Inset day this September will be an extra special one this year. I began teaching at Meols Cop in September 1980 and have sat through or delivered many inset sessions since then but this will be the first time [and hopefully not the last!] that I will actually stand up and speak as Headteacher of our great little school! How this has happened is a long story and I don’t wish to open up ageist discussions neither but know that there is a fascination with possibly being the oldest new head around. Every time I venture into town, I’m congratulated by either one of many thousands of ex-students or parents who often begin, “I thought you would have retired by now” and then ask “are you looking forward to September”, “are you worried about the challenge ahead”, “you’ve got big boots to fill”, “it’s changed so much since I was there, can you keep it doing so well” and often, “it’s really hard to get our kids in, can you fix it for us!”
The truth, as I will explain to colleagues [and others in our community can read here] is that I’m absolutely looking forward to a new challenge and am determined to enjoy it. I don’t have a young family to consider and am able to immerse myself totally in school life and many years of experience tells me that this is the right time for me to take on a role that I may not have been ready for or suited to in my younger more temperamental days! I’ve hugely enjoyed my learning and teaching roles for many years and, of course, the duller aspects of leadership [for me] which I’ve managed to naughtily avoid, will now take up more of my time. I have gathered a brilliant new team of senior leaders around me to cover my areas of less knowledge [and attend meetings for me!] and have explained now at different forums that the main reason for me staying and agreeing to accept the offer to be Head are the staff and students. Who wouldn’t wish to work with, and lead them? I’m a lucky man and am going to enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity!
This doesn’t mean that I’m going to be bouncing around with a permanent false grin, shouting “good morning” to all and sundry and, although I do say thank you about a hundred times every day, like Dweck, I do believe that for both students and staff, praise should be given for effective hard work and resilient responses to challenging situations. The need to feel ‘valued’ by school leaders is made easier to respond to when leaders make it clear what they actually value and these are my views shared with colleagues this week. Even though most of the staff who were present probably thought that they knew exactly what my vision and strongly held beliefs are [I do try to always be a living model for my views-but being human I may fail!], I do believe that they are worth sharing at the start of the year and hope that they are already the shared values for many of my colleagues.
The slides are accompanied by the general gist of what I had to say [ish!] The image of me taking a breather after legging up an Austrian mountain was one I was going to put on my twitter account, only be told by my daughter that I looked too miserable. I thought that I looked rather happy!
More than anything else I value the time and commitment in planning and teaching great lessons, in giving up time for extra-curricular activities and in digging in when the classes or individuals get tough or another government [or SLT!] initiative seems likely to tip colleagues over when they are tired. Teaching, like learning for the students, can be fun and enjoyable but for much of the time, it is hard relentless work and the best teachers, supported by understanding leaders, will take on what is asked with a resilience based on experience and collaborative support and will get there in the end, developing never to be forgotten key skills along the way.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing students or colleagues who have struggled, who have taken risks with their learning/teaching, sought out advice/research and used it or who have worked incredibly hard succeeding. The penny dropping learning moments; perhaps created by great teaching, superb coaching, caring mentoring, individual drive and determination- when what seemed impossible becomes possible, move me immensely. I refuse to give the papers the names of students who have achieved 10 A*’s as though they are more important to our school than students who have worked their best to achieve their own set of grades. Each student works hard to achieve their personal best, with our support and their effort should be celebrated and nobody should be singled out due to raw data. Similarly, I will not single out individual subjects or teachers today for their exam results. This is a staff where everybody tries to achieve the best possible results for their students-nobody deliberately teaches badly and the exam playing field is notoriously uneven. We are professionals capable of evaluating and analysing our own results to the nth degree and I trust your ability to decide whether or not your results were good enough for your professional pride and your students. If you are pleased-ask how can you do better and if you are unhappy-seek help and support and together we can provide a learning plan to move forward. I’ve had years where my results weren’t as good as I wanted and I’ve worked out how to improve my teaching and been delighted to see the smiles on the faces of successful students the year after-there is no better feeling as a teacher!
As soon as a student, or teacher walks into our school their development over 5 years or longer is my [and our] responsibility. For a student, they should be shaped and helped to form great learning habits from year 7 onwards [year 11 intervention as some seem to favour is too late!] The lessons learned from year 11 exams, moderator’s reports and constant intervention and monitoring should be filtered a.s.a.p. through to key stage 3. For staff joining us, we should be immediately seeking to tease out their potential [even if they don’t necessarily see it for themselves] and help them to develop professionally, even if it means losing them! Should any students or colleague struggle or have to leave-I fail! That will make me even more miserable-make me happy by sharing success stories and Magic Moments when your actions have made a vital difference to someone else.
Perhaps it’s tempting sometimes to ignore trouble or struggling students or colleagues. The thought of extra work or mither when we are under our own pressure may elicit negative thoughts but that can’t be our way and it isn’t the right way. I’ve seen recent examples of colleagues who when they have known a teacher is struggling; invite them to their own classes to observe, sit with them, plan with them and most of all find time for them. There will always be times when each and every one of us will find times difficult-even me after all of these years! Don’t walk by-reach out and if you can’t help after listening, tell me-there are few issues in teaching that I haven’t made a mess of myself or worried about and I will listen and help. Please help to ‘Make a Difference’ to the learning and teaching of others.
The development of lesson study, professional portfolios, student learning walks and learning conversations after observations rather than grades over the last couple of years has allowed me to see the most insightful dialogue about teaching than I’ve ever seen before. Keep it up please! It is the way forward and I get very excited after these experiences, which usually ends up with a blog to share the ideas with you all! Do keep constantly thinking about your own practice and what is working well but even better if you think about what isn’t working and use that as an area to work on for your professional development. ‘Make a Difference’ to your own practice!
There was a time when faculties didn’t share ideas with each other, happily gone now and there was also a feeling of ‘us and them’ at times. This was usually aimed at SLT [often seen on twitter!] by teachers who felt that SLT had forgotten what teaching a full day was like etc.! I’ve only heard a couple of comments recently [not by teachers] and have to admit they sounded like a 70’s sitcom in their stereotypical use of old union style language. I would hope that we have moved on now to having a shared purpose and from my many years here, I would hope that nobody would doubt that I always have the best interests of the school at heart in any decision I make, sometimes to the detriment of my own views and interests. If mistakes are made or performances slip, look at ‘the man in the mirror’ and not somebody else. If a decision is made that you don’t agree with, try to see if from the other person’s point of view and think why they have made the decision. One of the best ways to prepare for leadership is to try and ‘see it’ as a middle or senior leader would. Everyone has the potential to be a great leader here and our PD NAML offer to all staff is aimed at developing and sustaining that crucial capacity. This leader doesn’t believe in the gun slinging heroic cult of personality leadership-the space marked head teacher in the car park will be left vacant!
I implicitly trust colleagues to make decisions and will try constantly to give responsibility-take it and the accountability that goes with it. That doesn’t mean that you will be left to flounder; support and advice is available at all times and I will be incredibly happy to see you try new ideas, pluck up courage to offer your lessons for informal observations, admit you are struggling and want to see someone else in action and join in all of the professional development opportunities that are now available. Please look for the Magic Moments in others, be happy for them, tell others about them and let me know-guaranteed to make me smile and make the Bird Woman of Denton proud!
Many schools seem to be very quick to proclaim that all in their school are learners! I do wonder whether or not the tolerance and mind-set qualities granted to students is always extended to teachers and other staff. Mistakes made and learned from, critical advice sought and used, thoughtful feedback and feedforward given and followed up, and aspirations nurtured and celebrated….mmmm! I’ve written a fair amount on mind-set and professional development and am convinced that staff must be supported in the development of their mind-set, just as the students need to be. Senior leaders and myself, need to be seen to exhibit a positive mind-set ourselves for all to see. I do believe that we should teach or at least be in the classrooms as much as we can be. I will teach because I want to and I want to teach some of our least able students because I feel that my experience can help them with basic learning needs. This isn’t to say that I can then tell colleagues that I’m a head that teaches and understand their teaching needs! The reality is that I haven’t taught a full day of lessons for 15 years-I try my best to recall what that feels like and try not to overload but I’m sure that our staff now want to see me as someone who leads them well, rather than someone who teaches a few classes well. My leadership team may well be teaching their own exam classes, coaching, sitting in lessons to offer BFL support and advice, covering or taking over long term gaps and so on BUT great leaders are like gold-dust and I employ them predominantly for their leadership qualities. [Although everyone knows that I’d be furious if they weren’t great teachers who could control their classes, achieve high exam scores and modelled best practice!]
I probably smile most when I’m still teaching and smile least when I have to attend meetings and leave my class with someone else. Unfortunately that is the biggest issue with having me teach a class and if it becomes too unfair on the students at any point, I need to be told!
The growth of our staff involved in a whole variety of micro to macro research projects does make me smile. The evolving national projects, learning hubs and lesson studies offer the chances to engage with the latest best practice, visit other schools and try out a host of new ideas before evaluating the impact on the learning of our students. We can only grow stronger as individual teachers and as a school by our involvement and this naturally delights me HOWEVER, please don’t just accept the validity of new ideas/research because an ‘expert’ tells you they have worked in schools elsewhere. Question what you have been told, adapt it, try it but then tell me if it actually works for you and your students. Much of what we have been told is good practice over the last 20 years, has now been debunked-if you think growth mind-set or peer critique is a waste of time-have the courage [and evidence] to say so and use what works best for you. [And have the data ready to convince me!] Do please use student and parent surveys and evidence to support any impact or data that you wish to share.
As a teaching staff, you have agreed, without my interference, what you want ‘Great Teaching’ to look like here and have the additional guidance from teacher standards to guide your appraisal and professional portfolios. There are 100 of you and only 1 of me so although I gather and try to assimilate as much of your professional development responses and priorities as I can, you do need to keep helping me. The one financial aspect of school I mentally ring fence is PD cash-it is crucially important that we provide the best possible PD opportunities BUT you need to tell me what you want, based on your self-appraisal and own professional needs. Of course you will spend the rest of the day discussing your priorities and how they can fit in with faculty and school ones and I will read them all and try to respond. Use today’s faculty discussions and your own evaluation of your exam data to firm up what you asked for in your professional portfolios and ensure that what you want is in your appraisal documents and can be reviewed throughout the year. If you feel, at any point, that you aren’t successfully working towards your agreed PD targets-tell your line-manager or come to see me straightaway.
Similarly if for whatever reason things are becoming difficult and work is getting on top of you-please, please, speak out and seek help. It is a sign of strength not weakness to know when to ask for help early enough to prevent you becoming overwhelmed with issues that can often be easily resolved. I have tried to cut out excess work/administration and am forever trying to come up with time-saving and more effective methods but again, I do need your help to share our best practice that might just be the answer to an issue another colleague’s problem.
A happy staff who clearly understand and have ownership of the school’s destination and vision, who want to come into work to make a difference and know that their hard work will be valued and appreciated and who are prepared to offer so much more than their basic role would mean so much to me and will sustain the school’s future for all in the community. Many say that the students are the most important people in a school but without a committed and dedicated staff, who’s needs also need nurturing and supporting, you haven’t got a school that can ever achieve long term success for its students.
I’ll repeat again that I do not teach 20 lessons a week anymore-tell me if what has been asked is unreasonable and provide me with an alternative. I love brilliant ideas I can claim as my own!
When I spoke to the new year 7 parents and their children and in every assembly I will visit on Thursday, I will mention my simple vision and ask for everyone in the school to think about and act on during the coming school year. How can you, and will you, ‘Make a Difference’ that will improve your learning and how can you support others to do the same? It sums up everything that I have said so far and it reflects what we have worked so hard to achieve in MCHS over the last few years. For students and staff to constantly self-evaluate and take responsibility for their own progress and development within a truly supportive environment matters more than anything else to me. Seeking to create opportunities in every aspect of school life for us all to have the opportunities to achieve excellence should be a right not an aspiration. To borrow Bournemouth FC’s mantra as they tackle the challenge of Premiership soccer, ‘together anything is possible’
Meols Cop High School will be successful regardless of who the head is! You are already working collaboratively with the aim of making MCHS a great school and I know that will continue. Benfica FC, the Eagles of Lisbon are the biggest supporter owned sporting club in the world. They have over a quarter of a million members and many different sports catered for and have the wonderful motto of ‘Out of Many One’ I wish I had thought of that to explain our school’s strength and to share with others how highly I value your many qualities and individual contributions which together make one-Meols Cop High. A bald eagle has landed in Southport and together we can move our school forward again and again and again!