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.

 

Reflections: Our First Half-term as a School

We have been a school for 6 weeks. What a whirlwind of activity it has been. It is a surreal experience being appointed to lead a school that is an idea, spending 18 months thinking about the school you would like to lead, then taking it from the abstract to the concrete.

Since starting in January I have hit the ground running, attending project meetings to consult on the build, fixtures and fittings, snagging the finish, and snagging the snagging!  Relocating in the spring made this easier as the time and energy of the travel to and from Oxfordshire was draining.

Since March it has been all about relationships – building the team by appointing leaders, teachers, the site team and the operations team. The relationships formed early on have made the team a really dynamic one to work in.

Since July it became about our students and their families when we met them all together for the first time. It was a special moment having all of the staff, students and parents/ carers in the same room at the same time. It was the first time I felt like a ‘proper’ headteacher rather than an imposter.

Here is a thunk for you: Is a Headteacher a Headteacher when they have no building, no students and no staff?

Early September was staff and then student induction. We had a lot to discuss, plan & deliver to have a smooth start to term for all. We tried to balance the strategic vision planning with the operational provision planning. We are all new, everything is new, we are on the journey of discovery together.

Since September we have focused on establishing and embedding our routines and systems. We are consciously doing things differently, questioning why we have always done things in a particular way and rethinking processes.  We have drafted flow charts and protocols for each routine and system to pilot, reflect on and review.

We are also all teaching a lot and leading multiple personal development opportunities after school each night – we are a small team with a small first cohort, but we pledged to the parents who made the bold leap of faith with us that their child would not be disadvantaged by being in our first cohort. I am a teaching Headteacher. I teach all of the Year 7s Drama each week, the equivalent of 4 double lessons – we have studied A Midsummer Night’s Dream this half-term as we are performing in the Shakespeare Schools’ Festival in November. So my after school commitment has been drama rehearsals and a photography club.

Teaching every single student in the school is a unique situation to be in. The Class of 2022 will know us & be known to a different depth than I have ever experiehced. Our challenge longterm is how we can sustain the quality of the relationships we will have with them with larger cohorts as the school fills up.

Highlights of our first half-term include:

Values – we have established our 12 core values and we explored Wellbeing in September and Diversity in October. Our students have been actively reflecting and discussing pur values continuously to consider what they mean and how we can embody them. We are delighted to be working with Sue Webb, Dr Neil Hawkes & VBE Zone.

Hot Chocolate Friday – we launched this and it has gone down a storm with 8 students each week being awarded. The training from Pivotal Education has been brilliant to establish our restorative conversations culture.

Mindfulness – our mindful mornings are wonderful – the feedback from students, staff and parents has been really positive. Julie our DHT has done a brilliant job planning our flipped day.

Assemblies – our values-led delivery has resulted in some of the most thought-provoking and impactful assemblies I have had a privilege of experiencing. Our 2 NQTs were magnificent!

World Mental Health Day – all of our staff and students raised awareness by wearing yellow to school for #helloyellow. We have also launched a regional MH & WB network which had a brilliant turn out for our launch meet up.

Open Events –   we have been quite overwhelmed with interest for next year’s cohort with 850 coming to our Year 6 Open Evening and another 350 coming to our Open Mornings. We are very hopeful re our numbers for next year.

Art Room Opening –  Sir John Dunford joined us for our opening of our Art Therapy Room and commented on the ‘forward-thinking nature’ of our school and the ‘magic’ he could feel in the building!

International Day of the Girl – our #womened #leadmeet was really inspiring & connected some brilliant regional partners like Feminism for Dads. Our DHT Bennie did a cracking presentation on our vision for our girls at Aureus.

Masaai Warriors – we ended the half-term with a visit from a touring group of Masaai warriors who performed and interacted with our Year 7s and some local primary schools.

If you are reading this and thinking about being a teacher, a leader or considering becoming a Headteacher, please do not listen to the negative rhetoric about our profession  – come and visit us and see that there is a different way!

We are working extremely hard, we are tired and constantly  juggling lots of different balls in the air. However, there is a real sense of collective ownership of our shared vision & values: we are committed to our mission of growing, learning and flourishing together and nurturing the hearts and minds of our community. Many of my team, including me have nearly left the profession; Aureus gives me hope that there is a different way to deliver a high quality provision to meet our bold vision.

be bold for change

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

Our 2nd half-term, the official opening of Aureus School including the opening of our Thrive Room and our Sensory Room.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Inner Story – Dr Tim O’Brien then When the Adult Changes  – Paul Dix

Currently feeling grateful for:

Our fabulous team – very lucky and privileged to be working alongside them.

Nurturing Hearts and Minds: ‘Wonder’

As an English teacher I think in words, as a Media Studies teacher I think in images. I knew instinctively what I wanted to do to hook my audience in my first staff briefing. I wanted to play them a song that lift my spirits and a music video that is a piece of art.

‘Wonder’ by Emili Sandi depicts a woman going on a journey in an unknown land, she heads for the door to another world. The video is an explosion of different colours, a sensory overload.

Behind her, her tribe forms, following her as she leads, the gap between them closing as they join her on the journey. As the mists separate, the door becomes more prominent.

Powerful,  imagistic  storytelling with  a rhythmic tribal beat lifted by her soulful voice.

This video embodies the journey I have been on, that I am on and that I continue on. I am full of wonder for the possibilities of the place we are creating. Our team are united in the opportunity to flip the system and demonstrate there is another way.

Our pledge to nurture hearts and minds has started this week with my first assembly launching our community values, framing September with our wellbeing focus, listening to one of our DHTs launch our mental health and mindfulness programme.

Our family dining experience has created an opportunity each day for us all to not only nourish ourselves but also to nurture those around them.

Today I taught my first lesson for over a year. My last lesson was in Tanzania, a FGM and ECM class to a group of young girls living in a culture were both are accepted. A lesson where I realised how inspiring and empowering and #nakedteaching is to remind us of the awe and wonder of teaching. Today I taught my first lesson in our new school, starting each new week with double Drama with our year 7s will ensure that our why stays strong and central to our decisions and actions.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

The brilliant team I have recruited who are all aligned, living their values and sharing our vision.

Currently reading and thinking about:

I am reviewing The Mindful Teacher for Schools’ Week.

Currently feeling grateful for:

The overwhelming support I have received this week – texts, facebook messages, emails, cards and flowers have all made me appreciate by #PLN.