Archive | September, 2018

A fresh start: leading in tough times

23 Sep

The last time I wrote a blog post was August 2017. At that time, I was full of hope that the school I had moved to three months before could come out of special measures and become a school that the local community would want to send their children to. I’d read various leadership books and was excited about my new role as deputy head. I don’t want to dwell on what turned out to be an annus horribilis… but on my first anniversary at the school, my head had resigned and we’d had nearly a week of strikes. I honestly did feel like jacking it in.

However, as with many things, bad times pass and as we began the summer holidays, I genuinely was excited about my school joining the Ark network. Many colleagues were worried about the move to Ark and there were a lot of scare stories doing the rounds but the resources, training and collegiality Ark offered made me feel optimistic for the future.

I spent much of the summer preparing for September. During the summer term, I had received fantastic support from the Ark Central team and other Ark colleagues who gave up their time to share their resources and time with me as I went about planning two weeks of high quality training. I’ve delivered countless training sessions over the years but never have I felt under such pressure to make the training the best it could be. The training would set the tone for the rest of the year. I wanted colleagues to feel confident for the year ahead and have the necessary tools to plan and deliver high quality learning experiences for our students.

On the first day of training, staff arrived in the hall with a mixture of curiosity and nerves. What was it going to be like working in an Ark school? After an introductory session from the regional director setting the vision for our new school, it was then my turn to try and inspire the staff. Nervous doesn’t quite cover it! The main thing I was most worried about was the inclusion of live practice in the training sessions; I wasn’t sure if staff would buy into practising in front of their colleagues – it’s an alien concept to most of us. I’d set up the hall into nine mini classrooms, each one led by one of our coaches. I needn’t have worried: after a few nervous giggles, the staff really threw themselves into the practice and I was so proud of the coaches giving real-time feedback and watching teachers keep practising until they got it right.

At the end of the first week, we finished early and had a staff BBQ. There was a real sense of excitement and pride amongst the staff. School felt different. Although teachers still had valid concerns, the vast majority of staff were on board and ready for week two of training. We finished the first week by asking each coach to nominate the member of staff that had made the most progress with the training and they stood up and received a round of applause from their colleagues. It’s a moment that I’ll hold onto in the dark days of February when I’m bound to have a low moment. That weekend, the head and I received several emails from long-established staff saying it was the best training they’d had in 20+ years of teaching; others said they felt proud of the school for the first time in a long time.

The second week of training was centred upon the queries staff had at the end of the first week. We split the week between practising the things staff had found most difficult and teachers co-planning in their departments. By the end of the second week, every member of staff was building their muscle memory of the key strategies and routines we need to embed this year. It was a pleasure to walk round school and see colleagues working together in an atmosphere of real purpose and enthusiasm.

Sunday night. I probably slept about three hours! I was far too nervous about the students returning and wondering whether we really could create the culture shift we so desperately needed in our classrooms, corridors and playground.

Over the past thirteen years, there’s been several moments that make me smile when I think about them: certain students making it against the odds; colleagues I have line managed flourishing and getting well-deserved promotions; being part of a previous SLT who worked so hard to move a school out of RI and on its way to Outstanding. Without doubt, my proudest moment was watching our entire staff body standing together, greeting the students onto site and holding their nerve when the whistle blew and we got over 1000 students into silent lines within a minute. Alongside this, walking into every classroom at the end of the first week back and seeing teachers using the new strategies and routines and watching students respond positively. Despite the usual teenage moans and groans about how strict school was, they also acknowledged they were learning more than before because lessons were calm and teachers were clear about what they were going to achieve. These might not be great moments of triumph in some people’s eyes but when I think back to staff morale and students’ anxiety in May 2018, I can’t help but feel emotional about what can be achieved when staff pull together and do everything they can to get it right for their students.

The trick now is sustaining the change. Of course, there will be plenty of bumps along the road but we’ve thought carefully about how to try hard to reduce workload for staff and maximise opportunities for them to develop their craft. We’ve got rid of all after-school meetings as we recognise if staff are to keep up this level of effort, it is indeed tiring! We’ve timetabled two and a half hours of co-planning time for each department so teachers can work together to plan lessons and not feel like they’re working in a silo. We’ve also decided to personalise every teacher’s professional development offer through weekly coaching, Ark’s teaching and learning courses, the Institute for Teaching’s Transforming Teaching programme and releasing staff to go and visit other schools to see how other departments are working on specific issues with their curriculum.

It is just the start of our journey but for the first time in a long time I feel happy to go to work and feel empowered to develop staff and secure outcomes for our students that they deserve.

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