekly staff coffee morning in our wellbeing room as #hotchocfri is a favourite for our students, but the staff would love it too!

 

The relationship with your Community Partners: No-one warned me about the onslaught of  introductions, the invites and the initiations of collaborations. As a new headteacher, in a new Trust, in a new community, in a new region this is the hardest bit of the job in some ways as there is not a directory nor a route map of who is who! I am really mindful that I do not want to snub anyone unconsciously when we invite people to events or when the school is invited to send a representative to a local event.  The 20+ invites from local church leaders was a diary nightmare in term 1, but we have tried to box clever and create community meetings and tours to collapse invites into different groups. My protocol is to arrange a meeting at school, arrange a  tour, invite our guests for family dining or a coffee and a chat, but this is time consuming to say the least.  My social life has changed quite a lot as I find myself as local business awards and church celebrations!

The relationship with your Students and your Parents/ Carers are a given but I have already written too much so that can  be part 2 of the blog on a later date. I also want to reflect on we communicate across our Trust as those relationships are vital to our success too. I am also thinking of a follow up blog on Communication Matters as we are working on a Communication Strategy to streamline what we communicate, to who, when and by whom.

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Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The relationships we are fostering with our new team members and how we will develop these relationships across 2 schools next year.
  • I am presenting at the Ambition School Leadership  women only NPQH launch this week and will try to distill some of my learning and reflections to that audience.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I have followed some of Rob Loe’s research into Relational Schools via Helena Marsh’s involvement. I delved into the website but need to read the book and will look into attending some of their training.
  • Dr Neil Hawkes in From the Heart talks about a “hierarchy of roles not relationships” in values-led schools and this really resonated with me. As our team grows I wonder how sustainable across two large schools that operate as siblings.
  • Paul Dix in When the Adult Changes talks a lot about investing in the adult-student relationships in the school – we have considered how to apply this learning with regard to our students, but I need to revisit it to consider it within the context of adult-adult relationships.
  • Andy Buck’s brand and focus  is on Leadership Matters and for me Relationships and Communication Matters because they are at the heart of our core business as Leaders.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • In #WomenEd we ban the phrase “I feel lucky” because we make our own luck – I do feel lucky to have such a fantastic support network around me and to have recruited such a brilliant team at Aureus. I am grateful for how invested the team are in our shared vision, values and goals.

The Stranger on the Bridge: Male Mental Health

On Friday we held our 2nd Mental Health Awareness conference for Vulnerable Learners. We are leading the regional grant from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust to raise awareness of how schools can support our students through their STELLA Project.

Event 1 was a full day conference for 150 people in November with Dick Moore as our Keynote Speaker sharing his journey as a father of a boy who committed suicide. His story of ‘Dancing or Drowning in the Rain’ is rousing. I blogged about it here.

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Event 2 was a half-day conference for 75 in March for the teachers, leaders, professionals and organisations to come back together, to connect their ideas and experiences to forge collaborations. Our Keynote Speakers were Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn.

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Event 3 is in June and is a #MHWBTeachmeet, we have Natasha Devon as our Keynote Speaker and you can book to join us here.

In between these training days we hold a half-termly MH & WB network meet up to develop working relationships and share resources / best practice across our partnerships. Our next opportunity is on April 23rd and you can book to attend here. To find our more please connect with Lucinda Powell is co-leading the network with me.

We are also using some of the funding to run a Bridging Project pilot supporting Year 6 students through the anxiety of SATs and transitioning to secondary school by training 2 adults in each school to use mindfulness techniques and yoga to help them manage their emotions and reduce stress. More to follow on this one!

For those of you who do not know Jonny’s story, this was the second time I had heard him share it but the first time I had met Neil and heard his story that intertwines.  Jonny shares his journey from despair to hope and recovery. A mental diagnosis at primary when he started hearing voices in his head, a personality disorder diagnosis in his teens, exasperated by  his religion (brought up a Jew) and his sexuality Jonny has struggled with mental ill health for most of his life.

He sets the scenes and takes us to the point when he went to a bridge in London and prepared to commit suicide.

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Enter Neil, not Mike. A commuter on his morning route to work. Their story is the power of human connectivity. Two  strangers on a bridge who in a sliding doors moment may not have crossed paths. A commuter who stopped to help a man in distress. Neil reached out to a stranger in an altruistic act of kindness. He saw him. He emotionally reached out to him by starting a conversation. He held the space for him to feel safe. To feel like there was a reason to live.

Jonny didn’t jump. The police arrived (how he was treated by them is another story). Neil went to work and continued on with his life. A parallel life to Jonny who was on a journey of recovery. A random act of kindness that saved a man’s life.

JONNY 2

The story could have ended there but it didn’t on this occasion. Jonny’s profile in raising awareness about  mental ill health led to a documentary being made and a hunt to #FindMike (he had forgotten Neil’s name!) A viral campaign started and Neil’s girlfriend saw the media call for the Stranger on the Bridge to come forward.

The really sad and scary part of this story. At least 35 men came forward to say that they had also stopped someone from taking their live on a bridge in London on that same date. 35 strangers intervening to prevent the loss of life. 35 humans in crisis, so desperate that suicide was the only option for them.

JONNY 4 Jonny and Neil were reunited and a bromance began. The two of them have a fantastic friendship and have travelled the world sharing their story to help others. The story filled us all with hope. Hope in the human spirit.

It left me reflecting on so many aspects of my life, my family and our school community.  A local secondary school has lost 4 students to suicide in the last few years. I interviewed for a headship where 3 young people had taken their lives in a short period of time. One of the most gifted students I taught in South London, took his life in his undergraduate year. My aunt has tried to overdose on a few occasions.

Human beings are in crisis everywhere around us – relationships and communication are at the forefront of the solution to the problem we see ourselves faced with.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Random Acts of Kindness.
  • The power of human connectivity.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for: 

  • Charlie Waller Memorial Trust for funding the MH conference and MHWB network via the STELLA project.
  • Jonny and Neil for joining us to share their journey.
  • Lucinda for volunteering so much of her time to help the regional MH & WB network grow.
  • All of the contributors, the speakers/ exhibitors who all shared their time, experience and expertise for free.
  • My brilliant PA Zoe who helps me keep lots of balls in the air, each and every day!

 

Values-led Leadership: Moving from Surviving to Thriving

It has been a busy week! I have been to 4 edu-events this week: Ambition School Leadership graduation/ celebration for Teaching Leaders; DFE Diversity and Equalities Roundtable; Diverse Leaders ‘Seizing Opportunities’ day and #SRock18. Each event has connected me with fabulous new educators, made me think and deepened my vision and values for education. I am knackered from the travelling but it has been a great week so I am still buzzing!

On Tuesday night I keynoted for a cohort of Middle Leaders on my values-led leadership journey. On Saturday I ran a workshop at #SRocks18 for a group of educators on the same theme and expanded the experiences I shared by building in reflection and discussion points on how to be a values-led educator.

These are the tips I shared at the end of the session – the things I wish I had known earlier in my career, the insights I have gained through my tumultuous leadership journey over the last few years:Slide29

I opened my session by asking the room of educators who were voluntarily at a grassroots event on a Saturday, to consider where on the continuum of surviving to thriving they currently were.

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I shared my experience of hitting the wall a few years ago. Having a panic attack in my office at work one day. Realising that something needed to change. I felt a shift in the room, the relief at acknowledging we all go through this at some point in our career, we all feel overwhelmed, we question whether we have the resilience and the tenacity to continue. I gave them some hope, that you do come through it, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You just need to find the strength to make the change, and to weather the storm.

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I shared my experience of losing myself in my role. Of losing sight of Hannah the person, who had become soley Hannah the educator. I reflected on how I had become a chess piece on someone else’s chess set and how much this frustrated me. I shared how I had recalibrated, realigned, reframed through coaching and encouraged everyone to go and find a  coach and to share the free DFE coaching pledge for women leading in education with their colleagues.

The coaching model I have personally got the most from is the Graydin approach of coaching the person, not the problem, and starting with the heart not the head. The Heart, Head, Step model is a 3-part strategy to finding solutions.

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We moved on to reflecting on our Why for being an educator and used the Simon Sinek ‘Golden Circle’ model to consider our core values. I challenged them to consider if their core values were present in their current schools. I saw shoulders slump and heard a ripple of sighs around the room. I encouraged them to drill down to their non-negotiables as a frame for the culture and ethos they need to be able to thrive.  I saw a penny drop. For those seeking new roles and new contexts I suggested that this should be fundamental to how candidates select whether a school is the right ethos for them or not. I challenged them to prioritise that over the status and salary to find the right fit.

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I looped back to my journey and how my values had not been my beacon to guide me through a storm a few years ago because I had never really considered them before. Coaching has subsequently helped me to make sense of my why, to be able to articulate my values and to reflect on why I was frustrated. This epiphany helped me to get myself back on course and heading in the right direction. I paid homage to the strength I had drawn from the #womened community. With so many educators feeling disempowered, disenfranchised, it is the sense of community that our network has created that truly nourishes the soul.

I reminded them that our values are our moral compass, our vision is our beacon steering us through a storm. Our mission as educators is to survive the storm and make the journey. As Dr Jill Berry has spoken about on several occasions at our #womened events: “Rough seas make the best sailors…. Ships were not built to stay in the harbour”. As an English teacher I love this extended metaphor.

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Having survived the rough seas and refined my craft as  a sailor / as an educational leader, I moved on to discuss how I had researched and selected the culture and ethos I needed for my next move to move from surviving to thriving. I encouraged everyone to remember that in a profession that is under-recruiting and under-retaining, that there are more jobs than educators, so therefore the power is with those applying and being interviewed. We need to hold on to this power and get what we need from a new role.

I recruited my whole team through sharing my vision and values. I have blogged previously about how I designed a values-led application process. Skills and experience are important, but I wanted to get the right people on the bus. I needed to recruit a team of Ambassadors for the values we wanted to embody in our new school.

Moreover, in a time when everyone is talking about values and plastering them on their marketing/ painting them on their walls, we need to be careful interrogate how the values are being lived. Mary Myatt (in Hopeful Schools) talks about “values lived not laminated” and James Kerr (in Legacy) talks about “living your values out loud”. These 2 phrases resonate with me.

The values in our school are palpable. You can cut through the stick of Aureus rock anywhere in our community and you will experience a consistency in our shared vision and values.

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We have  invested a lot of time, energy and focus in scoping and embedding our values. Our values have been co-created, we all own them and drive them. Our children have an ethical vocabulary, our staff have a shared language.  Sue Webb, from VBE, led our values scoping day, I had to reconcile that not all of my values would resonate with my whole team, but my 3 non-negotiables: Diversity, Equality and Wellbeing would be integral to our vision and culture. Pen Mendonca captured our values scoping today and created the metaphor of our values being our DNA at our STEAM school.

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In the final few minutes of our 45 minute session (I could have spent a whole day on this topic!) I shared what we had agreed to do and more importantly not to do at Aureus. We made some bold decisions early on about some fundamentals that underpin our culture and ethos. We have a very strong sense of who we are as a school and what we will and won’t do. With a shared vision, shared values and shared language, it makes strategic decision making easier.

Our school is wholeheartedly child-centred, we are committed to nurturing hearts and minds. We educate the whole child, holistically. We do not shy away from the Fierce Conversations. Our homily embodies everything that we are and I am excited to see my Drama Club deliver it in my ‘Love Without Labels’ assembly this week to introduce our new value of Love for February, and frame the LGBT+ month of activities.  They have learnt it off my heart and have created an action for each of our 12 values so that all of our students can visually see  what each value means to them.

So that was my whistle stop distillation of my learning from 2 years, captured in a 15 min keynote and a 45 min workshop. I hope that what I shared resonated with those who attended both events. Keeps those flames burning and remember, if you have hit the wall and find yourself barely surviving, change your school not your profession. Too many educators are leaving the system rather than trying a different context. Just be careful to select the culture and ethos that you need to ensure the conditions for your own personal and professional growth are present.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The pilot cohort of the Ambition School Leadership women-only NPQH in collaboration with Leading Women’s Alliance and #WomenEd has just been confirmed. 30 delegates have been offered a place on this bespoke pathway. We are excited to be supporting their progression.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I have a stack of books by my bed to take away with me over half-term to read on the beach.
  • I am currently thinking about the LP accreditation that launched this week – I will be focusing on oracy and developing public speaking skills in our students  – any linked to reading or research in this area would be gratefully received.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Kristian Still, David Rogers and the team at One School, Hindhead, for organising #SROCKS18 and being brilliant hosts.
  • Ambition School Leadership for inviting me to speak to their Teaching Leaders cohort end of programme celebration.
  • Anna Cole for initiating the Diversity and Equalities roundtable at the DFE this week.
  • The Diverse Leaders Programme, co-led by my former colleagues Amy Anderson and Natasha Evans, 2nd cohort of #womened and #bameed participants who I met on Friday.