Pressing Pause: Reflections & Recalibrations

We broke up ten days ago for the summer and I pressed pause. I needed to breathe.

It has been a really full on founding year as a new Headteacher of a new school and I was feeling physically, mentally and emotionally zapped. More so than I have ever been before. The fatigue was compounded by the early termination of my May half-term and the stressful start to our final Summer 2 half-term due to the Daily Mail!

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When I say that our last 7 weeks were full on, it is probably an under statement! I felt like I pinged from one big school event to another across our two school sites and was on an assembly writing and delivering conveyor belt!

At Aureus School – our Year 6/7 transition days (in Didcot they do 2) had to be split as we could not accommodate all 240 for 2 days with the size of our current team; we held a successful Year 6/7 parents’ welcome; we continued to hold open events for prospective parents and carers. At each I ‘shot the elephant in the room’ and spoke directly to the headlines. We held our final Governors’ meeting of the year, we held our end of term/ end of year celebration assembly and we hosted our inaugural Sports Day. None of these events are different to other schools, but each was our first, each was planned and delivered by our small team in our huge site!

At Aureus Primary School – we had the site final completion and it was signed over to us; we continued to log our ever growing snagging list; we prepared for and passed our Ofsted pre-opening inspection; we did multiple site tours for our new parents, carers and pupils; we hosted our welcome evening.

Interviews for our operations team, which is tripling in size next year, took up a lot of our time in the summer term but we have made some brilliant appointments for roles at each school and hybrid roles across the two.

Our new staff induction day was epic – there was a moment of dawning as we welcomed 45 new staff members for the day. 45 new members of staff, for which we have not paid for a single advert! Moreover for which we have interviewed in excess of 250 candidates! I love recruitment but it does feel like a full time role some weeks!

In sharing our vision and values, in reflecting on our culture and ethos, in detailing how we would scale up, I had a moment.  I realised how far we have come as a team, and I realised how much we have achieved in Year 1. As I played Emilie Sande’s ‘Wonder’ I was taken back to our induction day last September. It honestly seems like a life time ago! Time passes so quickly in schools, I remember someone saying to me in my NQT year not to wish away each half-term to a holiday, but we all know we do this. The momentum this year has meant we have needed seat belts and crash helmets at times!!

All of these whole school events were done around the normal exam marking, data entry, report writing and Parents’ Evening cycles but for us we only have 11 teachers, including me, who all teach all 120 students, so this was also intense! No wonder we were on our knees.

So week 1 of our official summer holidays I was still spinning, my head was still busy, my To Do List for school and home was still epic. As for the state of my house, my washing/ ironing pile and my fridge, well, they were feeling neglected to say the least!

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So how did I start to recalibrate?

A staff night out with cocktails and dancing set the tone for my first weekend off. Nights out have been few and far between this year. Weekends have been about sleep and recuperation. The weather was still beautiful so I then hung out with friends who had come to visit and we chilled out on the river. The real treat came on Monday when the alarm did not go off, I still woke up like a robot at my standard 5.30am, but I rolled over and stayed in bed. This felt like the biggest treat as I  normally bounce up and out.

I have learnt over the last 15 years that for me going away on holiday straight away does not work. I need to tie up loose ends and get my environment tidied, resources organised and admin completed to go away guilt free and truly rest. So I went in to school for 3 days – I spent a day with my School Business Leader to sort our finances, a day with our Primary Deputy Headteachers to get things ready for our opening and a day with my PA to get our start of year organised.

Around our office and admin sorting our fabulous site team sorted a very long list of jobs for me so that the site will look spic and span to welcome our new staff and students in September. My Site Manager, my School Business Leader and I reminisced on a year ago when it was just the 3 of us rattling around in the massive school all by ourselves, before the staff and students started. It felt like a full cycle had been completed.

Each night I slept a bit earlier and a bit deeper, each morning I woke a little later and felt a bit more chilled. My osteopath tells me my body is like a tightly coiled spring and I felt the coil slowly begin to uncoil.

My first proper day off, not in school, was spent in London, ironically. I had a lunch date with Shirley Drummond and Jill Berry to catch up on our last 12 months, preceded by my emergency jabs and visa appointment for Mozambique as my personal ‘life-min’ was somewhat in disarray. Over a long leisurely lunch there was much laughter, lots of story telling and quite a few cocktails. A tradition we started last year when Shirley had just completed her first year and I was in my designate role. Jill and her book ‘Making the Leap’ have been a source of advice and inspiration for both of us on our journeys to headship.  #WomenEd friends and support network are invaluable in having those professional conversations that your non-teaching friends and family do not really get nor need to get. I did then go home to Devon for a long weekend and was less tired and work focused than I normally am as I had already decompressed!

As my mind began to settle I began to reflect more deeply on Year 1. A quote I keep going back to is one of my favourite by Maya Angelou about surviving v thriving. We have most definitely been in survival mode this year. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated how difficult it was going to be at times, how demanding and draining it would be. It is a cliche but it has been an emotional rollercoaster. The highs and lows have been quite extreme at times. I have felt the need to be both a rock for everyone on my team but also an emotional sponge for them. The role of emotional supporter also extends to our vulnerable students and their families  – some of who I have spent a considerable amount of time with this year too.

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As a DHT this was also my role but it has intensified as the buck now truly stops with me. I feel very responsible for our team who have made career and life choices to join us on our journey. I feel very protective of our students who topped us back up again with their lovely values thank you cards to show gratitude to all staff members on the last day. I feel the pressure from our parents/ carers who took a leap of faith on us, on me last year.

I think that is the major difference of becoming a Headteacher, I have always been heavily emotionally invested in the school and community I serve, but I feel the level of accountability more keenly. Not in a results, inspection pressure but in a people and relationships pressure. I just don’t want to let anyone down!

This year group, our founding students, are also always going to hold a special place in our hearts. The Thank You cards, messages and presents we received from students and parents/ carers were indicative of our successful year.

Taking on my first headship, changing trusts, relocating, agreeing to being Executive Headteacher in Year 2 before Year 1 was even finished, project managing two builds and founding two new schools could not have pushed me further from the minimal comfort zone I have. Not much phases me, but this change leadership is different to the turn around school improvement I am used to leading.

The magic for us has happened in our conviction in doing things a little bit differently, in our boldness in challenging the traditions of our system.

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So I am off to Mozambique for 2 weeks with the Action Aid and Women Leading in Education team. A brilliant opportunity to totally detach from reality, to dislocate ourselves from our emails, from twitter and from thinking about work. Some time out to consider how I will move from surviving to thriving in our 2nd year.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Our trip to Mozambique with Action Aid.
  • Our opening of Aureus Primary School in September.
  • Our second year for Aureus School.
  • Our brilliant new team and the energy, ideas and expertise they will bring with them.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I read a brilliant piece yesterday about creating a good school culture which I will share with the staff in September.
  • I really enjoyed Jill Berry’s blog on do less and achieve more – encouraging us to subtract rather than add.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Surviving Year 1, relatively unscathed!
  • The resilience my parents have instilled in me as it got me through this year.

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Busyness: Time v To Do List

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

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

Currently reading and thinking about:

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

Currently feeling grateful for:

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

 

Supporting Twice Exceptional Students: Closing the Gaps in Our Own Learning

Dual Exceptionality or Twice Exceptional  (2e for short) students was a learning difference, a learner’s identity, a learning label I became aware of, and interested in, when I was the G&T Lead for our school and then our MAT nearly a decade ago.

“Twice exceptional or 2e is a term used to describe students who are both intellectually gifted (as determined by an accepted standardized assessment) and learning disabled, which includes students with dyslexia”.

“Twice exceptional (or 2E students) are sometimes also referred to as double labelled, or having dual exceptionality. These are gifted students whose performance is impaired, or high potential is masked, by a specific learning disability, physical impairment, disorder, or condition. They may experience extreme difficulty in developing their giftedness into talent”.

I cannot remember receiving much training on SEND in my PGCE. My understanding of inclusion has evolved through self-directed learning and reading over the years. When I did a key note for Driver Youth Trust last year I reflected on the fact that as an English teacher: why I have never received any training on phonics?

Moreover, at the inaugural Chartered College of Teaching event last year, Professor Tanya Byron gave us a whistle stop session on Clinical Psychology – neuro development is another gap in my training as an educator and a school leader.

So this is a disclaimer  – this blog is my musings, my reflections, my processing of information to make sense of my school leadership. I am “a Jill of all trades and a mistress of none!”

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My ‘Why’ for finding out more and for understanding 2e?

When I was a Middle Leader, many years ago, we had a student, Student X, who was extremely bright. He aced every subject in Key Stage 3, and was listed as Gifted across the board. Student X was a model student, if a little aloof as he found it hard to socially connect with his peers. At the end of Year 9 Student X was withdrawn by his parents to attend a private school on a scholarship.  We were meeting his needs, he was making excellent progress, but he was an aspiring musician and the school had an enrichment offer we could not compete with.  Student X achieved well at GCSE and A Level, he went on to start at Cambridge. However, the academic and social pressures became too much. I am sad to say that Student X’s mental health deteriorated and  he became a victim of male suicide. Our school community were understandably shocked when we found out the news, 5 years after he had left us at the end of KS3.

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8 years later I find myself supporting a student with similar characteristics. Student Y is a highly articulate young man who is bright, but unlike Student X, behaviour of Student Y is not always of the model student.  Student Y has the capacity to be the role model we know he has the potential to be. Student Y  is a brilliant leader, when he chooses to be, but he finds that he compromises himself a lot as he has an impulsive side to his personality. Student Y was  not diagnosed by his primary school as having SEND. Student Y has had mental ill health concerns at primary and was supported by P-CAMHs. Student Y is a Shepherd, and we have discussed the responsibility he has as a natural leader, to guide his flock of followers to safety, not to danger.  I am concerned about Student Y, I am working closely with him, his Mum and his Dad. I see the confusion on his face, the stress in his hands as he tries to make sense of who he is, as he tries to process his neuro divergent thoughts. At the same time, I have Student X sat on my shoulder, reminding me what happens when the system fails you as a bright young man with complex learning needs.

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I am not saying that all twice exceptional students have mental health issues, but I am making connections between the handful of students I have taught who are sat at the middle of the Venn Diagram intersections within the Reuleaux triangle, who have a complex overlap of different labels to navigate. I want to add a 3rd circle to this diagram for mental (ill) health and learn more about the intersections of each.

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So ‘What’ are the characteristics of 2e students?

  • Superior oral vocabulary
  • Advanced ideas and opinions
  • High levels of creativity and problem-solving ability
  • Extremely curious, imaginative, and questioning
  • Discrepant verbal and performance skills
  • Clear peaks and valleys in cognitive test profile
  • Wide range of interests not related to school
  • Specific talent or consuming interest area
  • Sophisticated sense of humor

 

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And ‘how’ do we identify, instruct, differentiate for and nurture 2e students? 

Below I have shared 4 articles that Vargini shared with me from the Imperial College 2e in STEM research project. I have lifted the key message that resonated with me from each:

Identifying 2e Students

  1. Students first identified as gifted who later show indicators of a specific disability area.
  2. Students identified as having a specific learning disability and who also show  outstanding talent in one or more areas.
  3. Students who may appear average or underachieving because the disability area masks any manifestation of giftedness.

Instructing 2e students

“Students who have both gifts and learning disabilities require a “dually differentiated program”: one that nurtures gifts and talents while providing appropriate instruction, accommodations, and other services for treating learning weaknesses. Unfortunately, research- based, well-defined, and prescribed practices for the 2e student with dyslexia are hard to find, and current practices vary widely.

Instruction for 2e students should be designed to develop higher-level cognitive functioning, or for their challenges–to develop basic skills (e.g. handwriting, reading, spelling, written expression, math computation). Otherwise, these students may be labeled average students or underachievers who simply need “to try harder.”

Supporting 2e Students

“Twice exceptional children don’t fully fit into either the traditional special needs or traditional gifted categories, so schools and teachers often do not know what to do with them, even assuming the child has been identified. This puts them at high risk of slipping between the cracks, and, purely due to poor fit, being unintentionally excluded from the school system”.

Nurturing 2e Students

“Even with a strong program which provides for both exceptionalities, these students will still encounter negative emotions and setbacks. They need an active support system to access during these times, to talk openly about their feelings, and to problem solve about getting beyond the emotions in a given situation. This support can take place in informal discussions with teachers, parents, or peers; or it may demand more formal situations such as individual counseling for mild issues and, perhaps, therapy for deeper or high impact issues”.

I am also going to add this article link from Dr Adam Boddison CEO NASEN:

Flashes of Brilliance

“It is not always easy to identify children with DME because their abilities can mask their needs just as their needs mask their abilities, so they can appear to be ‘average with flashes of brilliance’. In many classrooms these children may appear to be an average child, but the reality is that their needs are not being met and their potential is not being realised”.

Plus a Youtube link to Dr Stephen Hawkins talking about DME here.

My reading around neurodiversity is clearly in its infancy. I will be working with our Inclusion Leader Amjad, our More Able lead Bennie, our Mental Health lead Julie and the student/ his parents this term. We will work in partnership to support the learning needs of Student Y to ensure that he gets the assessments and interventions that he needs to support his neurodivergent thinking. Hopefully a coordinated approach by all of us will ensure that both the disability and the ability are addressed, whilst supporting his mental health.

 

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Understanding more about how to support our students
  • The research that Imperial College are doing around 2e students in STEM subjects

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Vargini Ledchumykanthan  – thank you so much for your help via twitter and email for the links on the reading and research into 2e students

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

LyftaEd

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

You can find out more about this brilliant platform here.

Oxfordshire Museums

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

Pictures to follow when it is installed next week!

Youth For Change 

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

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

Sexplain

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

Find out more here.

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

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

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

Currently reading and thinking about:

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

Currently feeling grateful for:

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

The Stranger on the Bridge: Male Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

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

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for: 

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

 

Values-led Leadership: Moving from Surviving to Thriving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

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

Currently reading and thinking about:

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

Currently feeling grateful for:

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

Nurturing Hearts & Minds: #cultureofwellbeingDGinset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

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

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

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

My #Teacher5aday Pledge: 2018

With #wellbeing as a value in our new school I was keen to embed the #teacher5aday principles in the fabric of Aureus School from day 1.

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Charlotte, our Staff Wellbeing lead works, alongside Julie, our Culture and Wellbeing lead, to create the strategy of our provision.

Our mission: to create a healthy happy school.

Our vision: to ensure that the staff’s wellbeing is prioritised as well as the students’ as often it is at the expense of.

Our provision: we have a #wellbeing room, with #wellbeing pledges and a #wellbeing champion. We have had half-termly #wellbeing Wednesdays and have had staff Mindfulness sessions. But, we are only scratching the service at the moment of balancing our workload with our #wellbeing.

We have had an intense 14 weeks since we opened – we have had an increased workload to manager as we are a start-up school. We are all hoping term 2 will settle and be a bit easier!

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I am committed to see our staff and our students ‘thrive’ and ‘flourish’ by creating the conditions  needed to nurture a #wellbeing culture.

I will continue to strive to model that we can be teachers and leaders but also establish balance in our pursuit of ‘work life harmony’.

This takes time – we do not have a magic wand, we do not have a life belt, but we do have the passion and purpose to work together on How to Thrive as Teachers as opposed to How to Survive as Teachers.

As the headteacher I need to work harder at modelling this and not being the human sponge.  I equally need to ring fence my own #wellbeing and not allow myself to fall into the trap of looking after everyone else at my own expense.

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My pledge:

#Connect

  • I need to work harder at maintaining my relationships with my friends and former colleagues in London. Since moving my first 9 months have been busy, but I now need to make sure I invest in sustaining these friendships.
  • I need to continue to get myself out and about in my new area to meet new people – at the moment they have all been through education – but I am trying.
  • I will meet a new tribe and build new friendships this year as I am travelling to Mozambique for the summer.

#BeActive

  • I need to find another yoga class as my teacher has moved on.
  • I need to ride my bike more.
  • I need to find a dance class to resume.

#TakeNotice

  • I need to explore the benefits of mindfulness more regularly.
  • I need to go on more walks to explore my new area.
  • I am considering buying a SLR as I used to do a lot of black and white photography which makes you stop, pause and look at the details of your surroundings.

#KeepLearning

  • I will continue reading, reflecting on and publishing the #TalkingHeadsblog
  • I will continue reading professional books by teachers and leaders – my aim is one per month – I have a stack that have been sent to me to get through!
  • I will complete my Electric Woman coaching programme with Nikki Armytage-Foy.
  • I will continue to go to choir once a week with Sarah Louise Chitty and Vocalize.

 #Give

teacher5aday 2018

Happy 2018 everyone! May you THRIVE this year as I intend to.

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Consolidating the life choices and lifestyle changes I initiated last year and making further changes this year.

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

#OneWord2018: Thrive

Picking one word to signpost and frame your year ahead is an interesting process. I have done it for a few years now, along with the annual Nurture blogs to review & reflect.

#oneword15 – Courage

I made some big decisions. I resigned. I paused. I took stock. I decompressed. I dug deep to prepare to make a big leap.

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#oneword16 – Connect

I leant in to my preference for outward-facing leadership. I connected with interesting people. I initiated some interesting collaborations. I was coached. I coached others. I explored my values. I recalibrate. I secured a big new role.

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#oneword17 – Change

I made a leap of faith. I leant in. I moved areas, trusts and roles. I began a new chapter.

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#oneword18

The shortlist:

Consolidate – I need to embed & consolidate the changes I have introduced in both my personal & professional life.

Nurture – I need to enable the ideas I have planted to grow and develop. Nurturing hearts and minds is our mantra at Aureus – looking forward to working towards Nurturing Schools status this year.

Values – I need to continue to live them, not laminate them, allowing them to both steer and also anchor me. Values frame what we do and why we do it at Aureus – looking forward to our values audit in the summer.

Zest – I need to bring some spontaneity, joy & joi de vie back to my highly diarised life.

Flourish – I need to enable myself and others to reach new heights. Grow, Learn, Flourish is our Trust’s vision and mission.

Thrive – I need to empower myself & others to grow, to develop & to be successful. I am also looking forward to us launching the thrive programme and opening our thrive room at Aureus.

Maya Angelou is one of my favourite writers & this is one of my favourite quotes:

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I have passion for what I do, I have compassion for those I work with, I don’t take myself too seriously & I have my own style in how I do things, however, in my first official term as a Headteacher & in our first term as a school the staff were definitely in survival mode.

We are committed to enabling our students to grow, learn & flourish, we are passionate about nurturing hearts & minds.

This term I need to focus on ensuring that my team thrive within and beyond their roles.

This year I need to ensure that I continue to thrive too as the role, the team & the community grow.

We need to review the conditions needed to not just to grow but to flourish & thrive. For me Thriving is becoming the best version of yourself.

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Tips for embedding Thriving as a daily practice in 2018:

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Reading to reflect on Thriving in 2018:

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Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Sustaining the good habit of weekly choir.
  • Reintroducing the habit of weekly yoga and/ or dancing.
  • Developing my mindful practice.

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • I am actually reading some crappy chick lit – I used to consume books back to back – but now read more for professional learning than for pleasure or escapism. I need to get back in the habit of losing myself in a good book regularly.

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The EduTwitter connections I was discussing #oneword2018 with earlier today as we did our selections – Thanks Carol, Christalla, Lisa, Mal, Michelle & Susan

#Nurture1718: Seeds of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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2016/17 Reflections:

New opportunities:

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

New locations:

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

New perspectives:

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

New freedoms:

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

New travels:

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

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

2017 has been an epic professional year!

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2017/18 Intentions:

New opportunities:

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

New locations:

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

New perspectives:

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

New freedoms:

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

New travels:

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

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

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

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

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Currently feeling hopeful about:

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

Currently reading and thinking about:

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

Currently feeling grateful for:

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

Currently feeling inspired by:

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

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