Integrity Matters: A Promise to Others

Integrity is one of our 12 values at Aureus School and Aureus Primary School.

It is probably the hardest one as adults for us to define, explain and breakdown for our learners.

A phrase we use a lot to aid understanding is this quote from C.S.Lewis:

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When I did an assembly with my Drama Club (yes I am a Headteacher but I run a weekly enrichment after school) last year we came up with a physical gesture for each of our 12 values to bring our Aureus Homily to life in our assemblies.

Our gesture for Integrity took us a while to decide, but our then Year 7s decided that if our values are moral compass that keep us on the right path, then integrity is our compass pointing North. So our gesture is we tap our heart/ our moral compass and we point in front of us as our heart, our values, guide our decisions, our actions.

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Professional Integrity is something I pride myself on. I am an ethical, moralistic person. I work hard for our community, I strive hard for our learners.

As a Headteacher, I do the right thing, I make the hard decisions, I stand up for what is right.

As a Teacher, because yes I still teach, last year 4 (double) lessons a week at the secondary school, this year 2 (double ) lessons at the secondary and cover/ leadership release lessons at the primary, I have these challenging conversations with our learners. Yesterday, in a lesson about Diversity we discussed the Integrity of our society and how we accept and tolerate differences.

A character tribute that some of my peers could do with developing.

My tenacity, my grit, my character, my resilience are what get we through the hard times.  So imagine how I felt when one of my colleagues after congratulating me for being elected on to the Chartered College of Teaching Council as a Fellow, asked me how I felt about Andrew’s Blog. I of course did not know what they meant, as the sub-tweeting and the sub-blogging had not tagged me to discuss, but had been done instead in a surreptitious way so that I could not respond.

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I was more than a little taken aback to see that the newly elected CCT Council were under attack. I was more than a little dismayed that someone had painstakingly detailed the professional accomplishments of each of the elected Council Members.

I am going to emphasise, as Natalie Scott did in her tweets on the weekend, that everyone has been elected into this role. Voted for by the 25k strong  CCT community.

A word we focus on in the #womened community is ‘choice’. We collectively challenge the system and affect change to removed the barriers that prohibit choice. We also inspire and empower the community to find and use their voice.

I modelled these values in putting myself forward, I did not expect to be voted in, I was delighted to find out that I had a seat at the table. I would have been as delighted if another one of my peers from the educational world had been elected in. It is an act of courage and being #10%braver to put yourself out there. But as with elections and politics, I believe that if you don’t vote you shouldn’t criticise the outcomes. Perhaps the naysayers and critics of the CCT should instead contribute, constructively to the discussion.

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I personally think that CEOs, University Professors, Chairs of Governors, Consultants who are retired Headteachers, Headteachers, Senior Leaders, Teachers, Coaches, Mentors, Governors all have their place in representing the diversity of our profession.

For me, there is not a hierarchy in teaching. For me I do not judge if you have a contract, or if you are supply teacher; if you work part-time, or if you work full time; if you work in the private sector, or if you work in the state sector; if you work in primary or if you work in secondary; if you work in a grammar school or if you work in an academy.

Teaching is teaching. Schools are schools.

We are all educators. We are all equals.

Our system is broken and needs fixing.  Our profession is fantastic and needs celebrating.

Please can the mud slinging, nit picking, school shaming, sub-tweeting and sub-blogging stop?

We all work too hard and care too much to waste time and energy on being drains. Let’s all be radiators instead. We need to direct our precious time and energy into finding solutions, not problems. Please?

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For the record, last year we had 10 teachers at Aureus, I was 1 of them. We had a small team and Professional Learning was going to be hard to personalise and differentiate. 7 of us were working towards Lead Practitioner accreditation. We encouraged everyone to join the CCT, half had done it independently already. We offered to cover the first year’s membership from our small CPD budget to encourage the others. Many of us went to the inaugural event, some of us spoke at CCT events, we all accessed the research. It was an investment, not a bribe.  Only a few submitted a claim as they all saw the benefit.

For the record, I may be a Headteacher, but I am also a teacher, a Governor, a Trustee, a SLE, a TSA lead, a coach for WLIE, the co-founder of #womened, an advocate of #bameed, #lgbted, #disabilityed, a Fellow of the CCT, a Fellow of the RSA. I am confident I can represent the diversity of our teaching profession and educational community.

For the record, yes two of us were elected from our school, neither of us knew the other was applying, we did not intend to run against each other, we have discussed how we will make the logistics work. I have also said I will be speaking to the CCT about whether they would like to release my seat for someone else to take. Please do not take away from my DHT Julie that she has been elected into this position. She embodies the value of Integrity.

For the record, I don’t like being sub-tweeted about nor sub-blogged about. I have challenged this before. I have asked politely to be left me alone. I believe that we can  co-exist on Twitter without always agreeing.

For the record, I was brought up believing that if you have not got anything nice to say then do not say anything at at all. Moreover, that if you cannot say it to someone’s face then you should not say it behind their back.

For the record, please speak to me, if you have a problem with me.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The educational professionals who conduct themselves with integrity.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am reading the feedback from our open evening –  we have received some lovely poems from some prospective students and some thoughtful emails from prospective parents about our school and our values.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • My CCT peers who have put their head above the parapet and who have put themselves forward to affect change.

Feeling Blessed: Sibling Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

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

Currently reading and thinking about:

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

Currently feeling grateful for:

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

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Messages from the Heart: Volunteering in Mozambique with Action Aid

We got back from Mozambique on Wednesday and it has taken a few days to catch up on ourselves and process our experience as volunteers. It is really hard to put into words how profound our trip was. It is a bit like trying to capture a picture of a beautiful sunset/ sunrise when you know the image is not going to do that moment true justice.

The opening ceremony was a full community welcome to the Condlana Primary School. As our minibus bounced down the sandy road, we could see a crowd and a group of children stood up and stepped forwards with their Choir Director. They started singing and I felt my heart pound and my eyes fill before I had even climbed off of the bus! It was also hard to get off of the bus as we were swamped by everyone eagerly wanting to welcome us with a smile and a high 5.

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The whole school and the local community had come out to see us to put on a welcome ceremony, on a Sunday afternoon, to bless the building site and project before we started the next day. We were treated to songs from the pupils, speeches from the community officials, a theatre performance from the school’s girl leadership group, and dancing from the local community. Which of course we were obliged to join in with!

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Seeing the reality for ourselves for the first time, emphasised why we were there. The school serves 450 pupils. The school has 3 classrooms. The pupils attend school in shifts, morning or afternoon sessions, or are taught outside, under the trees on the school grounds. Our fundraising and volunteering would create 2 new classrooms for the school and the community to use. More space than they currently have but still not enough in reality. Mozambique is by far the poorest African country  I have visited and the reality of how little resources the community have was stark.

We could really see and feel the difference the classrooms would make to the children and the community. We felt the pressure to rise to the challenge and do our best for them in the short time we had there. We also felt compelled to fully invest in this community and not just donate some money and leave.

Before we could start the building work we needed to pay our respects to the stakeholders invested in the project so we  visited the Action Aid Mozambique office to meet the team and went to the District Governor’s office, where we learnt about the challenges they face in the district where their budgets dictate their teacher training and deployment, where they are handcuffed by the state over school expansion, repairs and resourcing. Education is valued, but not prioritised. They expressed their sincere thanks to our team for helping to provide a better education for the children in the district.

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We could then finally head to the school site and start the building work. Our first job was digging trenches and flattening where the classroom floor will go. We also spotted the school farm/ garden area which was a patch of wilderness and we decided to help tame that by clearing the surrounding area and defining the boundary.  Our enthusiasm, spirits and energy were high and we could quickly see the fruits of our labour begin to take shape.

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As the week progressed we moved from digging and hoeing to metal work to create the supporting structures that would be concreted in to create the shape of the building and to reinforce the supporting walls. Everything was done by hand, everything was moved by hand. We developed lots of new practical skills and found muscles we did not even know we had!

It is fair to say that nothing is easy in this context, in this climate. As a team we moved truck loads of breeze blocks, sand, stones, water and concrete back and forth across the site in buckets, wheel barrows and by hand. As we did this the locals watched and followed, we communicated with smiles and hand gestures as they had no English and we had no Portugese! Despite this we operated as one team. It is funny how relationships and friendships can be built through eye contact and facial expressions alone. There was laughter, a lot of laughter, as the local women with babies tidied to their backs in a cloth, carried more water on their heads than we could carry in a bucket in two hands!  And yes we did the obligatory try and carry water on our heads in a bucket!

 

Moreover, everything we did had an audience, as the children who were not in lessons shyly observed our every move. They grew in confidence and were desperate to help us. Again with no language, through modelling, they quickly understood what we needed and would help us collect sticks for the fence, stones for weights. They were keen to be involved, eager to please and followed our every move. Every time I turned around from doing a task, a support group of smiley faces and helping hands would appear.

The school site was littered with debris, as there is no bin collection in this area and there are no school bins, litter is a real issue throughout the country in fact. We wanted the school community to take pride in their space, so we started a litter pick. A few of us started it quietly, quickly filling bags up with food wrappers, broken glass, decaying fruit and ripped sheets from old school books. The word spread and a large group of children came running, picking up bin bags, buckets and wheel barrows, keen to help us. In less than an hour we had filled 20+ bags. The smiles on their faces as we high-fived them all to say well done and good job really touched us. As we went to take a water break, the litter picking continued in our absence and the new game became one of them being the teacher high-fiving everyone saying “good job” which made us smile.

Cement mixing to form concrete for the next layer of the floor became the next mammoth task before we could start building the walls and really see the classrooms coming together. The team of local builders said with 20 extra pairs of hands that they achieved in a week what they would have achieved in a few months. As you can imagine when they heard they had a group of 20 women coming to help them build they were a little bit alarmed, but we showed them how tenacious and hard working we are.

We might not have been skilled and we might have lacked experience on a building site but we made up for it in enthusiasm and energy! There was no whingeing from the team, no-one gave up, the resilience and the ‘can do’ attitude was testament to what a brilliant group of volunteers we had.  If anything Ant, our building project lead, a volunteer from the UK had to keep telling us to pace ourselves and take a break. We applied ourselves as we do in our schools, making every minute matter!

Alongside the building work there were also opportunities to connect with the community and understand more about the challenges they face as children and as adults. We sat in on lessons, we met the Girls’ Leadership Group, we met the local teachers and we met the Women’s Reflection Circle. It was meeting 35 adults who walk 3-7km once a week for Literacy lessons that really moved me. They were so grateful for our support in expanding the school site. Before they started the adult classes, they could not read and write to the extent that they could not catch a  bus as they did not know the destination and they could not sign paperwork. Over the 2/3 year programme they had closed the gap on the skills they had missed out on at school.

In Mozambique only 40% of children stay on for secondary school and only 10% of the country are employed. The local Women’s Circle shared their gratitude in improving the life changes for them and their families. This safe space enables to them to support each other through issues of domestic violence and learning literacy.

They were keen to show us their new skills. As they stood up and moved into a circle around the black board, they broke into song. They sang a beautiful harmony together as they passed the chalk between them and came to the board to show us they could now write. It is moments like this that we will not forget. It is moments like this that donating money to a charity without seeing how it will be spent and without appreciating the impact it has on the lives on others does not capture. It really made us realise the wider impact the classroom build will have on the wider community.

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The song was poignant and uplifting, so with tears in our eyes we went back to continue our work on the school site. The classroom walls finally began to take shape and we saw the building rise above ground level! We took it in turns joining the mortaring team to cement the gaps between the breeze blocks.

As the school’s classrooms progressed we also finished off sourcing and creating 90 meters of fencing around the school garden we had rejuvenated for the community. We planted maize, peanuts and cassava with the help of the local women.  We are proud of what we have achieved, but we are also conscious that we are just scratching the surface of the external support that this community needs.

The farewell ceremony from the community was emotional to say the least. We had arrived as a group of strangers, to do our bit, we were leaving as a team of friends, with a special place in our hearts for this humble village community in southern Mozambique. Maria, the headteacher and her school community, showed their gratitude to us through singing and dancing. The speeches from each community stakeholder group were moving. Our translator explained the heart felt thanks. The “messages from the heart” of each person who spoke heightened the emotion in the community circle, under the trees, beside our build. A teacher representative thanked us for working shoulder to shoulder as equals with the community. A community representative thanked us for not “bringing fish, but bringing fishing rods and for teaching us how to fish”. The impact of us getting our hands dirty, of teachers giving up their summer holidays, of mothers leaving their children behind to volunteer were sincerely appreciated. The legacy we had co-created was the beginning, not the end of our collaboration.

Nancy impressed everyone by learning a few words of Portugese to articulate our gratitude for the  warm welcome we had received. We then handed over our gifts of books, pens and pencils, balls. Basic school resources for us that would be treasured in their community.  Our final gift as a group was to sing. Overnight we had learnt the lyrics and the tune to ‘Lean On Me’ to perform to them in exchange for their singing and dancing for us. We gave it everything we had and sang our hearts out –  we stood and took our applause with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes. Apparently there is video footage which we are yet to see/ hear!!

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The women of the community then gifted us all beautifully patterned wraps, which they dressed us in to sing us and dance us off to our bus to much hilarity from everyone!

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Following the closing ceremony we headed to Maputo for our final night together, and we were joined for dinner by staff from Action Aid Mozambique and the local partner Nadec. I had been too emotional on our last night in Bilene to give a speech but had promised Jill and Nancy I would say a few words after dinner. I emotionally thanked everyone for joining us on this project. When we talk about being #10%braver in the #WomenEd community this experience and journey has been more like being #100%braver for some of our group. Many of our team were totally out of their comfort zone flying alone, fundraising a large sum of money, leaving their families at home,  travelling with strangers, using a hoe/ shovel/ trowel, singing in public, eating local cuisine to name just a few of the experiences and challenges each person faced.

#10%prouder does not really encapsulate what a wonderful group of friends we have made, what brilliant memories we have made, but more importantly what a significant impact we have made on another community. We are already talking about arranging a return visit in summer 2020 so watch this space.  If you are interested in potentially joining us send me an email to wilsonh@glfschools.org and we will be in touch once we know whether it is possible to develop the connections we have made.

So a big thank you to everyone who has supported us and this project – your generosity has really helped this community. Action Aid are a brilliant charity and the work they are doing for girls’ education globally, but for us in Mozambique is significant, but it is going to take a lot of time, energy and resources to maximise their impact. We are going to continue our fundraising to ensure these classrooms are resourced and that future projects are full funded. A family in Mozambique lives on 90p a day, any contributions would be gratefully received here.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The difference that charities like Action Aid make.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I read my first fiction book in a very long time this summer – the new Dorothy Koomson.
  • I still have a pile of EduBooks to read once my head is back in work mode!

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The generosity of the volunteers who gave up time and energy to help the building project.
  • The support of our PLN who donated to fund the project.

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

#LGBTed: Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

This weekend sees the official launch of the latest grassroots diversity network, #LGBTEd, co-founded by Hannah Jepson and Daniel Gray, in collaboration with Claire Birkenshaw and building on the legacy  of David Weston.

#WomenEd is in its 4th year and #BAMEed is going into its 2nd year. Both have created momentum with the nationwide discussions about diversity, equality and inclusion. #LGBTed joined us at the Diverse Educators event in January along with #DisabilityEd. We believe it was one of the first events in the country to address the intersectionality of our identity.

 

I am proud to have supported #LGBTed in initiating this much needed next step in our shared vision and collective journey to make our schools more inclusive, to ensure that our schools are safe spaces for all of our students and for all of our staff.

Moreover to model the fact that edu events can have diverse line ups and panels. That there are educators and experts who can represent #BAMEed #WomenEd #DisabilityEd and #LGBTed. That there really is no excuse for a manel!

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One of my Deputy Headteachers, Bennie Kara, delivered a cracking closing keynote at Diverse Educators I on ‘wearing all the labels’. She asked us to not to tuck her labels in for her. The metaphor of wearing multiple hats and having multiple labels sticking out extended throughout her anecdotes which were heart warming and uplifting but also a reality check.

As an Asian, bisexual woman Bennie has taught me a lot about the true meaning of diversity.  Before she started at Aureus she asked me if she was allowed to be openly out. I was shocked that she felt like she needed to ask my permission for this, she explained that you cannot ever assume as even the most liberal leaders had recommended to her in her career that it was best to keep these things private. I had to check my straight white privilege.

Discussing some students who were vulnerable to homophobia in our first term, she educated me once more on the fact that gender and race are generally, what you see is what you get, but with sexuality you need to out yourself in each new connection/ conversation. I had to check my straight white privilege once again.

I consider myself to be very open, liberal, empathetic and supportive of people from diverse backgrounds, but how much did/do I truly understand about the experiences of others?

I attended the Educate and Celebrate school leaders training day in the Autumn term to develop my understanding and awareness. It was my 2nd encounter with Dr Elly Barnes who is an inspiring  facilitator. I booked her to join us at our whole staff INSET in January to kick start our 2nd term. She was just what we needed to take our diversity and equality vision forwards.

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All of my teaching staff and the operations team at Aureus have been recruited through a values-led approach. I made it clear from the outset that my non-negotiables were to have Diversity, Equality and Wellbeing as 3 of our core values so all of my team are on board with this, but I was still pleasantly surprised at the reception, reflection and discussion in our LGBT+ training session. There were staff who I thought may struggle, who may get uncomfortable with some of the activities, but instead I saw a real commitment from everyone on the team to tackle prejudice and discrimination.

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In the Spring Term we launched our Prejudice Log. Yes, it is mandatory to report on racism and homophobia, but we also log incidents involving the other protected characteristics. In our opinion there is not a hierarchy of which discrimination is palatable, and which is not.

As February approached, Love was our value of the month. I knew I wanted to tackle the low level homophobic comments in a formal way, so I planned an assembly on ‘Love Without Labels’ using the video that Elly had shared with the staff. I did wonder how our students would react, whether there would be a ripple across the assembly hall or uncomfortable shifting in the seat but there was not.  I checked my white straight privilege yet again.

I reminded myself that I was not outing myself, I was vocalising my advocacy for celebrating difference and accepting one another.

LOVE WITHOUT LABELS 2

Yet, despite our values, our assemblies and our reflections. Despite our Educate and Celebrate posters in every room and despite high profile challenge of inappropriate language the explicit homophobic comments continued. I had lost count of the homophobic incidents  I had investigated and sanctioned.

Bennie came to my office one day in a contemplative mood and said: “I think it is time”. Time for what? I queried, was I late for gate duty again? “I think it is time I did my coming out assembly. They need to know that their words are hurting people in our community, that their words are hurting me”. I nodded in agreement. I checked her slides, I sent her a vote of confidence and I reassured her that it would be okay.

Bennie delivered one of those assemblies that I will never forget. An assembly that the staff will talk about in the future. An assembly that the students went home and told their parents about. I couldn’t look at her as she presented as I knew my emotions would come pouring out. My heart was swelling with pride and respect for her.  I  could hear the hesitation in her voice at points as she carefully chose her words to ensure that they landed correctly. I knew that she felt the responsibility that she bore for the students in the room this would affect in the future.

LOVE HAS NO LABELS

We did not receive a single complaint, instead Bennie received positive feedback from students and their parents about her courage. Encouragement from parents we did not expect to hear from. It seems that we under-estimated not only our staff, our students but our wider community too.

So that is why I will support the #LGBTed community each step on their journey:

Not all staff feel supported to share their personal stories. Not all audiences will be as open and accepting. Not all communities will be as supportive. Not all students will know that they are in a safe space where they can explore their full selves and grow in confidence in who they are. Not all schools have #LGBTed who are prepared to make themselves this vulnerable for the benefit of the wider LGBT+ community.

I wish everyone at #LGBTed this Saturday a brilliant day of connecting, collaborating and cheering one another along. I will be following & supporting from twitter. I am sure the event will be as special as the launch of #womened & the energy in the room will be as palpable.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • The change that #LGBTed will bring to our schools for our staff and for our students

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • The Working Class  – Ian Gilbert et al

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Having a brilliant diverse team at Aureus who are passionate about inclusion for all
  • Having a diverse PLN of inspiring changemakers!

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

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.

golden circle and golden cone

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.

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.