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!

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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!

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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.

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The Art of Public Speaking: Part 1 – Staff Oracy

All of our Leaders at Aureus are completing the Lead Practitioner Accreditation with the SSAT this year to keep the core business of Teaching and Learning first and foremost in our priorities. By January 10 of us will be accredited and then cohort 2 will start their journey.

We have coordinated our whole school foci by school priorities and I am focusing on Oracy. As an English Teacher turned Drama Teacher I think it is sacrilege that the GCSE has removed the Speaking and Listening component of the assessment, but understand why as this was part of the ‘gaming’ some schools reverted to, to secure GCSE passes.

As part of the accreditation you need to embrace an action research methodology. As a school we are a partner with Whole Education and we are using the Spirals of Enquiry research model designed by British Columbians Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser.

spirals of enquiry

Part 2 of my blog on Oracy will be exploring my findings from my initial hunches and my scanning questionnaires, moving into my impact action plan and pilot next term. I am looking forward to working with Voice 21 on it.

On  a personal/ professional note this morning I was working through my epic to do list for what is the busiest few weeks in the calendar for Leadership Teams in secondary schools.

This week I will be doing the following public speaking:

Assembly – we rotate as a staff and I do an official one each half-term and then priority ones as things arise like Road Safety after an accident or Knife Safety after a scare. Tomorrow we launch our 11th value, Confidence and I will be exploring the barriers to self-confidence and challenging our students to control their Inner Critic, practise the Power Pose and compose a Daily Affirmation. This will also be our transition assembly for the 7s as they become 8s.

Year 6  Student Welcome – Monday and Tuesday we have our 240 students from primary coming up for a transition day. We cannot accommodate all of them on one day so have split the 2 days in half and have 120 tomorrow, then we repeat with the other 120 on Tuesday. My assembly at the start of the day is a welcome to Aureus, and at the end of the day is a reflection on their experience to start building the bridge to September.

Ofsted Inspection – Wednesday we have our Pre-Opening Ofsted Inspection which is a compliance check. No formal presentation but a lot of information to communicate!

Year 6 Parent Welcome – Thursday night we have 2 time slots for our 480+ parents (blended families means there will be standing room only for some!) They heard me deliver the who we are speech last October when we had been opened for 6 weeks. They have chosen us and I will be reminding them what they have chosen. The home-school agreement and parent, student, school partnership officially begins from this week. The acceptance of key messages will ensure we have a smooth start to the new academic year. I will be shooting the elephant in the room and discussing the recent media coverage too.

#WomenEd Event  – on Saturday I will be opening the regional event we are hosting but always consider #WomenEd to be the most supportive and warmest of audiences.

Add to the list Governors’ presentations each half-term and open mornings, recruitment events, our MH & WB events,  plus conferences we contribute to and training we host public speaking is a vital part of the role of a Senior Leader and especially as a Headteacher.

I am not sure I have even seen  public speaking as a key quality, skill nor experience in a Job Description, Person Specification or advert before though?

I have also reflected today on how much training we get on this key skill as teachers and leaders. It is such an important aspect of transition to leadership and especially to Headship why is there not more investment in this key life skill?

See the thread from my original tweet here. With a helpful graphic for public speaking and oracy tips from Voice 21 here.

Moreover, it is not just about what we say, how we say it, but our whole delivery. We have all seen the critiques speakers get on what they wear rather than what they say. I read a brilliant piece on Sheryl Sandberg and Hilary Clinton’s stylist a while back on tricks to avoid the focus being diverted to your hemline or heel height rather than your message!

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Sheryl Sandberg, MBA’95, Facebook COO and author of “Lean In,” gave the closing keynote of the W50 conference at Harvard Business School. In celebration of this year’s 50th anniversary of women being admitted to the two-year MBA Program, Harvard Business School. Katherine Taylor/Harvard Staff Photographer

My relationship with oracy – I was loud and clear at primary school so was always the narrator, although I cried as I wanted to be an actor in the play! I learnt to earn brownie points at secondary by volunteering early to present. At university I confess I would read the first book each term and volunteer to go first so there was less pressure to finish the rest of the books that module.

When I became a Head of Year my students used to tease me I would shake like a leaf, so I stopped having anything in my hands. As an Assistant Headteacher I was told to slow down my delivery. As a a Deputy Headteacher  I was told to stand still/ behind a podium/ lectern. Each of these tips were helpful in their own way but we never really discussed content nor rhetorical techniques. I knew this from being an English and a Drama Teacher but how do staff from other subjects develop these skills?

I absorbed a lot from organising the Jack Petchey Speak Out and the Shakespeare Schools’ Festival for our students, again I was exposed to this as a subject specialist.

I wrote a blog reflecting on my #TEDxNorwichEd talk about battling with speech impediment and lisp for most of my life. I have not said my Rs right since I lost all 4 front teeth in Infant School, despite my Speech Therapists best attempts!  This was one of the personal hurdles I had to get over.

So I am going to plan a bespoke #WomenEd event next year focusing on Public Speaking and breaking down the aspects we need to refine and polish as educators to enable more women to be confident in the public arena.  We need more women speaking at edu-events, speaking on edu-panels and delivering the key notes at edu-events. As although this training from RADA looks fab I don’t think anyone nor any school should be paying £3,500!!womened public speaking

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • My LPD Spirals research project and the impact it will have on our students.
  • The impact of #WomenEd on growing the community’s confidence in public speaking.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • Lee Jackson has very kindly just offered to send me a copy of his book.
  • I need to read the Spirals Surveys my focus group did for me last week to see if my hunches were right.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Brilliant sharing from my Twitter #PLN on this topic.
  • The SSF workshop on my NPQH with Ambition School Leadership.
  • Public Speaking tips from Kym Andrews and Hilary Lyons through Jack Petchey Speak Out events and training.

 

Leading Beyond the School Gates: Liminal Leadership

Yesterday, at our #WomenEd Festival of Leadership at Warwick University, I co-facilitated a session on Leading Beyond the School Gates with Annemarie Williams, one of our #WomenEd East Midlands Regional Leaders and someone who has become a very good friend. Annemarie gets all the credit for planning a brilliant session as it fell off of my to do list this week!

We have dubbed ourselves ‘Wilson and Williams’ as we have started co-planning and co-delivering workshops on things we are passionate about as we are on the same page about education. Annemarie is a primary CEO and I am a secondary Headteacher, we are both values-led in our approaches. We both believe in authenticity and are committed to being ethical leaders, guided by our moral compasses.

We are both passionate about is the opportunities to lead beyond school, in our communities, which develop leadership skills which can be brought back in to our schools and our classrooms. These liminal leadership opportunities are often forgotten about or not given the value and the status on our CVs, in our applications and in our interviews that they should be.

Our group’s opening reflections and discussions about what ‘Leading Beyond the School Gates’ threw up some interesting points. We talked a lot about being human in our leadership, about the hierarchies in some of our schools and the stakeholder engagement needed by school leaders.

Below are some of the things we discussed and the questions we used to frame the discussion for your consideration.

Great Leaders Make Great Schools – what is the impact of this on leaders?

  • Vision and values – moral purpose, define the mission for all
  • Exceptional leadership – learning focused, accountable, inspiring
  • Ethic of excellence  – high expectations for all
  • Pedagogy – the craft of teaching and learning
  • Culture  – teamwork and collaboration
  • Outward facing – research, collaboration, a culture of learning, innovation
  • Joy – the enjoyment and buzz of learning, should be tangible

What is your WHY of leadership?

Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’ is a book I keep going back to. We need to be articulate our why for being a teacher but also our why for stepping up to lead. The first hurdle is owning the fact that you are a leader. I anticipated that some of the people in our room did not see themselves as leaders, by the end our session they could articulate that they were leaders as they are influencing others.

Considering Servant Leadership we discussed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of this leadership style.

The concept of servant leadership is one that is both seductive and dangerous. The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead”.

Servant leaders focus on the needs of the organisation and the communities they serve first and foremost and on developing the people within the organisation for the greater good of the whole community.

We framed our perspective as educators who have become leaders and who have used external opportunities to develop our leadership qualities, but we also shared our perspectives as recruiters, who assess candidates for what they can bring to our schools.

What other ways are there to grow as  leader?

We shared what we are passionate about, things we have done to go above and beyond outside of school and more importantly how  we can use these liminal leadership opportunities as evidence of our leadership skills.

Volunteering:

I am a School Governor, a MAT Trustee, a DFE Coach and the National Leader of #WomenEd.

Travel:

I have participated in Camp America, Raleigh International and LRTT.

Community Projects:

I am going to Mozambique with Action Aid this year.

Challenges:

Coaching has helped me overcome personal and professional challenges, which have also developed by emotional resilience.

Self-Study Courses:

I love attending, speaking at and hosting grassroots CPD. #Teachmeets, #Leadmeets and #Coachmeets have deepened by passion and my knowledge of educational leadership over the last few years.

Reading and Research:

Our school bookclub, our @WomenEdBookClub and Twitter chats like #SLTchat have helped to shape my thinking.

What is the Impact?

  • Demonstrates how you walk and talk your values
  • Opportunities to develop transferable skills such as creativity, communication and relationship building, planning and project management, problem solving etc
  • Brings new learning, content and perspective
  • Helps build future connections and relationships
  • Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress.

Annemarie then made the link between community leadership, the qualities we develop and how this links to the future of  careers and employability:

The World Economic Forum recently published “The Future of Jobs” outlining the skills that will be most needed by 2020, and guess what? Social skills are leading the way. In a world where technology seems to be king and the power of social media is ever growing, it is our human connectivity and ability to build relationships, will decide who is ready for the new world.

“Overall, social skills such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills.”

What did we learn? How did we grow as a leaders?

  • That transferable skills can be developed anywhere, any time
  • That failure can be the stepping stone to a new pathway
  • That resilience can be developed

So we ask you to reflect and consider:

What are the experiences that have shaped you as a leader?

What are the possible new development opportunities you have yet to explore?

And more importantly, how will you harness these leadership opportunities, how will you capture them in your applications and how will you evidence they impact they have had on your leadership development?

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

On behalf of Wilson and Williams, coming to an EduEvent near you soon!

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • More people recognising that leading beyond our school gates, leading in liminal spaces and leading in our communities is a legitimate way to informally develop leadership skills.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Making brilliant friends for life through #WomenEd – another reason to volunteer your time, energy, experience and expertise!
  • Having a diverse PLN of inspiring changemakers!

Appendix:

I recommend that you read Liminal Leadership by the fabulous Stephen Tierney. Furthermore that you watch this #TEDxNorwichEd Talk by the brilliant Marianna Cantwell who also talks passionately about existing in the grey space between the black and the white.

Busyness: Time v To Do List

I have not blogged for a month. That just says it all.

Life is busy. But in reality work is busy, life is quite quiet as I carve out space to look after me.  I cannot be busy all day, all night and all weekend.

My sanctuary is getting home and being still, silent. Pressing pause is a luxury.

Time is a precious thing in schools. But there never seems to be enough of it these days? It seems to evaporate between your fingers.

 

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I read some interesting articles a while back about the British obsession with Time Management where as the Americans focus more on Energy Management. Energy v Time increases productivity and performance. It streamlines quality v quantity. It makes sense so why does it feel like I am getting it so wrong?

I have always prided myself on being a super-organised, super-efficient individual, but these days I do not feel very organised nor very efficient.  My PA strives to keep on track, I keep 8/10 balls in the air, but she always catches the 2 I drop.

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My outlook diary is a beautiful work of art, a rainbow of commitments and priorities. Some days I look at it and take a deep breath to garner the energy and stamina to work through it all.

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I got to the point last half-term where I had To Do Lists for my To Do Lists! My Mum brought us up with The Pad being the 5th member of our family. The Pad was the family Bible. If it wasn’t on The Pad, it wasn’t worth knowing/ doing/thinking about! My sister and I often reflect on and laugh about the work ethic, the capacity for hard work, the resilience and the level of productivity that was instilled in us as children which frames our lives as adults.

to do list 1

I  use post its – in hard format on my desk and in electronic format on my phone. I like the colour, the scribbling but also that you can bin them as you go. Instant gratification for tasks complete.

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But recently I have given up trying to track everything I needed to do. My Dad has always said that if you cannot remember you need to do it, then it cannot be that important. I have a good memory, I do what I can, when I can. I am pragmatic about not being a super human and prioritising what is important.

Apologies to those who keep  dropping down or off of my mental to do list.   There is only so much time in the day. There is only so much energy in the reserve!

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Our brilliant new team – great to see some of our teaching team at the #charactertoolkit book launch and we have made some fab appointments this week!

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • No time to blog nor read this month – have Character Toolkit by Liz Wright and Frederika Roberts plus Compassion by Sue Webb to read next.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • My Leadership team and PA who have kept me sane the last few weeks.

 

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.

relationships 2

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.

Global Mindset, Global Community: Global Citizenship

To celebrate #IWD18 and to help our Year 7 students understand why we need to #pressforprogress,  we held a Global Citizenship Day this week to develop awareness and deepen understanding of our values of Diversity and Equality.

Being an outward-facing school we have been overwhelmed by the number of invitations we have received to connect and collaborate with so many brilliant organisations who can bring value to our school community and who can help us give our Year 7 students a global perspective to contrast their life experience in Didcot, Oxfordshire.

The UN Global Goals for sustainable development inform our weekly Global Citizenship programme of activity that Julie Hunter our DHT curates superbly. At Aureus we do not do PSHE days, SMSC audits, Citizenship lessons – we have one integrated programme that integrates all of this key learning into one cohesive and coherent delivery.

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why should i care

We used this day as an opportunity to develop some partnerships through a carousel of thought-provoking workshops. It was a fantastic opportunity to expose our students to external voices and experiences whilst exploring the rights of girls. Our values of respect and responsibility  were developed as our students’ understanding grew.

LyftaEd

Serdar the founder of LyftaEd flew in from Finland to work with Amjad our AHT on a series of immersive storytelling workshops using the virtual technology platform his team have built. As an English and Media Studies teacher, as someone who travels a lot this resource is brilliant in exploring identity and representation. In the 15 minutes I was in the room we were in a Finnish family’s kitchen meeting a female weight lifter and we met a male ballerina in the Czech Republic in an opera house. The power of technology to transport our young people to places around the globe to create human connections and understanding of ourselves as global citizens is remarkable.

You can find out more about this brilliant platform here.

Oxfordshire Museums

Kelly Smith who works at Pitts Museum, initiate a project with us and a local artist to explore the history of Didcot and how this frames our identity as a school. Her colleague Sue Wright joined us to work with Lorna, a local artist and Laura our Art Lead Practitioner Designate. Using The Didcot Mirror as inspiration, each student has designed a piece to contribute to our art installation for our official opening ceremony in a few weeks’ time. Linking our Roman history with our future as a values-led school through our identity will create a sense of belonging for our students. The art installation entitled ‘Light up our Lives’ will hang above our heads in our weekly assembly.

Pictures to follow when it is installed next week!

Youth For Change 

Shamil and the team from Youth For Change delivered an interactive session on gender equality. The students were very informed about the cultural stereotypes for boys and girls, the social constructs they are defined and confined by. This was a segway to the rights of girls/ women and the challenges they face through the cultural practices of  FGM, ECM and HBV.

You can find out more about their #traintoprotect outreach here.

Sexplain

Amelia is a force to be reckoned with. Delivering brilliant SRE sessions she used play dough as a resource to start a dialogue about sex education. With the prevalence of the #MeToo campaign the dialogue around consent and behaviours/ attitudes to sex and relationships is of vital importance to our students.

Find out more here.

I was really very proud of our students on our inaugural Global Citizenship Day – the feedback we received from our visitors on their sense of self, their understanding  of how they belong, their desire to be changemakers in their community/ our world and their articulation of their values was very touching. Through our VBE frame we focus on the ethical vocabulary that our children have and how they communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The opportunity to shape global citizens who understand their identity, who have a sense of belonging, and who will contribute positively to the world.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am prepping Aureus for the VBE schools accreditation process whilst Julie Hunter our DHT is prepping us for our Rights Respecting School accreditation process. External validation of the work we are doing through our values-based education will help us to educate our prospective parents and carers about our work.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The teams at LyftaEd, Oxford Museums, Sexplain and Youth for Change who made this day possible for our staff and our students.

Diverse Educators: #BAMEed #DisabilityEd #LGBTEd #WomenEd

Yesterday, was a defining moment in my career.

I am still buzzing from the inspiring and empowering group of diverse educators who came to Aureus for the day for our inaugural Diverse Educators event.

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#BAMEed met #DisabilityEd met #LGBTed met #WomenEd. 4 grassroot movements and communities came together to connect, to collaborate. The power of the collective voice.

The impact we can have working together was how I framed the event.  I opened Diverse Educators asking everyone to share their Why. We then did a popcorn sharing of our motivation for getting out of bed early and travelling on a cold Saturday morning in January.

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My why:diverse 3

We know our identities are more complex than just our gender. We all wear multiple hats, we all have multiple labels as we define and own our complex identities. What do we have in common? We are all humans. Yesterday, we brought together a group of humans who care deeply about diversity, equality and inclusion.

My proposition was that each community, each movement could challenge their systemic, structural and societal barriers for their label, or we could join forces and be a stronger voice, a stronger community to smash through these glass ceilings and these concrete ceilings together. Moreover with the support of all of the organisations who supported the event as exhibitors and contributors.

A collective mission.  A collective voice. A collective impact.

 

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Each of the grassroots movements shared an update on the progress of their community  and the impact they have made to date:

#BAMEed are a year old and held their first event last May in Birmingham, their 2nd event is soon and they are planning their 3rd for June 2nd. Co-founded by Abdul, Allana, Amjad and Penny they are growing their network and profile. Find out by following them here. An offshoot of @BAMEednetwork is @TFBAMEcommunity co-founded by Jess and Mahlon. They also have a series of events on the horizon.

#DisabilityEd is new on the block and unfortunately Lynne Wareham who is pulling volunteers together was too unwell to join us yesterday to share plans. The sessions that took place started the conversation. More to follow on this one as the community of educators with a disability come forward and join forces.

#LGBTed did a soft launch yesterday and will have a hard launch, an event in the spring.  Co-founded by Daniel and Hannah they have combined forces with David Weston and @OutTeacher. They have  Claire Birkenshaw (first know UK Headteacher to transition whilst in post) as an advisor to make schools more trans aware. Find out more here.

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#WomenEd is now nearly 3 years old! Co-founded by 7 educators, we have 5 of us as national leaders (Me, Jules, Keziah, Sameena and Vivienne) and 60+ as regional leaders in the UK and a further 10 driving the agenda internationally. We are planning our 4th national unconference for Autumn 2018, we have just reached 16,000 followers, we were nominated for a national diversity award, we were named in the TES top 10 influencers and we have a book deal with SAGE education. It has been an epic year for the #womened community! We have also just launched @WomenEd_Tech and @WomenEdBookClub Find out more here.

The schedule of the day involved 8 workshops in 4 time slots, 32 facilitated workshops and learning conversations about how we can have impact in our schools for our learners, both staff and students.

At lunchtime there was a buzz in the air as we all made human connections. Collaborations were initiated and I am excited to see how these will develop.

We closed with a panel. A diverse panel. A panel like we should see at more edu-events. It really isn’t that hard to ensure that you represent the voices of the audience and the profession at our events, whether they are grassroots or mainstream. Alison, Claire, Anna, Jonathan and Shirley represented and explored ‘How can we create a cohesive and coherent strategy to ensure a more diverse workforce?’ They reflected and shared how we can move from our why, to our how and to our what.

 

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I asked everyone in the room to then pledge their ‘what’. What is it we can all do differently from Monday? What is we can contribute to drive the diversity agenda?

The reason why Diverse Educators primarily came about was due to yet another poster advertising yet another event with an all white, male line up. We must continue to challenge the ‘manels’ and the ‘wanels’! We must collectively challenge the lack of representation at a lot of events, as well as on SLTs, Governing and Trust boards.  We will not change the ‘pale, male, stale’ face of pockets of our profession unless we challenge and ask for change.

I lost track of how many of these events I saw last year. Equally I was invited to speak at 10 plus events last year about diversity. I challenged each event that when I realised I was the representative. There were not diverse faces on the line up, just my straight, white face and voice championing diversity! They didn’t seem to see the irony? Moreover, on the few events where there was a smidgen of diversity, the diverse voices were marginalised to the small stage and pigeonholed by their topic.

So, it only seemed right for Bennie, one of my fabulous DHTs to close the event for us.  Bennie wears all of the hats.

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She explored each of the labels she wears. Her speech was passionate, personal and reflective as she shared her dismay at realising that she had a disability – as if it wasn’t hard enough to be a woman, an Asian women and an Asian bisexual woman. Did she really now have to deal with being a disabled Asian bisexual woman. How many labels can one person cope with? How many glass ceilings can one educational leader smash through? Her upbeat voice and pragmatic approach gave hope to the audience that it is possible, if you find the right school, if you stay true to your values. Moreover if you lean in and embrace your authentic self and bring your whole self to school.

 

Before everyone left I played them a song. They wondered where I was taking them when Hugh Jackman appeared on the screen. But a song from his new film: This is Me, made all of the hairs stand up on my arms, my foot tap in and my heart beat. I will be using it in an assembly this half-term as the lyrics are so emotive and powerful.  The Power Pose is a source of strength for #womened, this song could be a source of strength, an anthem for our diverse educational community. Most importantly, our grassroots events are amazingly positive and uplifting, but the trolling has already started. I hope that everyone who joined us yesterday, physically and virtually, ignore the haters, take the lonely negative voices with a pinch of salt and tap into the support and positivity of the Diverse Educators community:

“Reach for the sun… Burst through the barriers… Don’t let them break you down to dust… This is me… I make no apologies… Look out here I come!”

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Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The impact this event will have on combining the communities and excited to already be thinking about Diverse Educators II in Jan 2019 – we are thinking 12/1/19 and moving it back a week so more can come
  • The impact that Diverse Leaders will have on our 2nd cohort of delegates – you can register here for our free #BAMEed leadership development programme: https://goo.gl/forms/pQN8cn7Iw3zOPf5I2
  • Supporting the launch of #LGBTed
  • Advocating the developments of #BAMEed and @TFBAMEcommunity
  • What #WomenEd will achieve in our 4th year

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Everyone who came to Aureus yesterday – all of the speakers who volunteered their time for free, all of the exhibitors who provided resources, refreshments (Veema), gave out books (Leadership Matters) and discounted CPD (TES Institute) to our audience
  • Pen who captured the opening discussions and reflections brilliantly.
  • Claire Birkenshaw for educating me and making me more trans aware over pizza and wine!

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#Nurture1718: Seeds of Hope

Keziah encourages us each year to review our year & reflect on our achievements before setting our intentions for the next year. This is my 3rd nurture blog.

2015/16 – was all about seeking change as I had just resigned from my DHT role. I was re-evaluating & seeking my next steps. I needed to decompress to re-calibrate.

2016/17 – was all about seeing that change through, reestablishing myself & re-framing. Re-discovering my authentic self & being guided by my values. When I sit down and think  about it, it has been a mega year, a pivotal one for my career in fact. I did a TED talk!! It has been a big year for #womened too – we were nominated for Best Network in the National Diversity Awards!

2017/18 – will be a year of embedding, letting all of the changes in my professional & personal life settle & for equilibrium to be restored. I am excited to see  more of my intentions become actions.

Metaphorically, I feel like I was an established plant that was violently pulled out of the ground. I was re-potted, pruned and nourished. I have now been re-planted in a new environment, with the correct conditions & environment to grow & flourish. I have dispersed my seeds of hope, and they are now growing.  🌱

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2016/17 Reflections:

New opportunities:

I am now officially the founding Headteacher of a brand new start up secondary school and have just completed our first term!

New locations:

We have a beautiful new school building and site. I now teach/ lead in Didcot and live in Abingdon-on-the-Thames. I no longer live in London, and am close to where I was born in Henley.  It is weird how life sometimes takes you full circle!

New perspectives:

I have now been at GLF Schools for a year and am adapting to a new culture and ethos.  I have laid the foundations for our vision at Aureus, and our team have contributed to the values. We are all working together, we are on the same page, we are on the same bus, heading in the same direction.

New freedoms:

We have flipped the school day and start every morning mindfully. We have framed our curriculum through a values-based education. We have created a rewards-based culture and a coaching ethos.

New travels:

I started the year in Northern Ireland, I have been to Canada, Spain, Italy, Croatia and Dubai this year. I work hard and my holidays keep me going, but the international #womened opportunities also really excite me!

Other things this year I am proud of – I was nominated for a Women in the City Rising Stars Award, I led 3 DfE Diversity Grants, I was on a #womened panel in Banff with Pasi Sahlberg, I did a TED talk, I have been asked to write a monthly piece for Teach Secondary.

2017 has been an epic professional year!

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2017/18 Intentions:

New opportunities:

I have been made Executive Headteacher & will be opening our primary school & SEND base. I am on the Mental Health in Schools Award steering group lead the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust’s regional funding stream. I am leading the 2nd year of our Diversity Grant. #WomenEd are writing a book, we are also curating a whole channel at The Times Educational Festival at Wellington College in June.

New locations:

I have really enjoyed working with the #WomenEd teams in the West Mids and the East Mids this year. Also, the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Women Leading in Education Network. Both have kept me busy helped me settle out of London after 12 years in the city. Our sibling school Aureus Primary is being built & will open in September so we will have another new site!

New perspectives:

I am halfway through my coaching programme with Electric Woman which is encouraging us to dig deep to lean into our vulnerabilities. I am excited about hosting Diverse Educators in January to bring together #womened #bameed #lgbted and #disabilityed. We have become a partner school for Whole Education & will become a hub school for TES Learn, SSAT & Challenge Partners this year.

New freedoms:

I have joined a choir. It is half of my #wellbeing pledge to myself. I have attended every week for a term and have even performed in public!! This has been my #10%braver this year. My other half of the pledge – weekly yoga classes – has not gone as well but I will strive to fulfill this from January. 1 thing at a time!

New travels:

I am seeing the end of the year out and the start of the new year in, in Helsinki. I am of to the Dominican Republic for a friend’s wedding in Feb half-term. Next summer I am excited to be traveling to Mozambique on a women leading in education charity project with Action Aid to build a library. A once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity. I have also been asked to speak at a Girls’ Leadership Conference in Adelaide…

The last 2 years have been a whirlwind of activity & change, this year I am looking forward to some calm and to some clear, blue skies!

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I would like 2018 to be an epic personal year!!

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

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Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The successful first term we have had at Aureus.
  • The growing momentum of #womened.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The DFE’s papers on flexible teaching and mental health.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The fabulous team at Aureus.
  • The wonderful #womened regional leaders I work with.

Currently feeling inspired by:

  • Stories of courage & resilience from fellow educators who are values-led and determined to be hopeful, optimistic & driven to change our profession.

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Our First 100 Days: Growing, Learning and Flourishing Together

This year it feels like I have had 3 jobs!

Spring term saw me starting at GLF Schools, still living in Sutton, commuting down the road to Epsom where our Head Office was based. I was planning Aureus and tasked with creating the GLF TSA strategy. I travelled up to Oxfordshire regularly to see the progression of the Aureus school site. I moved up earlier than planned in March as I was spending so much time on the motorway and could only eat so many M&S sandwiches for dinner!

Summer term saw me moving from the site office, out of my hard hat, high vis and wellie boots into my office. It was quite surreal having an office in a building site. An oasis of calm whilst the contractors still bustled around me. By May half-term we were nearly there and Aureus finally began to feel like a school. We got the keys in June (I think as now all a blur!) July saw my SBL, PA and Site Manager starting – I finally had a team to plan things with!  We held our Yr 6  induction evening and for the first time had the staff, students and parents on site, together in the main hall.

Autumn term saw the staff induction, student induction and our school opening. I blogged here on bringing the team together.  I blogged here on my reflections from our first half-term. I cannot believe how quickly this half-term has gone. It seems like yesterday I was in Dubai sunning myself and reflecting on our first 6 weeks, we are now in week 12 and nearly ready to break up for Christmas. A #nurture1718 blog is to follow on my reflections on the year and my plans for next year.

Our values are strong across our MAT and within our school. GLF stands for ‘Grow, Learn and Flourish’. Our pledge at Aureus is to ‘nurture hearts and minds’ through values-based education, our holistic curriculum and our STEAM specialism.

Aureus Values Wheel

How have we grown this term?

One of our students summed this up perfectly this week when they were planning their speeches for our official opening:

“We are like the seeds you have planted Miss. You are giving us the things like mindfulness to grow. We will grow into trees in Year 11.

“Did you know we were doing plant reproduction in Biology this week?”

This extended metaphor  totally sums up who we are. Our children speak passionately about our values. They are confident, articulate and reflective. What we say in assembly, is reflected in our curriculum and discussed in our coaching time.

We have grown in so many ways – personally and professionally, as students and as staff, we have flipped from macro thinking to micro moments. Everyone’s confidence has grown as they find their feet in our brave new world.

What have we learned this term?

I am in a group called #NQHeadT on Twitter with 50 other new Headteachers. In some ways it does feel like I am a NQT again. The role is so different to previous ones I have had. The scale and the scope of my remit is massive. Changing regions, LEAs, Trusts and taking on a start up school add additional pressures to the already immense role. But you have to just take some deep breaths, keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, and work through your daily to do list!

Key learning for me includes:

  • That there is not a checklist/ guidebook for everything you need in place to open a new school!
  • That the best made plans don’t ever cover everything.
  • That you don’t know what you don’t know until you need to know it!
  • That every time you go to do something for the first term, it is the first time you do it, so you need a process, a template and it takes a lot more time and energy!
  • That we have taken on a massive job – it is much bigger than any of us thought it would be.
  • That we need to be resilient as everything is not going to be right the first time.
  • That the culture/ ethos of our school  and the dynamic of the team is vital in our success.
  • That we need to hold on to our values when the going gets tough.
  • That we need to remain positive and optimistic as it is not going to be plain sailing.
  • That we are up for challenging the system, affecting change and doing things differently but we need to take the wider community with us.
  • That balancing workload with wellbeing is really hard!

How have we flourished this term?

Wellbeing is one of our core values. This was a choice we made. The majority of our team have come from broken schools and toxic cultures. We are committed to doing things differently and looking after our staff and our students. We have put it on the agenda and under a spotlight which means we are inviting internal and external scrutiny.

Our DHT for Culture and Wellbeing and our LP for Staff Wellbeing have created a fantastic  action plan for our MH & WB strategy. But that does not mean that it is easy. It does not mean that we have got it right from the get go.

We are knackered and we are definitely in ‘surviving’ rather than ‘thriving’ mode at the moment. Looking forward to things settling as they embed in term 2. We do not have a magic wand. But what we do have is a brilliant team. We are united and all on the same side. Everyone looks out for everyone in the building and that is really refreshing. I don’t dread walking into the staffroom or sitting in Leadership meetings.

So although it is hard, and mistakes will be made, I really like and respect everyone we have recruited. I am excited to see who jumps on the bus with us in the spring term to join us in year 2!

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Term 2!
  • We have moved our 100th day of opening celebration party to our 200th day in March due to the adverse weather conditions. We have achieved so much already in Term 1, I am excited to see where we are in another term’s time.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for: 

  • Our Leadership Team – Bennie, Julie, Amjad, Chris and Ellie are brilliant to work with, full of ideas and energy. A special mention to Drew who joins us in 2018 but is already an established member of the team!
  • Our Teaching and Coaching Team – Charlotte, Laura, Paul, Anna, Chris and Lannah are all working really hard and are extremely committed to nurturing our young people.
  • Our Operations Team – Rebecca, Cherry, Tina, Neil, Paul, Emma, Helen, Lindsey, Justine, Mou and Katie are a fantastically supportive team who keep the cogs going behind the scenes.
  • My PA – Zoe is wonder woman. She has whipped me into shape and brought a military precision and order to our busy team.
  • Our External Team – Clare, Kate, George, Dom, Matt and Andrea are all based at Aureus but are not our salaried staff, it is fab having them and their expertise in the building for us all to benefit from.
  • Our Friends of Aureus – the number of people prepared to travel to come to our official opening was impressive and the words of well wishes following our decision to cancel it due to the snow were overwhelmingly positive. The support network we have locally, regionally and nationally is really quite something.

 

Leaning In: On Tables, Meetings & Chairs

I love thinking, and learning, about things; big and small.

I have blogged, and will blog again, about the profound learning experience I had in the Canadian mountains at #uLead17, but this blog is a game changer in its simplicity.

Tables. Have you every considered the shape of the table you are meeting around?

On a panel this week one of my new #sheroes, Jane Danvers, the Principal of the Wilderness School in Adelaide, spoke passionately about the difference between round table and square table meetings.

We strive to separate the leadership from our management in the UK and she has nailed it by sitting her senior team around different shaped tables, physically and metaphorically.

Round table meetings are for leadership, they are strategic and are for questioning, for crowd-sourcing ideas and for blue sky thinking.  Round tables are for exploring the macro questions for the long term.

Square table meetings are for management, they are operational and are for solution finding, for practical discussions around systems. Square tables are for addressing the micro questions for the short to medium term.

This distinction in defining spaces to frame discussions is so simple but sets the tone of the meeting.

To add to this, I visited a school in Calgary on Thursday. Jason Rogers the Principal of Rundle College starts every meeting, every briefing and every staff training by referencing the empty chair at the table.

The empty chair reminds everyone present of who is absent – the child. The symbolism of the empty chair ensures that all dialogue is child-centred.

This metaphor has become a physical symbol around the school as the art department have constructed huge wooden chairs which the children have painted as part of the outdoor furnishings – they are so big a whole class can perch in them. Jason does video addresses when he misses events sat in one of them.

empty chair

Both Headteachers have created values-led cultures, both have created teams who are cohesive and aligned by their principles. I will be ‘magpie-ing’ both ideas. So simple yet so symbolic.

I couldn’t blog about tables, chairs and meetings without mentioning Sheryl Sandberg and leaning in. We know that we need to make sure that women and girls have a seat at the table, and when they do pull in a chair that they need to fully lean in and speak at the table too.

sit at the table

A picture that went viral recently was of the Republican Party’s round table about reproduction – a discussion about motherhood where the female voice was noticeably absent. It caused a stir on twitter as we asked ‘Who thought that it was okay to have no women present to discuss this issue’?

republican party

To counter this I found a hilarious image on instagram where the Dogs’ Committee are meeting to discuss the future of cats! A timely reminder of diversity, equality and inclusion depicted in a humorous way?!

dogs meeting

I have sat at a lot of leadership tables in the last few years where there has been no equality, nor diversity. As times and teams have changed, more women have leaned in and more diverse faces have been represented, but it is noticeable that behaviours around some of the tables have not changed to reflect this.

How inclusive are the tables that you sit at? How inclusive are the meetings that you participate in or chair? Are diverse voices contributing to the conversations and are these voices being heard?

I often notice in meetings the dominance of certain voices, the position of power in the room, the participants who make make eye contact and those who do not, the participants who address the power in the room and those who diminish some contributions or take the credit for contributions made by others.

Meetings can be very cliquey spaces, entrenched in who sits where and expecting everyone to conform to the conventions of group think.

Meeting both of these Headteachers has challenged me to consider the meetings I attend and chair moving forwards, ensuring that they have purpose and are as inclusive as possible.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Meeting inspiring leaders who have challenged my thinking and shared their best practice.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am thinking lots about bias for #WomenEd and #BAMEed – will try and find if there are articles for bias in meetings.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • 10 days in Canada and Banff mountain air to clear my head for the next term as Headteacher Designate, my final one before I become a Headteacher proper with a building, staff, students and parents!