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.

C8SwhD9XoAAKDoU

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!

 

 

 

The Trolls Under the Bridge: Leadership Resilience

As we opened our new secondary school in September 2017, we made some philosophical and some ideological decisions which we do not consider to be bold, innovative and radical, but common sense. To others it seems we are quite extreme.

No homework. No setting. No detentions. No shouting. No bells. No packed lunches.

We made a list of our non-negotiables and have stuck to them.

As a values-led school with a team who are committed to nurturing hearts and minds through an inclusive, holistic approach to education we have focused a lot on creating our culture and ethos right.

Our 12 core values shape our inner curriculum, our global citizenship and our approaches to rewards, sanctions and assemblies. Our values are developing into an ethical vocabulary for our community.

 

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Like at most schools, at the end of each assembly we have a reflection. I wrote our Homily to bring together our values into a tangible commitment to ourselves and our community:

“We strive for excellence by embodying the Aureus community values. We respect one another, ourselves and our environment. We strive to treat everyone equally. We champion diverse voices and different ideas. We are kind and we show empathy for others. We are courageous in the face of adversity. We show resilience when it is needed. We reflect on our wellbeing so that we may all be healthy and happy. We act with integrity; our actions are our values. Our hearts are full of love, for ourselves, for each other and for life. We act responsibly at all times. We encourage each other to be 10% braver and build our confidence. We live our values, every day”.

Our students speak articulately and confidently about what our values mean and how we should live them. Our students and our staff strive to embody our values in our decisions, our actions and our behaviours. We do not always all get it right, but our rewards and our sanctions speak to the value shown or contravened so that real learning takes places.

In the last few days our values of courage, resilience and integrity have been tested. But most of this has been directed at me as the figurehead of the school. I have received a lot of adversity, both professionally and personally. My resilience has really been tested as my eyes have bled reading the personal attacks. Despite this, my integrity remains in tact. I have not cried, I have not sworn, I have not lashed back at the vilification of my character, at the body shaming  nor the hashtag to have me sacked.

My roots are working really hard to hold me upright, I am bending but I am not breaking.

bend or break

It has clearly been a quiet week at the newsdesk of our National Tabloid Press that they have felt compelled to run a piece about us in every outlet. Is this really ‘hot news’ when our policy has been in place for 9 months? One anonymous parent has created quite a stir.

I have been called a “Dictator” for being an assertive lead with a clear vision. I have been called “Draconian” for not budging on our expectations. I have been called a”lefty sandal wearer”, which would be more accurate if it was changed to “liberal pump wearer” but perhaps would not be as catchy. I have been called “fat” and my “bingo wings” have been commented on – for the record I started Couch to 5k 6 weeks ago to get in shape, and have lost a few pounds, but this will spur me on to run harder and faster.

To counter the hashtag and calls to have me sacked, surely a catchy future Headline for the Mail, the Mirror, the Star, the Express, the Metro to run could be:

Headteacher sacked for serving water.

Headteacher Dismissed for banning packed lunches. 

Headteacher removed for insisting on family dining.  

How ridiculous would that be? The masses are calling for a Headteacher to be sacked because a school has principles around their food education.

It is not that I do not have feelings, that I am not taking it personally, that words do not hurt me. It is not that I am not taking this seriously, because I am, but I will not allow the loud shouty voices nor the hateful insults sink in. My values are my shield.

Moreover, I have spent every day of the last 15 years investigating, challenging and sanctioning prejudice. I have spent considerable hours challenging bullying, on and offline.

We wonder why our children in our schools need this input from their teachers, until we see how adults act on line. In the words of one of my supporters who messaged me they are “vicious vultures”.

The 1000s of comments about us, about me, are mainly very misinformed. They are hateful. They have twisted what we are doing and why we are doing it.

If you are interested in finding out more about our Food Education you can read my article in TeachWire. There is also an article in their catalogue about our pledge to truly lean into Diversity. Moreover, our website is informative and transparent about everything we stand for. If you read our Google reviews we are complimented regularly on our inclusive culture and ethos, on our happy students, on our delicious family dining experience. If you are going to point your finger and blame or judge, please do it from an informed place.

We have an expression in the #WomenEd Steering Group to starve the trolls of their oxygen. This is what I have been doing the last few days. I have held my head up high, I have shielded myself with my values. I have drawn strength from the positive and supportive messages I have received from our school’s parents, from my friends and family. I have not been drawn in. I have kept my emotions in check. I have sat on my hands and I have bitten my tongue. We learnt the hard way when #WomenEd started that it is more powerful to say nothing. The silence is more infuriating for the aggressors than responding to their angry, loud, noisy monologues.

The article that went live a few days ago stems from one parent who complained. I am going to emphasise that one discontented parent has created this storm in a tea cup. See the original post in the Oxford Mail.

storm in a tea cup

We have met with a few of our parents this year who were not fully behind our vision. We are a start up school and it is a difficult journey to align the parents and the staff when the school is being built, ideas are forming and plans are evolving in parallel to the admissions and transition process. We have worked hard to work with our parents and carers. We have made who we are very explicit to our prospective parents – all 850 of them who came to our open event for 240 student places.

With our food education policy, we have worked with our community to get them to buy into our vision and commitment. We have  listened to our parents and to our children, we have responded and our catering offer has evolved.  We have invited our parents in to experience it first hand for themselves.

The majority of our parents are very happy with our offer and understand how important our family dining is to our culture and ethos.

This parent did not get the response they wanted, they started a conversation on Facebook, they went to our Governors and they went to our MP. At each step we have communicated and explained our stance. We introduced sandwich bags as an option as they wanted packed lunches, we have subsidised their lunches for most of the year to work with them.

We appreciate they are frustrated, but do they appreciate the potential damage they have done by going to the press? Do they appreciate the distress they have caused to my team? Do they appreciate the stress they have created for me/us during my well-earned half-term? Do they appreciate the ripple effect this could have on our school community and on our students?

I don’t think they realised when they went to the Oxford Mail that it would go viral. I don’t think they intended to make me/us a Headline in every National tabloid. I don’t think they meant to make me the victim of online abuse for the last 72 hours. I don’t think they meant to incite racist, islamophobic, xenophobic, sexist, misogynist and bigotted or to put me at the centre of this storm.

I have blocked at least 50 twitter trolls who have been hateful to me online. I have tried not to read the thousands of abusive comments from facebook trolls and keyboard warriors, what I have done is reflected about the bigger picture:

  • Most of the comments and criticisms are not from our school community.
  • Most of the comments and criticisms are not about education and do not mention children.

I care about our school. I care about our children. If this had happened to one of our community, staff, student or parent alike I would support and protect them. I hope the parent who started this, who was not prepared to put their name it, has also reflected. As if this happened to their child, our student, we would do our utmost to support and protect them, to keep them emotionally safe, because that is what a values-led school does.

So until this storm passes, my anchor is in. These quotes have never been more pertinent than they are right now:

Ships were not built to stay in the harbour.

Rough seas make the best sailor.

anchor

And on a #WomenEd note, I do wonder if the tabloid readership would have been as hateful had I been born a man? In a time when we have a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, and not enough people willing to step up to be a Headteacher online hate campaigns like this do not help!

This educational leader is converting criticism to praise, is going high instead of low and will continue to rise above the hate. The haters will make me stronger and even more committed to what I believe in.

still i rise

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Our young people – they are becoming the Values Ambassadors to shape our future society.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The 100s of DMs, emails, tweets and texts of support and love I have received from my PLN.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Having a brilliant staff team who are unshaken by this storm.
  • The love from my PLN – each message has helped.
  • The kindness of strangers – some people have reached out to me who I do not even know.
  • The following words of wisdom sent to me to keep me resilient and strong!

From Summer Turner:

low high

From Carol Campbell:

aristotle

From Ruthie Golding:

gandhi quote

From Claire Cuthbert:

difficult people 3

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

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.

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.

dick moore

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.

jonny 1

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.

Nurturing Hearts & Minds: #cultureofwellbeingDGinset

Nurturing Hearts and Minds is our mission statement at Aureus School.

I have read a lot about mission statements in the last few years and how meaningless they have become. Equally I remember going to #TMLondon a few years ago and a teacher starting her career from QK presented on the legacy of her school’s mission statement. She showed us a picture of her year group at a girls’ school, she talked us through where they all were, they were all doing servant leadership roles, from nursing to teaching, to social working to coaching. She then showed us her mission statement, which was in Latin, the translation = to serve others. This really resonated with me in how subtly powerful and compelling this values frame was for the school community.

I reflected. Could I remember the mission statement of the school I went to, of the 4 schools I have worked in? The answer was a resounding no. They were meaningless, they were purposeless, they were laminated values that were not being lived in their school communities.

I have blogged before about our collaboration with VBE and how Sue Webb has guided  my team through values scoping. Before meeting Sue and Viv through #womened, before being coached, I had never considered my values, been asked about them or been able to articulate them. With their help, I excavated them and embraced them and can now describe myself as a values-led headteacher. At Aureus we are creating a values-led culture and we are delivering a values-based education.

nurturing

Our values wheel  reflects the values of our community – they reflect our collective vision and values of our school. We talk a lot about developing the whole child.

Many of us had come from toxic school cultures, schools where wellbeing was poor, schools where the humanity was being squeezed out. Our values reflect our vision. Our values reflect the human beings we want to create at Aureus.

Aureus Values Wheel V2

So how are we doing this? What are we actually doing to nurture hearts and minds?

Values signposting – we have 12 values and 1 is explored each month. Our value of the month is signposted every day in every activity as a constant drip-fed reminder.

Mindful Mornings – every morning our students have 30 minutes of mindfulness. Our 5 activities are: mindful assemblies, mindful strategies, mindful movement, mindful art, mindful reading.

Community  Assemblies  – each of our values are explored 4 times, from a multiplicity of perspectives by all of our staff, not just our leaders. Our 2 NQTs delivered 2 brilliant assemblies in their first half-term of teaching. Each assembly has a follow up reflection task for independent exploration. Each assembly finishes with our Aureus Homily, which is our intention for our community.

Family Dining – we sit and eat together. We have the same 8 students and staff member for a half-term so they build relationships with one another.  We all eat the same meal. All of our staff have a free lunch every day.

Coaching Time – we do not have tutors, we have coaches. We are there to facilitate learning and help our students find the answers.  This term we are launching our coaching circles. Our 12 teaching staff will meet a group of 10 students once a week to coach them through problems they are experiencing, teaching them to support one another.

Global Citizenship –  we do not do drop down days for PSHE, we do not have a SMSC tick sheet nor a citizenship audit. We have a meaningful daily diet of an enriching holistic curriculum to develop global citizens.

Silence – we do not have bells, the intention was to have music that played through the system to indicate, this has not been instilled yet. We rely on staff using their watches/ clocks/whistles and when needed I have a handbell. We have removed being jarred by the bell!

Transitions  – we only teach double periods so changeover is only to or from breaks/ lunches. Our students line up and are collected by staff from the playground at the  start of each lesson. We have eradicated the stress of students being lost or late.

Personal Development Time – our extra-curricular/ enrichment time is focused on developing the whole child. We do not do homework, we do not do boosters after school. We develop the softer skills our students need for the future.

Extended Learning – we do not set homework. We have weekly spellings and encourage reading for pleasure.

Opportunity for All – we teach mixed ability for all subjects, we do not set, we follow a primary model of the 4 coaching groups having all of their lessons together.

Art Therapy – we were delighted to be able to offer The Art Room, a national charity, a room at Aureus. We benefit from having fantastic art therapy practitioners based in our community and our most vulnerable students can access their expertise.

Safe Spaces – our uniform company owed us a favour after a tricky start to term and the local builders wanted some free parking so we tapped them both up for some sponsorship! This has enabled us to resource a Sensory Room and a Thrive Room. I am excited that both are opening this term.

Rewards – we reward the value of the month each week through a range of different activities. The winners get an invitation to #HotChocFri which is my favourite time of the week! At the end of each term we select a values champion from each coaching group for each value.

Sanctions – we do not do detentions, we hold restorative conversations and we have reconciliation time where the follow up facilitates learning and reflection.

Staff wellbeing – we have regular staff sessions of mindfulness and a staff wellbeing room. Our first term was really full on. We have reviewed workload and contact time, we have revisited the staff wellbeing action plan. Our staff wellbeing survey has gone out this week so that our staff lead can share the results with the leadership team and the governing body.

Staff CPD – we are introducing Fierce Conversations so that we can empower all staff to be truly authentic at work. Julie is dot B trained and a MHFAider. Charlotte is a MHFA champion. Both of them are training as our Thrive Practitioners and Bennie is training in Fierce Conversations. Charlotte is also our lead on a Yoga in Schools bridging project we are collaborating on with some of our feeder schools.

Staff Exercise weeks – our PDT does not run in the first nor the last week of each half-term, staff get gained time. The PE team lead opt-in exercise activities each night.

Flexi Fridays  -we have a half day. All student leave at 1.00pm. Staff can leave then or stay and catch up, it is their choice as it is their time.

Each decision we have made to do something differently, to approach things from a new perspective, to signpost things in a different way are to ensure that we treating our young people as names and not numbers in a spreadsheet.

I am very proud of the young people we are creating who can talk with confidence about their values.

kind heart

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The difference we are making to the mental health and wellbeing of our students

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Clare Erasmus for her generosity in sharing her ideas and passion for MHWB.
  • Julie Hunter for her self-investment over the last few years and the impact this is having at Aureus.
  • Charlotte James for her commitment to our staff wellbeing.
  • Charlie Waller Memorial Trust for their STELLA project funding.
  • John Catt Education for publishing our book idea: The A-Z of Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools. Out into World Mental Health Day 2018 and #helloyellow

#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.