You Do Not Go Unseen

What you do does not go unseen. Even if it feels like it, it doesn’t go unseen and you don’t go unseen.

The prep, the work, the delivery, the videos, the uploading, the feedback, the video calls, the live lessons, the late nights, the early starts. None of it goes unseen. 

The children don’t know how to articulate it, but they see it and they see you. They see you feedback, they see the effort you put in, and their face lights up when they see you on the screen. They see how you care; they see how you work, they see how you help. Even the ones who never say anything in a meeting, who never send any work back – they see it.

The parents see it. Of course they’re frustrated – for many their task is impossible. Their frustration isn’t at you, it’s at the situation. The parents whose best bit of the day is the 15 minutes when their child is on a call with you so they can tick off some jobs – they see it. The parents who are grateful that you are keeping learning going the best you can. They see what you do. The critical worker who doesn’t need to worry about their child while they do their work sees you.

Your household see it. They see the ‘one more thing’ attitude you have. They see the extra mile you go. They see the late nights and early mornings. They see the waking in the night and anxiety. They see the desire to do your best. They support and hold you up. They might not say it, but they see what you do.

Your colleagues see what you do. They empathise and understand. Your leaders see what you do, knowing they never had to teach this way, knowing you’re trying to support children in school and at home using two different methods of delivery and trying to keep yourself safe at the same time.

If you feel anonymous know that people see what you do, respect what you do and will remember what you do. You matter and you are not unseen.

New Year, Old You

As we start a new year we hear so much about resolutions, life changes, altering things about ourselves in the pursuit of better, different, more affirming, more efficient, more effective. Yes, these are all worthwhile goals and, yes, can make huge impacts on your work/life/attitude.

Sometimes though, all of it can be a bit much and we can find ourselves being swept up in the need to do something or change something. As we move into the new year I was reflecting on the old me rather than trying to build a new one. We all have so many things we can be proud of and so much about us that is wonderful (I’m talking both personally and professionally now). Why do we feel the need to try and change so often? Teaching as a profession is hugely guilty of it, searching for that silver bullet that will create miraculous results and make things easier for everyone, but up to now that search has proved futile.

This new year, instead of focusing on what we need to change about ourselves let’s focus on everything that is already good about ourselves. Perhaps this year, more than ever, we just need to give ourselves a break and be consistent in ourselves rather than beating ourselves up over something we don’t manage later on. Our students certainly need consistency, so why can’t we appreciate that we might need it ourselves?

We all want to look forward, but maybe this new year is a time for looking back on everything that marked you as a great teacher and a great person last year and simply resolving to carry on with that? We all achieved something great last year with what we managed to do at short notice, under difficult conditions and a large amount of uncertainty. We all provided for the children and did it in the best way we could. We settled nerves, we caught children up, we rebuild relationships, we retaught boundaries, we made up for lost time, we brought back community, we brought back smiles and laughter to children everywhere.

We need to stand tall and proud in the security of ourselves, our skills, our knowledge and our compassion. – even if we don’t feel those things sometimes. Instead of hunting for some kind of self improvement, perhaps this year doesn’t need a new you, perhaps all it needs is the old one and everything wonderful that it brings.

Dear Mr Williamson, further to my previous letter.

Dear Mr Williamson,

It has been a while since I last wrote to you. In a number of ways many things have changed. We have welcomed back almost all pupils and greeted them with smiles, warm hearts, cheeriness and sensitivity as they have returned to school this term, no doubt anxious about what it would bring.

We have taken that anxiety and turned it into engagement. We have reassured, comforted, rebuilt, laughed, assessed, taught, caught up, rebuilt trust. We have done all of that in the space of 15 weeks. It has not been easy, and we are all tired, but it has been rewarding and inspirational at times to see just how adaptable, resilient and wonderful the young people we teach are. The profession needs to look back on this time with immense pride at what we have achieved in a short space of time. The media and, at times, your own government would have you believe that this would be a generation lost to education. It is an easy narrative to push and it is one that plays on parents’ anxieties. I’m confident they won’t be for two reasons – their own abilities and those of the teachers who care for them.

So, a lot has changed. Schools look a little more normal, the routines have been established and risk assessments are working out. In terms of job satisfaction, as we move into Christmas, I feel it is high. My team have worked wonders and I can evidence we had caught up the missed 15 weeks within 6 weeks of being back, for some children.

However, my pride is tinged with disappointment. Disappointment, that despite how much has changed, there are still fundamental things that remain the same. These things are not deficiencies in schools or staff, but deficiencies at the very top. The DfE is there to support a profession. Yes, to hold it to account, yes to lead the way on policy, but ultimately to be there for us and stand up for us. This is where nothing has changed. I feel unsupported and unvalued by the Department.

Still I step into holidays waiting for the extra workload that more guidance will bring.
Still I work against decisions that smack of trying to people please rather than being thought through.
Still I learn information through the media rather than through the department.
Still I try and reassure a staff team that want certainty but get anything but.
Still I have to bring together an anxious parent body.
Still I have to look inept when parents ask me questions to which I have no answers as no details have ben forthcoming beyond the headlines.

It seems as though we are actively being worked against. I cannot fathom why decisions are made as such late notice. That make no acknowledgement that things are changing because of a previous misjudgement. I could accept that a lot easier than the pretence that it was always this way and I must have interpreted previous information wrongly. You must have received many letters such as this, and been given plenty of feedback to this effect. Why has no action been taken or improvement been visible. Despite the claims you make about your respect and gratitude for the profession and what we have done I see nothing but a Department which holds us in contempt. A Department that takes for granted the good nature of the profession and their willingness to make things work and a department that does not speak for me. Trust is a huge part of leadership and without it, leaders cannot function. It has saddened me to see my trust in you being eroded over the past months. I have long held the view that as a state funded school I should try my best to carry out the wishes of the DfE, but I have become more and more disillusioned with this as time has passed.

So, I feel pride, not in conjunction with the Department on a job well done, but pride in myself, my team and the wider profession for what we have achieved in spite of the Department.

As I said, I am disappointed. I go into Christmas with yet more breaking news stories and unknowns as we move forward. Conflicting messaging and plans that have little or no regard for how schools run. I will be spending this time reflecting positively on what I have achieved in education this term. I would ask that you do the same, and genuinely reflect on whether your Department has done the best it could for not only the children in its care but the thousands of staff it represents?

Christmas is about giving, and I will continue to give my all for the children in my care – not because of anything I feel is done for me by the department and no longer through any sense of loyalty, but because as always, the children come first and we will do our best for them, despite hindrances in our path.

No – It’s Not Just You

This half term has been tough.

The swing of moods from the highs of having the children back to the energy sapping routines. The mental drain of having to overthink everything. Be in no doubt, this has been the hardest half term of my career. My energy levels have been so low and I’ve found myself at time consumed with all things Covid risk assessing things all the time – even when I’m out and about with my family! The act of supporting others often can leave me feeling drained myself and often as head, there isn’t necessarily someone to come in and give you that pick me up you might need. I’ve been on the verge of tears, I’ve been angry, I’ve been short with people, I’ve been fed up, I’ve been irrational, I’ve taken it out on my family, I’ve been distant and I’ve been sad.

But this isn’t a woe is me story.

The point of this blog is to let people know that it is absolutely fine to feel like this. It’s normal to feel like this. It’s OK to feel like this. Of course we will be feeling under pressure – we are under a lot of pressure. As well as the normal teaching we have everything else to think about at the moment – the cleaning, the coughing, the bubbles.

I wrote this blog to let people know that you are not alone in how you feel. There are plenty of other people feeling exactly the same way as you and I are and there are plenty of other people who want someone to talk to about it. When we feel at our most stressed is often when we shut down the most and become insular and stop letting it out. Now is not the time to start doing that. Now is the time to do the exact opposite. Open up to people and let them know how you are feeling because the chances are they are feeling the exact same way as you. Keeping it inside isn’t a show of strength and letting it out isn’t a show of weakness. No one will think less of you if you say you are struggling. Most likely they will say “Do you know what? Me too”. As cliched as it is, a problem shared can be a problem halved. I often feel heaps better after just talking my day through with my wife. Find someone you can do that with. It might be online, it might be in person after school each day (just stay 2m apart, clearly) but it’ll help.

You are not alone in the way you are feeling this term, and you don’t have to get through it alone either. Someone else is struggling with the same emotions and together you can work out a way through it. This isn’t to minimise how we feel – just maybe a way to help us all get through it together.

Last week I wrote a tweet about what we’ve achieved so far this term,.:

Reintegrated children to school
Rebuilt your relationships with them
Rebuilt their relationships with each other
Eased their anxieties
Assessed their learning
Started to rebuild what they’ve missed
Moved them forward
Kept them feeling safe
Reassured them
Comforted them
Reassured their parents
Rebuilt their structures and routine
Laughed with them
Reminded them how great school can be
Engaged them again

And this all true. But we need to make sure we aren’t doing this at any cost. We’ve got to make sure we look after ourselves too. We can achieve huge amounts this year, but we’ve got to look after ourselves first and, for me, the first step of this is telling someone else how we are feeling.

So if you’re feeling like it is getting too much, then talk to someone. Don’t feel like you are on your own – because you’re not. Don’t feel like you have to deal with it by yourself – because you don’t.

Strength is not found in solitude – it’s found in community. It’s found in compassion and empathy and you’ll find it in bucketloads from people – just ask them.

Governance – the best CPD you can get

Governors – the unseen being that hovers over a school setting. The mystical people that come in after hours and make decisions that affect teachers day to day workload. That group that gets the reports and sits and takes everyone to task. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my experience anyway. Meetings are held in the evening out of necessity mostly and their role in strategic, not operational so you porbably won’t find them popping in and out of your classroom every week to find out how you are teaching the children. Governors can make or break a headteacher in many ways. They are there for support, challenge and accountability and the interaction between this group and the headteacher is key and this then trickles down to the rest of the staff and school. The people filling these roles are volunteers, giving time and effort to the school because they want to help, not because they want to hinder. They are dedicated, professional and committed to making the school a better place for the pupils.

But, there is one governor role that is also key. Staff governor. I am convinced, that if you are interested in leadership this is by far the best CPD on offer. It’s free, detailed and gives you an insight into the way schools are managed like nothing else. I became a staff governor in my third year of teaching and have been involved in governing bodies ever since. It was an absolute eye opener to me. So much goes on, that as a class teacher, you have no idea about. So where does it start?

Full Governing Body

These meetings are were everyone comes together and the agenda is very set. Mainly there will be things that are covered at every meeting and are always there. For example strategic management – the report of the headteacher, the SEF and the School development Plan. Just sitting in one of these opened my eyes hugely. It seemed to go past in a blur of topics and questions, each one for the headteacher to elaborate on. Through the headteacher’s report and the questions being asked I started thinking about things I had never considered before with the behind the scenes part of school life. This is the stuff the leadership get on with and no-one knows about. Mostly, teachers don’t need to know about it, but if you are interested in leadership yourself you are going to need knowledge in these areas. While the Full Governing Body meeting is usually just an overview of what has happened in the last term the committee meetings are where the detail happens.

Committees

These are made of a sub-section of all the governors and can vary in number and purpose based on the size of the school. They will look at specific areas of school life – Finance, Health and Safety, Pay, Curriculum, Communications, Resources. There are also commitees that don’t need unless they need to, like pupil and staff discipline and exclusions. These meetings go into much more detail about the finer points of running the school. Let’s take curriculum. Often a data report will be presented with the school’s current position in each year group and progress towards the targets set at the start of the year. If you feel like you haven’t got a great understanding of how assessment and reporting works in a Key Stage different to yours this is a great learning experience. The questionning can be thought provoking too. The governors come at it from a position of not knowing individuals and being a step away from school life. They can have a different view and teachers may not have thought of. Great learning experience.

Some committees you will have had no experience of whats involved as a teacher. If leadership is for you, get yourself on the finance commitee. This is like a whole other world, but key to being a leader within a school. I felt so much more comfortable going into headship with 8 years of finance committee behind me as I knew the systems, knew how the spreadsheets looked and where the money came in and out. Once I was a governor I was also able to shadow the headteacher more and offer to help in school. Budget setting coming up? Do you want a hand with that? As I had some knowledge I could be of help and learn about it at the same time. Health and Safety was the same. So many things I hadn’t thought about – legionella testing and reporting being just one of them.

It also gives you a chance to take on a project you might not normally get chance to. For example, when on a comms committee I was able to head up a new drive for online parental engagement – really great experience and helped the school out as well.

Yes, it takes time.

The evening meetings can be a drag, if that is how your school works. You do need to put the time into it to read the documentation properly. It will eat into your time and give you more work, but the amunt of professional development I got from it was absolutely huge. The value to effort ratio was incredibly high.

As a head having a staff governor alongside me is really helpful too. I get a lot of questions thrown at me every meeting and someone who can chip in and help out when I forget things is brilliant.

As well as lot of personal gain you are also getting to help shape the future of the school. Yes governors make decisions, but they are informed by the head and staff who present them. They will ask questions, they will challenge but it is our job to keep them as well informed as possible and this is another great learning experience. How do you communicate that vision and that idea to people who are not necessarily educationalists?

So, if you are interested in being a school leader and you want to take some first steps into finding out how it all works – governance is the only way to go. You’ll get to meet some great people, having great conversations, impact positively on the school and learn an awful lot along the way. No brainer.

Making the Most of Your Teaching Practice

Soon, trainees everywhere will be making their steps into new schools for new placements. It can be daunting, scary and thrilling all at the same time. All of mine were so different in terms of scope, demographic and age group and they were all excellent learning experiences. These are my top tips for making the most of them:

1. Get your key information

I was told by my uni to the there at 7:15 on the first day. Not a soul in sight. The head arrived about 20minutes later asking what on earth I was doing there! Instead of making a good impression I felt like a wally. Make contact first if possible and set up that relationship with the school straight away. When I’ve had students in I’ve always been more impressed by the ones that ask questions before rather than turning up on the morning with no idea what’s coming up.

2. Watch, watch and then watch some more.

The first few weeks are observation based. Watch the teacher like a hawk. You’ll need to adopt and use the strategies they have in place as far as possible. What cues do they use? What routines do they have? How do they move children from place to place? How do they set up the room ready to go? Most of those things, teachers do without thinking and may not explain them to you so get a sense of it yourself and talk it through with the teacher. They may not have even realised you’re doing it.

3. Ask questions

The teacher you’re working with will be expecting questions. Don’t be scared of asking them, even if they seem silly to you. This is learning experience, and you need to treat it as such. Of course you are anxious to impress and show you can teach, but asking questions will make it all the easier to do that. Your tutor and mentor is there to go through things with you – they are there to help you. Don’t worry about taking up their time, they signed up to work with you so use their experience as much as you can. Go through your plans, sound people out with your ideas, get their opinion over whether they think it will work or not. How might they tweak it?

4. You won’t get it right all the time

Some lessons will be great, some will be terrible. That’s why you’re there. It happens to experienced teacher so it’s bound to happen to you as well. Don’t feel down, you won’t have ruined a child’s education with that one lesson, almost everything is fixable. The whole point of this is that it is a learning experience so use it like that. Talk it though, get opinion on what went wrong and what went right. Take the successes and bank them, but remember the same thing doesn’t work every time. This time is the time to find out what kind of teacher you are so use it for that. No one will be expecting you to be a fully functional class teacher – everyone is there to help you not hinder you.

5. Enjoy it

It’s a brilliant time when out on practice. I still remember the schools and kids from when I went out and they impact they had on me. The development you make as a teacher in the space of 4-8 weeks is huge. You’ll almost certainly be doing a better job then you give yourself credit for, so enjoy being with the kids, enjoy making staff relationships and enjoy learning.

Ah, Secretary of State, it’s time for your appraisal.

PM: Aah, Secretary of State, come on in, come on in, sit down. 

SoS: Thanks, Prime Minister, good to be here.

PM: Let’s get on with it shall we? How do you think this last year has gone?

SoS: Well, I think we made a strong start last September. The children went to school, their teachers taught them, and everything went very smoothly. 

PM: Brilliant, just super, excellent work, Secretary of State. How about after that?

SoS: As you know, these have been unprecedented times. I think all things considered we’ve done a good job keeping things going, you know. 

PM: It was shame we had to close schools wasn’t it. 

SoS: Yes, but you know we just had to do it. I think the three day’s notice we gave everyone that they needed to get remote learning up and running was ample and really gave the profession a good lead in to getting their head around what they would need to do.

PM: Yes, that was good thinking, plenty of time three days. 

SoS: After that we went into guidance mode. I was particularly proud of how we reacted to the ever-changing situation by actively ensuring that we kept our guidance up to date and revising it often to reflect the science of what was happening. We also made sure we hit the publish button as soon as we’d finished it so headteachers could have it as soon as possible, even if that meant sending it out at midnight, or on weekends and bank holidays. I think that was appreciated. 

PM: I’m sure it was, having as much time as possible to plan your way forward is vital. How did you know that the changes were being acted on – did you mark them in some way?

SoS: No, this was the brilliant bit, we didn’t! We made sure they would have to read the whole thing again and find the differences themselves. That means they HAD to read it and would definitely have found the differences, then they could effectively re-write their plans. 

PM: I don’t know how you do it Secretary of State, leadership at its finest. 

SoS: Thank you, Prime Minister.

PM: And how do you think the partial reopening went?

SoS: Well, we made sure we only communicated our hope for all children to return so we couldn’t be accused of not meeting a target. 

PM: Achieved, well done.

SoS: I will admit, I did make one error, I said on radio that it had always been the plan to return on the 1stJune, instead of sticking to the line that it would be decided by science, sorry. 

PM: Not too worry, I’m sure no-one noticed.

SoS: Anyway, when it came to July and we were being pushed to let more children back, we knew the science didn’t really support it, so we decide that we’d let headteachers decide, but then give them some really stringent criteria that would make it almost impossible to achieve. 

PM: Well done, not our fault if it doesn’t happen then? 

SoS: Exactly. 

PM: And after that?

SoS: Well then we turned our focus to September. Instead of wasting time writing separate guidance for different settings, we wrote one for all and left it up to school leaders to make it fit.

PM: Well done on saving department time and money. Efficiency savings are what it’s all about. 

SoS: We’ve not really changed it much after that – apart from the masks bit, but again – we’ve left it up to leaders. That way we can take the credit if it works, but not the blame if it goes wrong.

PM: Now, can we turn our attention to exams?

SoS: Of course, Prime Minister. I am happy to report this has been a record year for results. The impact of our education strategy over the last several years has been incredible. 

PM: Excellent. What about the issue of the CAGs and grading?

SoS: We can only go on what the experts tell us Prime Minister. We have to trust them. As you know, we can’t be expected to have full understanding – just oversight. I trusted the algorithm and those that had put it together – it can’t be my fault if that trust was misplaced. 

PM: Indeed, your integrity should be applauded. We shall move on those responsible to another department. Overall, I think you’ve met all your Key performance Indicators, Secretary of State. Standards? Up. Response to crisis? Swift and decisive, giving plenty of time to stakeholders. Communication? First class, lots of updated information so headteachers have everything at their fingertips. Keep up the good work Secretary of State. I’ll see you next year. 

Dear Mr Williamson

Let me begin by saying that the last 6 months has been an undoubtedly difficult time. What has occurred has not been seen in 100 years and difficult decisions have had to be made – life changing decisions, unenviable decisions and often impossible decisions. I understand that and very few people would want to be in a government position at this time.

However, this isn’t about decisions, on the whole. Closing schools was, in my opinion, the right decision as was reopening them. What this is about is everything that has gone alongside your decision. When I say ‘your’, this is not an individual attack as I am well aware that you alone do not make the Department for Education policy single handed, in much the same way that I don’t decide the content of the lessons that the teachers in my school will deliver on a day to day basis. However – when something goes wrong it is my neck on the line and you, as leader of the department are in the same situation.

The word unprecedented had been correctly, although over, used. However, in unprecedented times you need the most precedented of characteristics – honesty, humility and transparency. This is where my angst lies. These seem to have been missing in abundance over the last few months. A few examples:

Firstly we were told there is no set date for schools to return – then in a radio interview you stated it had always been the plan to reopen on 1st June. Second we were given guidance that social distancing was required in classrooms where possible. Schools followed this to the letter and separated tables. The DFE Twitter account retweeted pictures of classrooms for all ages set out in this way, the Prime Minister visited classrooms set out in this way. The message was very clear this was approved of. Then a blog post says it is unnecessary. Yes, by the letter of the guidance this may have been true but the content of the post was very much in contradiction of what had been publicly endorsed. A gentler approach would have been appreciated rather than ‘You’ve got this wrong, and it’s not our fault, you didn’t read the guidance properly.’. Then we had Free Schools Meals and the issues surrounding the issuing of this, but also the availability of these to the most disadvantaged during the most difficult of times.

Over this time I have seen the profession I love pilloried in the press, time and time again. This has come from many different angles and for a host of different reasons. We have been thanked – in the broadest terms, but we have not been defended. There has been no impassioned and detailed rebuttal from government at some of the spurious lies that have been circulated about teachers and the profession during this time. In my opinion, the unions response, at times, may have seemed obstructive – but this is their job. Keeping members safe is what they do. At a time when Parliament was not meeting, children and teachers were supposed to do so? I believe Jacob Rees-Mogg made a very similar comment. Teachers were not front line workers. Our level of risk was not the same as some. But no other profession received such vitriol for the work they did during the course of lockdown. When a staunch defender was needed – none came.

Then of course, the guidance itself. In parts, this was useful, helpful and gave a structure to work too. I appreciated it. I did not appreciate the number of revisions and updates. This made it unworkable. This was not an unforeseen circumstance. With every update (without changes highlighted, adding to workload) came a review of thousands of words of documents. It became a folly, it added stress, and the timing of these updates was often at short notice and late in the day. A lot of the content of these were things school leaders could see would need addressing a long way off, yet guidance was received late and was open to such interpretation that in places it became useless. It was not helpful for leaders or parents. These parents assumed we had foresight of information released to the press. Many were stunned that we found out information at the same time as them. It could easily make us look uninformed and unprepared through no fault of our own. Again, this is before we get on to leaks of documents and policy days before they become official – causing more stress and worry for parents and school staff.

Up to this point, the majority of these shortcomings affected school staff. We worked through them and did the best we could and the provision we made for the children enabled learning. We welcomed them back where we could and we settled them in to new routines. Then came the exam results. Now isn’t just leaders and teachers being affected – now it’s the children themselves. For all the talk of appeals (which themselves have been the subject of u-turns and climb downs) the level of emotional stress placed on this students has been huge. When I collected my results I underachieved because I didn’t work hard enough. That’s was one me. This time underachievement is on an algorithm and that’s too much to take. There may have been no good way to sort qualifications – and was argued this was the best solution. It is clear it is not. It showed shortsightedness and a lack of trust in teachers. But then we come back to transparency again. All of this comes to light just hours before results are released and then gets reviewed in the light of a public backlash. If there was faith in this system at a Department level then surely decision needs to be stuck with? And if there isn’t then why is an apology not forthcoming? If I get it wrong – I say so. I don’t just make the changes – I front up to it and admit my mistakes and in my opinion this garners a greater level of respect.

So, we come back to leadership. Humility, honesty and transparency. I have seen little of these attributes during this time. Admittedly, this not an affliction solely borne by the Department for Education, it has been widespread. I am adamant that a leader needs trust to work properly and what has happened over the last 6 months has eroded this trust from the profession to nearly zero. I work in a Local Authority school. I understand that I should do what I am told by the DFE because ultimately they set the rules and this is what I will always try to do. However, it’s getting harder and harder to justify, defend and respect given recent events.

It won’t change what happens in my school. We will still give everything for the children, do what’s best for them and put them first. On a national level, there is unrest. On a local level, little will change. On a personal level – I feel unsupported, and have had my faith and trust eroded. As we go into a new school year, full of unknowns and uncertainty I know where I can go for my support, and unfortunately it is not the branch of government designed to do exactly that.

Why Do I Trust?

We see a lot of values in schools now. This will always be high on my personal list. It is so powerful and can be an absolute game-changer in so many ways. I’ve already written a blog on how to build trust as a leader, but this will dig a little deeper into why it is so important. 

When we are young, we trust everything. It’s born in us, it is innate. As a toddler you don’t question whether what you’re being told is true, you accept it. Many times my children have asked me all sorts of complicated questions, and when I’ve given the best answer I can they just give a nod and move on. They don’t try to see the holes in what I’ve said, they accept it. When they are high up in a tree and stuck, they ask for help. When I put my arms out for them to fall into there is absolutely no question in their mind that I am going to catch them – they have definitive blind trust in me.

As an adult, we don’t have this blind sense of trust. Things happen that can chip away at it. These might just be small things, or they might be huge, but each one of them can chip away a little more wearing it down until it is gone and we find it hard to rely on anyone or trust what they say or do. However, sometimes it can be lost in an instant. Brand loyalty can be swept away with one bad press story. A bad meal at a restaurant and you may never return. Something that is so precious and means so much can be lost in an instant. 

That’s why it is so important we do all we can to cultivate an atmosphere of trust within our schools. I am a trusting person. You don;t need to earn my trust – you have it straight away. My first instinct is to give someone my trust and assume they are worthy of it, not to doubt them and have them prove themselves. This is the same for the way we run our school. My first reaction is to assume that a teacher is doing their job properly. I trust them to be working hard for the kids and doing the right thing by them. I trust them to be planning a series of lessons that follow on from each other, I trust they are marking their books. This doesn’t mean there is no accountability though, it doesn’t mean there aren’t high standards, far from it. It just means that I won’t be on someone like a ton of bricks right from day one, checking they are doing everything to the letter of our policies. We set out as staff our own definition of good teaching and what learning might look like. It’s broad, it doesn;t specify a right and wrong way of doing things, it just outlines principles to work to. How teachers fulfil those is up to them – I trust them to do it in the best way they can. It’s the same with our feedback policy. Pick the way that works best for that child, or for that lesson and do it. I trust you’ll make a good choice. 

I monitor, of course, I do, but not from a position of having to check everything at once. I am visible, I walk in and out of lessons and I know what is happening in the school. I have a chat with the children, I’ll have a flick through their books while I’m in (if they’ve got them out). I will assume that everything is going well, and these little five minute visits confirm this. If I see something that causes me concern then I will dig deeper and check that my trust is still well placed. Usually, it is. This level of trust gives teachers the freedom to get on with their job and focus on that rather than having to jump through hoops to try and guess what it is I want to see. They are professionals and I trust their judgement.  This builds a reciprocal trust. I trust them to do their job, they trust me to do mine. We help each other and we support each other with this as a team. I’m not a micro-manager. I’m not going to dictate what colour display’s have to be, or how many stars and wish they might want to use or insist on seeing planning every day or week, or look at books in a formal collection every half term. All of those things scream lack of trust. They just say “I don’t trust you to do these things unless I am checking up on you all the time.”. Trusting people does not lead to apathy, quite the opposite. Trusting people means they do things for the right reasons, rather than through fear of being caught out if they don’t do them. 

It can go further than this though. Assume that people will do a good job. Trust people with responsibility and watch them go. Of course, they may need support, but more often than not, people rise to the challenge rather than shrinking away. Very few people want to do a bad job or deliberately set out to be lazy. If you ask someone to prepare and deliver staff meeting training on their subject – trust them to do it well. Offer to help, offer to review, offer to support but give them the trust. I have been subject to an overbearing leader who asked me to deliver something, but then rewrote every draft I submitted and checked in daily on the content. It wasn’t because the content was bad – just the need of that leader to control. One head I worked for used to re-write everyone’s reports if she didn’t agree with them. As a teacher it made me feel like there was no point in working at it, the leader in question was just going to change it to what they wanted to put anyway. My thought process was ”Why don’t they just do it themselves then?”. It was a fake trust. Have this responsibility, but I don’t actually want to give this over to you. It didn’t lead to productive or enthusiastic use of my time, it just led to frustration. Why would you want frustrated teachers in an environment? I have very rarely been let down by people I have trusted with responsibility in school – in fact, people have shown themselves to do an even better job tan might have been expected. 

How we interact with each other and how we trust each other, just breeds a stronger sense of trust in the school. Once you have that, new people coming in instantly get on board – it becomes thy way things are done. It models trust for the children in our care, and that can be no bad thing. 

We need to hang on to that child like trust just a little bit longer. You don’t have to make people earn your trust – it is yours to give away as you chose. Seeing the good in people rarely brings out the worst in them. Being trusted gives a sense of wellbeing, it makes you feel good, it makes you walk taller and it brings out the best in people. Why wouldn’t you give people that?

Why Do I Rest?

This one is all about why I feel the need to strike the right work life balance. I am no good to anyone if I’m burned out, exhausted and stressed out. I’m ratty, shorter with people and my family end up bearing the brunt of it. This is the one I particularly feel guilty about. The don’t see me all day, and then when I do get home I’m very grumpy and generally not very responsive.

If I don’t get the balance right, then this just gets worse and worse and worse. So I have to make sure that I take the right amount of rest. This is easier at some times of year than the others. Firstly, I have to accept that there will be busier times and times where the amount of work that I have to do, and the amount of time I have to spend in school is out of my control. Fortunately, there is usually a pattern to them, and I can plan and prepare myself for them. I can warn my family too. The other flip side of this is that I can make sure I’ve been sensible in the run up to them.

Over the years I’ve had to develop a sense of leaving things be and working out when I’ve given enough time to something. I make sure I am home to have dinner with my kids every day as much as possible. I try to leave by 1730 each day. I make no excuses for that, and I said it would be happening at my interview. Of course, things come up and it doesn’t always happen, but giving myself that cut off really helps my work life balance. I may carry on after the kids are in bed, but I may not. What it does do though, is show my priorities to my staff. I always say that family comes first, and I have to show that myself as well. Sometimes I don’t achieve it. My wife always tells me that when I don’t come to events like class assemblies for our kids. She says “Would you let of your staff go?”. The answer is yes, I would. She rightly asks me why I don’t afford myself that same right. That balance of rest and work is absolutely vital.

I always work on the things I have to do first. And I mean absolutely have to do. The things that are urgent for the next day. Once I’ve done those, I then look and see what capacity I have for other things. If this is none, then so be it. You have to know when to stop for the day, otherwise you’d be working all hours. There are always things you have to do, more you should do and countless things you could do. Working out what needs doing and making your plans accordingly is vital for your own piece of mind.

Delegating is also key. It’s easy to get into the frame of mind of you want a job doing properly… but that is dangerous. You can’t do everything. That’s why you have a team, to help share the load. No one thinks worse of you for using the team you’ve built. Giving more responsibility to others can only help them grow too – just make sure they’ve got all the tools to do the job properly.

Downtime, for me, is key. The thinking doesn’t always stop, but the screen time and the writing does. It lets ideas mature and find their own way to conclusion a lot of the time, without the pressure of having a blank screen or a form to fill in. I play computer games, I play my guitar and I get away from work. It means I come to things the next day fresh and ready. That’s good for me, and good for the rest of my team as well. Often headteachers are the last three be asked about their well-being and can out everyone else’s before their own. We have to look after ourselves and make sure we are having the time to refresh ourselves – even if this is just overnight. The day yo day is so intense, the decisions, the knocks at the door, the responsibility that you can be drained at the end of the day, so the rest each evening is vital.

Why do I rest? Because if I didn’t, everyone suffers in one way or another.