Archive | December, 2013

#Nurture1314: Reflections on my first year as an assistant head

24 Dec


When @ChocoTzar tweeted about writing a post celebrating 13 good things that have happened this year and 14 wishes for 2014, I thought this was a great idea. Blogging is a process of reflection and this post will be another chance to think about the highs and lows of what has been a full-on year. I’m not sure I can stretch to 13 educational achievements and 14 wishes, but here goes…

1. I started my new role as an assistant head in a new school on January 3rd. There was no formal way to introduce myself to staff or students. I was feeling really wobbly that day. I had met no one except the head and the deputy head. My instincts were to cling to my very kind deputy head for the whole day but – shock horror – she had work to do. I had to go out there alone! There were so many new things to learn, and I needed to learn them pretty much instantly: how they ran assemblies; call-out system; SLT detentions; bus stop duties; lunch time patrols. I remember on my third day being on duty in the playground. A group of very boisterous year 11s were being a bit silly, eyeing me up as if to say ‘Who’s this new teacher?’. One of them decided to try and climb the fence with the aim of landing in the staff car park, egged on by his mates. I knew I had to go over and ‘sort it’ and I was incredibly nervous! This was my first (and obviously not my last!) possible SLT confrontation with a student. It took me about two minutes to get him down, using a combination of sarcasm, banter and a clipped voice – but I got him down. Would I have dealt with it differently a year on? Definitely. But I was proud that I had dealt with this situation without involving anyone else. The lesson learnt? To not shy away from potential problems and to make yourself known to as many students as quickly as possible.

2014 wish: To become more confident in dealing with the more difficult students at school and learn how to get the most out of SIMs.

2. The only pastoral experience I had before joining my new school was as a tutor. I’d never been a head of year so when I found out I was line managing the head of year 7, I felt worried that I would be way out of my depth. Little did I know that the head of year 7 was brand new too so it really was the blind leading the blind! Luckily for me, Aimee is a fabulous pastoral leader and soon had us sorted out. I didn’t want to lie to her so told her straight away that my background was in curriculum and teaching and learning and I knew very little about the world of pastoral care. One of the things I’m most grateful for is the relationship we have developed this year. We have become a tag-team of sorts. At our school, the head of year always stays in that role as part of the wider transition programme so Aimee and I will be working together until one of us leaves. We’ve made some tough decisions in the past year, ones that have woken me up in the middle of the night with my heart racing; but we’ve also had many fun moments with the year group where we’ve celebrated many of the students’ achievements – in and outside of school. Our year 7 team is like a little family. Sometimes we annoy each other but we’re there for each other, in good times and in bad.

2014 wish: To understand the complexities of working with outside agencies so I feel more confident making the very difficult decisions and relying less on the deputy head in charge of behaviour and safety.

3. My role is a new one at my school; there never was an assistant head responsible for developing teaching and learning. This has been exciting at times with no one to compare myself to and freedom to do my own thing but it’s also been extremely difficult because I didn’t know where to start. I made the decision to go and see every teacher in action and this is something I’m so pleased I did because I am not swayed by anyone else’s opinions. It’s a real privilege to see your whole staff and to be let into their classrooms to see the good work they’re doing with our students. I was exhausted by the end of the Spring term but seeing everyone gave me a good foundation for knowing what were the priorities for teaching and learning.

2014 wish: To go and see everyone again this year to get a sense of how we’re developing as a staff.

4. In the summer term, I shared with staff a list of teaching and learning developments that we could try when we came back from the holidays. This felt like a real turning point because the majority of staff did vote for ideas they liked. When we returned in September, the things we’ve been doing this academic year are things that staff wanted to try out. On the first day back, I stood up and said that I would love teachers to get involved with at least one new thing this year and see if it made a difference to their practice. All of our teachers are undertaking action research as our preferred CPD model this year; twelve teachers have signed up as Lead Learners who lead each action research cluster; 14 teachers have signed up to our staff book club; 10 teachers have written a post for our staff blog; nearly every teacher has agreed to open up their classroom during Open Classroom fortnight – these are the things that are changing our culture, slowly but surely.

2014 wish: To work more closely with some of our more reluctant staff to see what they would like and to support them in making these changes. Last week, I was accused of creating a clique of young female staff by a very experienced male member of staff. That accusation stung me. Although there are very experienced middle leaders and some male teachers involved in developing teaching and learning, it is true that there are more young female teachers at the heart of the change. I would love to see a more diverse mix of people this time next year leading pedagogical change.

5. This year, I read Leverage Leadership and it has had a huge influence on my thinking. Every chapter is gold dust but the chapter that resonated with me most was on lesson observations. I have always thought that lesson observations are so bloody tedious. You observe a member of staff once a term, make a judgement on them, tell them what they could do better with no real understanding of the bigger picture and then leave them totally stressed out until the next visit. What is the point?! Leverage Leadership advocates a different approach: dropping in on your teachers every week or fortnight depending on the size of your staff; staying for 15/20 minutes; celebrating all the good things you can see; sharing one small tweak they could try out; and coming back the following week/fortnight to see if it’s made a difference.  I’ve been piloting this approach with a few members of staff and it’s been revolutionary! Instead of these teachers worrying about me coming in and feeling like they need to put on an all-singing, all-dancing, jazz hands kind of performance, we’re now in a position where I really feel like I’m getting to the heart of their teaching. Progress has stopped being an over-used buzz word and has become really obvious because I see the teacher several times over a half term and the teacher (and me) can feel the difference in the classroom. There’s absolutely no judgement – just suggested tweaks to their practice. Some work, some don’t. The most important part is the conversation afterwards which is not clouded by someone anxiously awaiting a grading. This has been a real highlight this year.

2014 wish: To develop the Leverage Leadership approach across the school and learn more about Lesson Study. I think these two models really would make a difference to the quality and meaningfulness of being observed.

6. In March, I joined Twitter and it has changed me. There’s no two ways about it: I am a better teacher and (I think) leader because of the plethora of blogs that I read. At first, I was reluctant about joining Twitter because when I do something, I can become a bit obsessive about it. As I thought, I have become obsessed with Twitter but I am the richer for it. I don’t know how I would have survived this year without the sage advice, support and general kindness of the Twitter community. Bloggers that have influenced me significantly are: Joe Kirby and David Didau for their discussion of curriculum; Kev Bartle, Stephen Tierney, John Tomsett and Tom Sherrington for their thoughts on leadership; Alex Quigley and Chris Curtis for their passionate discussion of English teaching; and Thomas Starkey and Gwenelope for their candid writing style.

2014 wish: To write more frequent posts for our blog. Sometimes it’s a question of time but often it’s thinking that what I write isn’t clever/witty/academically rigorous enough!

7. I met quite a few Twitter peeps this year in the flesh and they are awesome! Here are the highlights. In April, I discovered Kev Bartle’s blog and read every single post one rainy weekend. I tweeted him and told him how ace they were for a new senior leader struggling to find their way. From that moment on, Kev has been so supportive and encouraging and I still look forward to his new posts. It was great to meet him at SSAT Achievement Show and then again at #TMCollaborate, where I also met the delightful Helene, and then most recently at #TLT13. He is the leader I want to become. Another highlight was catching up with Amjad Ali (@ASTsupportAAli) a few times this year at different teach meets. Mel and I enjoy bantering with him after his very first declaration that he thought ‘we were two old dears’! One person who I looooooooooooved meeting was Jamie Warner-Lynn (@deadshelley) at #TMNorthwest. He is super smart and incredibly witty. He also rocks a great pair of aubergine trousers. He is great fun and I hope we catch up again at #NRocks2014. Two great people we met recently were Stephen and Sarah at #SLTCamp and both Mel and I are a little in awe of what those two do. I hope that I can be as good a leader as they are in the near future. They have a great mix of fun, creativity and determination that makes them brilliant people to be around. In a similar vein, David and Jenn were wonderful organisers  of #TLT13 and we were mega excited to be part of it. These two really do live and breathe teaching and learning! Lastly, Mel and I have loved meeting Andy Day on a couple of occasions this year. He has been very supportive of us on Twitter and he is just as lovely in the flesh. A true gent.

2014 wish: To meet in person the wonderful Gwen (@gwenelope) – I admire her honesty and support of others on Twitter and would like to catch up over a glass of vino. I’d also love to meet Thomas Starkey whose blogs and tweets are hilarious. He must be a good man to go to the pub with! Last but by no means least, I would like to visit Stephen Tierney (@LeadingLearner). I cannot express how brilliant Stephen has been in encouraging Mel and I with our blog. He is always so kind and I love reading his blog. He seems very dynamic and I would love to watch him as a headteacher. He doesn’t seem to go to teach meets or the equivalent so it looks like I may have to stalk him up North – or persuade him to come to #SLTCamp14!

8. Over the past few years, Mel and I have led countless training sessions with staff in a variety of contexts. We love planning CPD and working with teachers to develop practice. It was the highlight of our time together in my previous school. Every Friday, we would spend the afternoon planning for the upcoming weeks and the time flew by.  She is the best person I have ever worked with and I doubt anyone could top her. She’s my pedagogical partner in crime. So it’s been amazing to get involved with the CPD opportunities that have arisen through being on Twitter. Since March, I’ve presented at several teach meets and delivered a workshop at #TLT13. It’s been so much fun! I can’t thank enough those teachers who have spent time organising these events; you can’t help but come away from them with a spring in your step and believing you can be just a little bit better than you were today.

2014 wish: To become more involved in organising a teach meet – eek!

Ok, so not quite 13 but these eight highlights are more than enough for me! Thank you to all those who take the time to read our blog or tweet us. We really do love being part of this crazy Twitter world and, as mentioned previously, have loved reading blogs and tweets from inspiring educators. Here’s to a fab 2014!

Debbie XxX

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