Welcome back

This week I did a welcome back assembly for my S4 year group. I had a lot to say. I decided against doing the usual ‘this year is massively important/pile on the pressure’ approach and instead to give a message about individuality. I asked them for feedback. It ranged from ‘hot’ (temperature in library) and ‘boring’ to ‘inspirational’, ‘helpful’ and ‘moving’.

So I think I made a difference to at least some. Here’s what I said:1

I hope you had a lovely summer. Some of you may have not and that is difficult; we all expect holidays to be a time to relax, have fun.

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The other day, I was asked this question – are you going to do one of those…., Mrs C??

And I thought about it. And I decided that maybe not. Because as I thought about it, I realised that maybe not all of you need to hear that message just now.

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Some of you may well need the first approach just now. You may well need to be told that ‘this is an important year’…and get the proverbial kick up the backside

But others may KNOW THAT IT IS IMPORTANT AND HAVE KNOWN IT SINCE S1. Me telling you is unlikely to help and may indeed make things worse.

Each one of you in S4 is an individual and each one will have a slightly different aim this year:

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Some of you, as you know from the PSE work we did on teenage brain, may be finding it hard to have any sort of plan and may struggle to think beyond tomorrow!!

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It is the job of the adults in this school to help you keep going in the right direction.

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Prelims are the ‘practice’ exams you do if you are doing National 5’s. They may also help you and your teachers decide whether you should do N4 or N5. And they can be useful if you get struck down with an illness during the actual N5 exams – for example if you get glandular fever, which can affect people of your age and may or may not be caused by snogging……..

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Here is another example of how one bit of advice does not work for all people. This looks quite sensible. This is the poster of the week for S2 this week.

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For some of you, who lack motivation and can ALWAYS find an excuse for not doing things (“I’m too tired!!”), this might be great!

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If Mo Farah had given up when he was tired after 4 laps, he would not have gone on to win an Olympic gold. Equally, if he had given up when he fell over, he’d never have got the gold…….

BUT I was terrible at your age and at university for pushing myself TOO hard – always working until I was ‘finished’ and not listening to when I was tired. I was always worried that I wasn’t doing enough, that there were always more books to read and I nearly made myself ill. Some of you may be like me. In some (most) jobs, there is always more work you COULD do.

But fact we all know, if we go back to Mo Farah, that for athletes, training is all about pace. Not doing too much or too little, listening to your body and stopping when you are injured or tired. It is the MOST competitive thing but it is also a field where it is MOST important to know what YOU can do.

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Tom Daly gave a good example in the Olympics of how things don’t always go to plan, even when we work our hardest. He got a bronze medal in the Olympics which is beyond what most of us in the room could even dream of! But he felt he had failed.

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He gives an important message about how we can fall and get up again (like Mo), learn and try again.

In fact Tom Daly is a very interesting example of how hard it can sometimes be to keep going to achieve what we want:

He competed in the Bejing Olympics aged 14.

His father, Robert, died from a brain tumour on 27 May 2011, aged 40 when Tom was 17.

He was also bullied at school and actually moved school after the 2012 Olympics when people called him ‘Speedo boy.’

He took his GCSEs in small batches to fit around his diving commitments. He persuaded supermodel Kate Moss to pose for a recreation of an original portrait by David Hockney, as part of a GCSE photography project recreating great works of art, after meeting her on a photo shoot for the Italian version of Vogue.

He obtained one A and eight A* grades in his GCSEs

In 2012, he did A-level studies in mathematics, Spanish and photography.  He received an A* in his photography A-level, and an A in his Spanish and maths A-levels.

In 2013 he came out and once again was the victim of horrific online homophobic bullying.

He is 22 and worth 4 million pounds.

Where are the people who were abusive now?

Another person recently who has spoken out about bullying is Nadiya Hussain. Last year’s Bake-off winner. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, she said she has experienced racist abuse throughout her life, had things thrown at her and been pushed and shoved.

She said: “I expect to be shoved or pushed or verbally abused because that happens. It’s been happening for years.”

Asked by host Kirsty Young how she reacted, she said she did not retaliate.

‘Be the better person’.

“I feel like there’s a dignity in silence, and I think if I retaliate to negativity with negativity, then we’ve evened out,” she said.

“And I don’t need to even that out because if somebody’s being negative, I need to be the better person.

This leads me to a message I want you all to hear in S4:

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And if you are experiencing abuse or hurt from others, whilst I encourage you not to retaliate and to have dignity in silence, please DON’T suffer in silence. We will be doing more on this in S4 PSE this term as we look at hate crime.

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Being well.

The end.

And a beginning.

The last Saturday of the holidays.

And back to it on Monday.

I have had a great holiday. I have caught up with lots of good friends and connected with my family, closest and wider. I have been to Harry Potter Studios, Cambridge, Dorset, The Larmer Tree Festival, Ben Nevis and the Edinburgh Fringe.

I have some new body art.

I have had reunions with friends not seen since 1989, 1992 and 2007 and it has been wonderful. So much has happened and changed in the meantime yet connection, friendship, love and understanding have remained.

I managed to complete a draft of my final ‘Into Headship’ assessment. It is far from finished and far from perfect but it will do for now.

Working for that has re-invigorated my desire to be a head teacher, to run a school. I have a new source of inspiration, having read “Leading the Strategically Focused School: Success and Sustainability” by Brent Davies.

How can you not admire someone who writes as follows?

“Education is a wonderful challenge. The challenge is to give every child the opportunity to learn and develop. We might consider that children are the messages we send intothe future. Clearly, we need to send good messages.”

And

“In setting the direction of the school, the way that leaders interpret externally-imposed requirements is a moral and curricular issue about the purpose of education. Obeying orders ‘from on high’ to the detriment of children’s education is a moral choice. In discussions, leaders often use the leadership mantra approach and ask, ‘What is in the best interests of the children?’ to determine what moral stance to take. Establishing a value system and set of beliefs for the school provides the moral template on which to judge current and future decisions and the direction of the school.”

I have cleaned the house.

I have done bits of preparation for the new term and blitzed my office.

Yesterday, I went to Alloa and did a piece of video work for an online resource for Scottish Autism.

I have walked or cycled every day except two.

I have blogged and kept an eye on Twitter but gone for the #teacher5aday and #summerofmildrebellion threads rather than anything too serious.

(Thanks so much to @MissVicki_V, @rondelle10_b and @Dorastar1)

I have particularly loved reading blog posts from @jw_teach @JarlathOBrien, @nancygedge and @JulesDaulby.

On the whole my work-life balance has been healthy and ‘life’ has come out on top.

I have switched off and pieced myself back together after running myself into the ground last year – as all teachers do. But I did find it harder to switch off this year. I found it hard to stop and when I did, I found myself in some pretty difficult places.

I realised that I needed to take a bit of a harder look. To do some ‘work’ of a different kind.

It is important to be honest with others but out first commitment must be to achieve honesty with ourself.

In writing, I have spotted some patterns, noticed some common themes and realised that I need to make some changes.

I know, I know.

I have said it before, made the resolutions, made the 5 a day pledges, been a wellbeing guru.

And at the time, I meant every word I said.

But as I sit here, on my 47th birthday, I mean it again.

Here’s a toast to wellbeing. To being well. To staying well.

In it for the long term…..

 

This week I have been into school and tidied my office. (Trigger counteraction for those in England; we are back on the 15th August and have been off for nearly 5 weeks. Don’t feel guilty!)

It was quite a monumental task as the 4 very large wall shelves behind my desk contained the legacy of my predecessor, who left 3 years ago, and that of the post-holder previous to him, the head teacher of the special school which was amalgamated into our campus 10 years ago.

I should have tackled it all when I first arrived 3 years ago but I had a sense of guilt about getting rid of things that I had not created.

Plus, as a hoarder, I was convinced that it might all prove useful ‘someday’.

Then I went out on secondment after just a year in post at school so left the office again for 16 months.

But now that I am back, I decided to bite the bullet.

I have thrown out masses. Lots of it simply outdated; circulars, briefings, initiatives. Copies of things that can be found online in an updated version. Things that are no longer legislatively compliant.

In looking through it all, though, I was struck by a few things.

We move on so quickly in education. Initiatives come and go in a matter of a few years and the long term view is too often lost in the face of the ‘quick fix’.

Example: “Let’s do inclusion and close special schools!”

But then, just a few years later:

“Let’s re-open special schools!”

Of course we need to reflect and let go of outmoded practices if they prove not to work. For an excellent piece on this, look no further than this: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/behaviour-policies-cast-iron-sanctions-are-seductive-doesnt-mean

But we also need to remember the long term view and avoid the knee-jerk.

I hope that we in Scotland will do this in the light of the recent ruling in the Supreme Court that very specific aspects of Getting It Right For Every Child needing looking at again. The knee-jerkers are saying that it is the end of GIRFEC and the Named Person. But it must not be. The best argument I have seen as to why not is here: http://www.thenational.scot/comment/shona-craven-holyrood-must-not-be-bullied-into-binning-named-persons-law-in-its-entirety.20555

My questions to anyone who suggests otherwise are:

“Why would we not want someone in school (and in secondary in particular, where a child may have 15 plus teachers) to know a child well and look out for him/her?”

And

“So, if we are no longer going to commit to Getting It Right For Every Child, are we tacitly implying that we can Get It Wrong For Every Child?”

This week I also completed the first draft of my ‘Into Headship’ final assignment and reflected on the reading I have done as part of that. Certainly the key message from the guys who know is that we have to have a long term view.

These quotes from the work of Dimmock and Walker and Davies are particularly pertinent:

“Consequently, the leadership and management of school improvement needs to be holistic, but it must also be consistent and intentional”. (Dimmock and Walker 2004 p 43)

“…major change in schools often takes five to ten years to embed.” (Dimmock and Walker 2004, p 41)

“It is important that any strategic or operational decisions are set in a futures context. The school needs to scan its long-term environment to identify the developing ideas and trends that will form the strategic agenda in the future. Schools need to understand the world in which their pupils will seek employment and live and begin to formulate approaches that will enable them to succeed in the world in 15-20 years’ time. Fifteen years is only the length of one child’s educational journey.” (Davies 1998, p 467)

Finally, Priestley and Miller (2012) made me reflect on the need to consider the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ of policy implementation and to “acknowledge the importance of attending to the transactions between different actors, and between actors and their contexts” (p 100). I was interested to read their account of the Highland model of improvement that looked beyond the mere introduction of pedagogic techniques and sought instead to examine the “broader purposes of education”.

Let’s not knee jerk and be too short term. Of course the everyday crises matter, but as leaders, we need to have our eye on the bigger picture.

 

References:

Davies, B. (1998) Strategic planning in schools: an oxymoron? School Leadership & Management 18.4 (1998): 461-473.

Dimmock, C. and Walker, A.(2004) A new approach to strategic leadership: learning‐centredness, connectivity and cultural context in school design, School Leadership & Management, 24:1, 39-56, DOI: 10.1080/1363243042000172813

Priestley, M and Miller, K. (2012) Educational change in Scotland: policy, context and biography, The Curriculum Journal, 23:1, 99-116, DOI: 10.1080/09585176.2012.650490