It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. The job of a Headteacher doesn’t half get in the way. And so, in the spirit of turning weaknesses into strengths, I thought I’d see if a weekly post about ‘a week in the life’ works to scratch the itch.
After another full on week, I’m also wondering whether a series of posts on this theme might help me to put things into perspective (hence the title of the post). Maybe it’ll be a bit more like the scene in Father Ted where Ted is trying to explain perspective to Dougall – “these ones are small, but the ones out there are far away” – but let’s find out.
Monday 30 January
A really good lesson with Y12 Sociology today, on using thesis, antithesis and synthesis to help make sense of an essay question about the functions of the family. I only teach four lessons, this double with Y12 and a double Y8 History, but they are the highlight of my week. I make no claims to be the best teacher at Canons (I’d rather be the worst) nor do I do it to prove that I still understand what it’s like at the chalk face (real teachers have full teaching days), but simply because it’s what I love to do and it provides me with a genuine escape from the life of a Head. Oh, and perhaps the fact that they were really on it today says more about the fact that parents’ evening is on Thursday more than about my teaching!!!!
Straight from the classroom to the council offices to talk with key members of the local authority and of the police to talk about the impact of the Prevent agenda on schools, leaders, staff and students. We covered a wide range of things, including how to improve upon RAP training for colleagues and how to provide better support for Heads and safeguarding leads should they have to face a situation in which a student has become radicalised. As an academy we are not under the LA, but it’s good to work with them on things like this where they still hold a key role (not least of all in community relations) and, given the huge strengths of Canons with regard to safeguarding it’s nice to engage with police as ‘critical friends’ and to learn from them.
To round off the day it was back to school for a RAG meeting looking at the teacher assessments for Y12. I love these because what we do is talk about every child, no matter how well or badly they are doing: as the Canons’ saying goes “look after the individuals and the groups will look after themselves”. The snapshot of data takes place only twice a year because it’s what we do in between that matters and so we (teachers, tutors, mentors, etc) take our time, eat biscuits, drink coffee and try to get a picture of the whole child. It’s not the most efficient process in the world, but ‘every subject, every child’ is about roundedness first and foremost.
Tuesday 31 January
Having had a lovely birthday breakfast with Millie, I arrived at school into a whirlwind of activity around three students facing massive challenges. Each one required a potentially life-altering decision to be made, and mornings like that are the ones that no NPQH can prepare you for. Thankfully, they are also the decisions that demonstrate the talents of pastoral leads within the school. Having never held a role like that I rely upon them so much and they have yet to let me down. But, as ever, the final call has to be made and, as the person with whom the buck stops, there is always a moment when you have to say “let’s do this” rarely certain about what the effects will be.
All of which explains the bulk of my day, which was spent at a Board of Trustees meeting at the offices of the Education Support Partnership. It’s a charity that is there to help school staff wellbeing and, although not as widely known as they would wish, does amazing things not least of which is a 24/7 helpline for school staff who need someone to turn to in order to make sense of the pressures and stresses of the job. Being a trustee has given me a much better understanding of the importance of governors, their role within the school and the sometimes frustrating perspective that they have as “eyes on, hands off” school leaders. It’s a constant reminder to me that I have to fully engage them but, at the same time, ensure that I fulfill all of their expectations of me as the most senior and most well paid employee of the school. By the way, for those of you aspiring to Headship, I also think that being a trustee of a charity is the best preparation for two of the key elements of the role, strategic planning and financial probity. One of my DHTs also had a day as a trustee this week and I know that she agrees with me about how much it teaches you.
Wednesday 1 February
After the weekly joy-cum-slog that is my Team Leaders meeting (with DHTs and the Business Manager), it was a pleasure to welcome Tom Sherrington to Canons. It’s a visit that we’ve been talking about for two years now and have never made happen. There was no real structure to the day – a bit of a walk, a bit of a talk, a bit more of the same – but we chewed the fat on so many topics and, as ever when bloggers get together, put the world to rights. The best parts of the visit were when colleagues and students sucked us into their world: the French lesson that ended up being a test for me, the multiple visitors to room 6 (our Behaviour Support Team base) and the Harry Potter Day preparations in the library. The only regret I have is that Tom didn’t stay long enough to be roped in with me to a Y7 class after lunch. The rock band (name as yet undecided) wanted me to hear them play Smells Like Teen Spirit and a Muse track because I’d caught them last term in an early jamming session and made them stars of a newsletter piece. They were amazing. Having finally found a frontman who has the perfect blend of charisma and can’t-be-arsedness and having practised their butts off they had made huge strides. It would have been the highlight of Tom’s day.
From there it was into a meeting with the Head and AHT of a local primary who will be working with us should we be designated as one of eleven Research Schools. The interview is next week and we were working with them to identify the aspects of our application that they would be looking to lead on if given the status. Our alliance has prioritised cross-phase working, building upon our transition partnerships and cluster hub working of old, and the Glebe School is as fine a partner as we could hope for. Strong in values, dedicated in professionalism and with an explicitly research-informed approach to all aspects of their work, I really hope that we secure the Research School role so that we can deepen and extend our work with them.
Thursday 2 February
Y8 History periods 1 and 2 today. Definitely my weekly highlight. These kids love History and are good at it too. Today it was about the impact of gin on the urban poor in the 18th century using Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ as one of our sources. Having a two-hour lesson means that we can get deeply into sources and spend good amounts of time writing without living under the tyranny of the bell. One of our HLTAs, who has a School Direct job next year teaching History came and observed and is looking forward to taking a part of the lesson for me next week.
Lunchtime in the Library for Harry Potter day. Wow! Staff were dressed as various teachers, with the exception of a couple of Bellatrix Lestranges and – believe it or not – a Snitch. It was chockablock. My daughter would have loved it.
From there to Y12 Parents’ Evening, and an important one for us too. We’ve made big changes at sixth form this year in almost every aspect of our work. A new partnership with Barnet Football Club means we have over 50 students of various levels of footballing proficiency coming from all over London to us. A new partnership with our local ‘competitor’ school – more collaborator these days – means that we are splitting teaching across schools. The abandonment of AS Levels means that we have a 3+1 curriculum with all students having some form of timetabled ‘enrichment’: Duke of Edinburgh, Extended Project Qualification and Core Maths for example. But it also means that we no longer have time for the ‘fourth option’ syndrome that was plaguing us at Y12. Now, quite simply, every subject matters to students, to staff and to the school.
Friday 3 February
On paper my Fridays look great. No lessons, no seclusion, no lunch duty, no line management. The aim is to give me space to plan for the week ahead and, if I’m lucky, do a bit of marking or planning. Hah!!! It never works out that way and today was nonstop from start to finish.
First up was my first permanent exclusion as Headteacher of two and a gal years. Obviously I wouldn’t share any details but suffice to say that a lot of tears were shed in my office: parent, child, staff and, a little later after everyone had left, by me. There’s no joy to be had in this process, just a mirror to be looked into that will always ask whether you really believed that you have done all you could. The answer to that question, for my own sanity, must always be “yes”.
Thankfully I only had to wait one hour for one of those “this is what makes it worthwhile” moments. Another parent had come to see me about both her son and her daughter, who have faced separate challenges this week. In between the two children being with us I found time to chat with her about the family and she told me about fleeing Syria, about two years spent in the Lebanon and about finally coming to rest in Britain. She apologised for her poor English (which is far from poor given her time in the country and her circumstances) but then told me about how she seeks out every opportunity to practise it, from bus stops to supermarket queues, and to use it with her children. It was humbling, especially in the context of the national and global anti-immigration rhetoric and – more recently – policy reality. Then, at the end of the meeting, she said the most beautiful thing to me I have ever heard from a parent: “We have many bad things happen to us, and we have many good things. You (meaning the school, the community and the UK) are a good thing.” It was one of those moments when I soared inside my skin.
The Road Ahead in the Week Ahead
So that’s some of my week gone by. Let me know what you think. If this post is useful I’ll keep at it. If not, well it was worth it if only to remind myself that I can carve out an hour or so to write.
What lies ahead for me and for Canons?
Tomorrow morning we welcome six participants for the first session of our new course on ‘Working with Complexity in School Leadership’ in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire’s Business School.
Tomorrow afternoon the London Bees Women’s Super League 2 team will run out with Canons High School on their strips as we are now official supporters.
On Monday the core team around our Research School bid will be holding our final meeting ahead of our two hour interview on Wednesday. Wish us luck.
On Tuesday I have a meeting with the LA who are in the middle of a month-long Ofsted process. Hopefully we can help to show just how good we are at safeguarding in Harrow.
On Thursday we welcome our second cohort of 20:20 Leaders (another totally free course run by our TSA) which will be all about JPD and led by our friends and partners at NTEN.
As for Friday? Well it looks relatively clear for now, but I think I see a pig flying by. Oh well, at least it marks the start of a well-earned week off.