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.

Why Do I Lead?

So, following on from the first in the series about why I teach, now we move onto why I lead.

My journey into leadership was quick, I was a head at 31. I’m not going to get into the in ands out of whether people should be in headship roles at that age – it has its advantages and disadvantages, and for me in my context, I felt it was the right step to take. I was interested in school leadership right from my second year of teaching. I had just been made Maths leader and it was around the time the new national strategies needed implenting. We also had an Ofsted inspection and the data was in a bit of a state during day one. I’d been playing around with average point scores, which the current head hadn’t really looked at. As a result I spent my PPA time that afternoon working through the Year 6 targets and expected APS with the dep head and then presetning it to the inspector to show we would hit the APS for next year. We secured a satisfactory judgement, and I like to think I had a little part in that. From then on, I was just nosy about how things worked in school. That fuelled my journey to headship – I simply wanted to know what was going on and why. That desire to know meant I asked questions, which meant I found at things I wouldn’t otherwise have. The more I found out the more I wanted to know, and the more I wanted my say on what I was finding out!

So why do I lead? There are a few reasons. Firstly, as with many heads I saw ways of working that I didn’t want to emulate. I have worked in schools where the key word has been relentless. It didn’t make for a great working atmosphere and had a high turnover of staff. Work life balance was non-existent, and I knew that was something I would try not to do if I became a head. Another head made no bones about who she rated and who she didn’t. If she didn’t think you were up to much, she made sure everyone knew. Again, not a great working atmosphere. I think I lead because I want to try and be the head I wish I had when I was a teacher. Calm, but still maintaining high expectations. Making it about professional judgements and trying my best not to blur those into personal ones. Trusting people to do their jobs properly.

The other reason I lead is to make a difference. In the teaching part of this series I mentioned the same thing. Leadership is making a difference in a different way though. Leadership is about making sure that other people have all they need to be able to make a difference too. When I was a class teacher I had a direct impact on the children in my class, as a leader I can have an impact on more children by helping to create an environment where the teachers can make the biggest difference.

This is the crux of leadership for me and why I do it. It would be (relatively) easy for me to get all my files and folders in a line in my office, and make sure I could answer all the questions I might be asked in the right way. However, that would just be me looking after myself and making sure I was OK. That’s not what leadership is about. Leadership isn’t telling people where to go and then walking in front of them directing. Leadership is about working towards a goal together. If I have everything OK in my head, but teachers are struggling, not enjoying their work, or not having them impact they could be then I have to look at myself. Am I doing everything I can to help them do that? Leadership isn’t about putting yourself first, it’s about putting yourself last a lot of the time.

I also like the problem solving part of the job. For all the frustration the guidance arounf re-opening brings part of me likes to get hold of it and work through it seeing what we can and can’t do, ticking off things as we’ve managed to solve that particular problem.

Of course, leadership is frustrating too. You can’t always have the impact you want, but again that is a time for self reflection – why didn’t it go how I wanted? Getting feedback from others is so helpful, that’s why a good deputy, and some other trusted collegues can make all the difference. It can be a lonely job and there is a lot on your shoulders that no-one else can bear sometimes. It’s not always that way though. I have no problem being transparent with staff and parents aout why and how I have made a decision. Getting that input from other people makes all the difference in feeling like you are not on your own.

So, why do I lead? I lead so I can reflect on my own decisions and I lead to make a difference. I lead because I get to help people, hopefully, become better teachers and help them to make more of a difference.

Why Do I Teach?

Why do I teach? I’ve never actually asked myself that question. That’s because teaching had been what I wanted to do since I was 11. I’d never really questioned the why of it because it just seemed to be a natural progression for me, decided in my head early on. It wasn’t due to one particular teacher (although I had some great ones), it wasn’t that it was in the family (my mum started teaching after I’d decided I wanted to do it) and at 11 it wasn’t from a sense of wanting to do good for others. The path I wanted to take changed – initially I wanted to be a secondary Maths teacher. I was merrily going along my way until I got to A Level Maths beyond me completely. By then I’d already decided I wanted to go into primary, so it wasn’t the end of the world. Through my A levels all I wanted was to get the grades I needed into my teacher training course. That was a bit of a theme of my time in secondary education – just doing enough to get through to the next bit. It didn’t serve me overly well, and it continued in some ways into my degree. I always loved the teaching and hated the reading and the paperwork. I’m still very similar now. Anyway, at the grand old age of 21 I qualified and got my first job. As I’ve gone through my career though I’ve been thinking more about why it is that I do what I do and why I love it so much. There’s been far too much negativity about teachers in the press so recently. Very few see it as just a job and maybe give more than they should to it, to the detriment of their own families sometimes.

So why do I teach?

I get to make a difference

The thing I love about primary is that you are there at the start. Everything we teach them are the building blocks of everything they will do from then on. If we don’t do our jobs, then others can’t do theirs. We give them the basic skills they need to take on the world in their later life. If we don’t teach them to add up, to read, to love what they do then they can’t build on it. What an amazing thing to say you’ve had a hand in. We help them with the key knowledge they need, and there aren’t many jobs where you can say you’ve had that kind of impact on someone and we get to do it day in and day out.

You get wow moments everyday

Alongside the bigger picture of what we are teaching then we get to see, every day that moment of realisation, that moment where the penny drops, and they understand. The moment where they conquer their fear of something, they widen their understanding or become better in some way. Again, we see this on a daily basis. The little squeals of delight, the little jumps for joy, the swagger you see a child walk back to their desk with when they’ve done a good job. We see them walking that little bit taller, holding their head a little bit higher and know that we have been part of that.

This is a job that is never boring

I can honestly say that no two days of my working life have been the same. I can teach the same lesson twice and it’ll be different. Each class and each lesson are so varied and has the potential to go in so many different directions. That’s not scary, it’s exciting. The best lessons are often the ones that didn’t go were you planed then to and you end up on a completely different tangent. Every second of the day has the potential to make you laugh, smile, well up or feel frustrated. I’ve never been bored in a classroom. There’s so much to do, so many conversations to be had and so much fun to be had as well.

There’s always an opportunity to learn

I’m not a big reader of education books. I don’t invest too much time in the craft of teaching and try not to over think things. But learning as a teacher can be so simple. A snatches conversation can have a profound impact on what you do in the next session. Watching what someone else does can improve your own teaching hugely. There are so many subtleties to it, that little tweaks can make big differences. There is always the chance to try something new and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out – fine, you’ve learned something new either way. CPD can be easy for teachers, and relatively little effort. Watch, learn and try it out.

It’s an awful lot of fun

I have countless tales off things that have happened in the classroom. Things that have gone disastrously wrong. Things children have said that have just made me cry laughing. Snatched looks a TAs that have meant one of us have had to leave the room to compose ourselves. That’s just working with the kids. I’ve come across so many amazing people during my career and been fortunate to learn from them. It’s a profession packed full of generosity, support and care. People are happy to give you their time, share their resources and help you out when you need it.

It’s not all plain sailing

It’s not easy though. In fact, it’s downright difficult. There are moments of exhaustion and times where things feel like they are too much. It’s during those times that I remember all of the above. The lows make the highs stand out. Things aren’t always enjoyable if they are easy. We always say it to the children – the learning pit and all that. We push ourselves to do better, as a profession we are modest and hard on ourselves. But when you look back at the bigger picture you see just why you do it.

I do it for every smile.
For every child that has made progress.
For every belly laugh in a class.
For every arm around the shoulder I’ve given and been given.
For every child who looked at me like I was crazy.
For every time I’ve felt proud of each one of them.
For all the children who I hear are excelling in their secondary school.
For me and my dream as an 11-year-old.
To make a difference.

That is why I teach.

Thriving September

For some, September will feel like it is crashing towards them and with it will come a wave of excitement and nerves. Planning for your first class and first term can be a mix of eagerness and dread – you want the day to come, but perhaps are feeling that imposter syndrome creeping on. Maybe you’re doing this for the second time round and it still feels new or you want it to be differnet this time around. Here are some suggestions for surviving that first or second September.

Setting Up

There are lots of pictures doing the rounds at the moment of classrooms ready for September. They look amazing and wonderful spaces. A few things to remember though – they are a small proportion of classrooms. The vast majority don’t look like that. Most of them look like what you would expect a classroom to look like. Mine never looked that good – but the children were still happy, comfortable and learning. In the same way a school isn’t a building, it’s a community reliant on it’s members and the ethos within it, a classroom is the same. It’s the people in it and the values and community they build that is important. If yours isn’t ready yet, don’t worry. Also these classrooms may be the culmination of years experience, of trying things out and collecting bits and pieces to put up and use. By all means, use these as inspiration but don’t feel you have to create someting the same.

You might not have been able to get into your school yet to set up. Thats not unusual either. Hopefully you’ve got some time where you can go in at the end of the holidays. But what does the set up look like? This year things are different – there isn’t the flexibility for table arrangements and the likes, so that is one less thing to consider. The key to it is getting it neat and tidy and having everything the children might need easily accessible. Need rulers? They should be able to get to them without disturbing anyone else, including you. Same for all the resources. It is there space too, and they should be able to use it as such. Clearly label everything so it’s easy for the children to spot and read and have it in a sensible place.

Display’s can be empty in September. You don’t need to populate them with stuff just because it is bare. Talk to your school – they may have things that insist on you having and then ask if they are any templates for these – that might make it easier. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel (more on this later). Get your backing paper up as a minimum and spend the first week creating something to go up. If you’re using working walls, they can be blank and be waiting to be filled.

Planning and Resourcing

As I have said, don’t reinvent the wheel. Find what has been done before and use this as a starting point. There is nothing wrong with schemes, textbooks and online banks as a resource. If they are exactly what you are looking for – use it. If it needs tweaking, tweak it. If you are gong to create everything from scratch then you’ll be doing much more than you need to. Somethings will need this, others won’t. Again use your common sense and focus your energies where it is needed the most. Talk to people in your school, get last years planning and most importantly, ask for help. This won’t be seen as a sign of weakness, much the opposite. No one knows it all at any point and no one expects you to either. The key bit here – use what is there as a starting point and tweak accordingly.

Planning is a tricky one as everyone has their own style. Some schools want full weekly plans, other are happy for you to work from your own notes. Find out and work to it, but more than anything do it in a way that works for you. If you need a full script for every lesson for the first few weeks – fine! If you are happy to plan by using the bones of a lesson and working round it – fine again! The important part is being clear about what you want the children to learn and trying to find the best way of getting that across. Sometimes that’ll be getting up and talking. Sometimes it won’t. Sometimes they’ll lead it, sometimes they won’t. There is no right or wrong way to deliver a lesson – your a professional, use your judgement. If it goes wrong – learn from it for next time.

Day One

Beaming faces eagerly await you on the playground! There is bound to be nerves on both sides. That’s good – it means you care. The most important thing is building relationships. Teachers who can build good relationships will get far better outcomes than those that can’t. Have in your head what their routine will be when they come in and explain this to them beforehand on the playgrond if you can. Be explicit. We’re going to walk in quietly, hang our bags up and then come into the classroom. Find your table and sit down, then have a look at the board – there is a little puzzle for yuo to have a go at while we get settled in. This isn’t strict, this isn’t harsh – it’s setting out your expectations in a calm matter of fact way. As they come in, position yourself in the middle of the line and give a few positive reinforcement comments to those who are doing exactly what has been asked of them.

Forget the don’t smile until Christmas rubbish. You’re human, let them see it. That doesn’t mean you can’t have boundaries and high expectations. Kindess and high standards are not mutually exclusive. Have in your head what you want their behaviour to be like. Are they allowed to whisper to the person next to them? Can they get up and get something without asking? Do they need to put their hand up everytime? Can they approach you or should they wait for you to come to them? Read your school’s behaviour policy and clarify it once again for the children. Let them explain it to you – “I’m new here, I know a bit about this, but can you explain it for me in more detail?”. If it is a rainbow type system discuss what might have you moving through it and hey presto you’ve got you’re class charter of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, all led by the children.Try to keep it simple though – I only had two rules – try you’re best and don’t stop others learning. The most important thing is to be consistent in your expectations. Set your boundaries and what happens if people set outside of those – each school will have their own version of any consequences for behaviour – but always remember to focus on the positives. Consistency is key. You often get back what you give them, so model what you want back from them – kindess, honesty and warmth.

Spend time getting to know them. Set an activity where you can have a chat with them and find out about them – what they like and don’t like. Trust them and rely on them, make it a team environment where you are there to help each other. Ask them to help you out, reveal bits of yourself. What do you like? What are your hobbies? Find some common ground with them.

You don’t need to worry about getting into English and Maths on day one at all – just build those relationships and set those expectations.

At the end of the day, reflect on what you’ve acheived and what you might ned to change on what you’ve planned for tomorrow. Find a collegue and have a cuppa – you’ve earned it.

It Won’t Be Right All The Time

Teaching has its ups and downs. Some lessons are amazing some are awful and most are somewhere in the middle. That’s ok. In the middle lessons are fine and give the children consistent good teaching. If you have one that goes brilliantly – have a reflect on why. If you try the same thing again and it doesn’t go so well, don’t worry about it. There are so many variables on a given day that the same thing won’t work every time. If it did, we’d all do it! Similarly, if you have a nightmare lesson apply the same approach – have a think about what went wrong, but don’t dwell on it. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher. You will get it wrong – things will be pitched wrong, activities won’t take as long as you thought, they just won’t engage like you thought they would. It happens everyday to experienced and new teachers alike. If you get really worried – talk to someone. That’s what your mentor is for. They expect there to be bumps in the road and they are there to help you through them, so use them!

Manage Your Time

There is the inclination to show yourself to be worthy of your role, to work every hour and prove you are a proper teacher now who does everything for the children in your class. This is a sure fire way to burn out by half term and find your self struggling for the second half of the term. Pace yourself, Autumn in particular is a long old term. Prioritise and thing about what has to be done each night. Get those things done first and then see what you have capacity to do after that. You’re no good to anyone if you are tired and grumpy all the time! No one will think badly of you if you aren’t the first one in and the last one out. Focus on the things that make the mists difference for the children – feedback and planning the next lesson. Get those right and other things will follow. Find a groove and a routine. Do you break for a cup of tea at 330 after the kids have gone or do prefer just to crack on. Everyone will work differently, so find what works, and is manageable for you.

Workload will always be a big one – but look after yourself. Sometimes you have to think what is the worst that will happen if I don’t get this done tonight? I’ve been honest with the kids before and said “I’m sorry I didn’t get your books marked last night, I had a meeting after school and then I had something planned in the evening – I’ll have a look at them tonight, I can’t wait to see what you’ve done”. That’s ok. You’re not infallible or invincible and you don’t need to pretend you are.

You have your NQT time – use it. Go and see other teachers, other settings even. This is invaluable as it is easy to get caught up in your little class bubble. After you’ve seen someone else, have a chat with them about it – they wont mind! pick their brain about why and how they did things that way. After that – pick one small thing to try in the next week. If it works, amazing, if it doesn’t don’t get disheartened! Sometimes things take a few tries to get working properly.

Ask for help

As I’ve said – use the expertise around you. If your struggling with a topic, go to the subject leader. If you’re feeling wobbly talk about it with someone. Don’t struggle. It’s better to get help at the beginning before it becomes something massive. No one will think you are weak – they’ll just want to help. No one expects you to know everything at all, don’t feel like you have to. There aren’t stupid questions – just ask away.

When the honeymoon period ends

It will happen. Two or three weeks in, everything will be going well and then the kids start to push back and their behaviour might seem to worsen. It isn’t you. Stick to your values and stick to being consistent in your high expectations and they’ll come back around. It happens every year to every teacher!

Set your pace now

Work in September at a pace and level that will be manageable all year. There will always be busier times and quieter times so work at a pace that means you can deal with those. At busy time set work that needs less marking or feedback doing or work that can be assessed in the lesson. Work smarter not harder as much as possible. As I’ve said find your routine and rhythm of what works for you.

Enjoy it!

It’s amazing. The joy of your own class is like nothing else. You’ll not forget them so enjoy the journey together. Focus on the relationships, work hard for them but not to the detriment t if your own well-being. Accept there will be good and bad times and most importantly – you’re best is enough. You can’t give more than that.

Catch Up, Not Patch Up

So much out there about catch up at the moment, and rightly so. Some children have missed everything, some have missed a lot and some have missed most of what they should have covered over the second half of this year. We’ve been asked to prioritise catch up in Reading and Maths and Phonics and we should. These are key skills that we need to get right. However, it also says in the guidance it should be done through other curriculum activities. It says that the vast majority of pupils should access the full curriculum.

So what to do about it? Well, we are not narrowing our curriculum. We get out positive outcomes by giving children the chance to apply their learning in other subjects, not by teaching more of it. When teaching Year 6 I never did extra Maths and English sessions for SATs and I won’t be telling teachers to do so in their year groups to help kids catch up. My view is, that for the majority of children, there isn’t a huge rush. The older they are at Primary, the less time you have, but Year 3s have four years to make up the lost time before they leave the school, not four weeks when you get back. Give them space to use their knowledge – this is where they really learn. They’ll learn more from this than in a extra technical SPAG lesson in an afternoon, and you’ll be able to feedback the same points to help them improve.

A rush to just pick up where children left off is flawed, in my opinion. Well stay where we always start – the basics in the core subjects – eg place value and four operations. If there’s gaps, we’ll plug it, if they need extra teaching on it we’ll do it. Same in English. We won’t be teaching objectives in the first 6 weeks just because they haven’t covered them. all this will led to is patch up learning, not catch up. Teachers will inevitably race through the old objectives as they know they’ve got this years to fit in as well. In turn we end up with superficial learning where they haven’t really learned it as it’s been raced through. After that, when you come back to build on it with the objectives for this year, you’re building on quicksand.

Our approach will be different. We won’t be catching up in the first month. We’ll be assessing and identifying. Most children will catch up just fine with the classroom offering you are giving them. They’ll take on board new content and get to where they need to by the end of the year. Some won’t. Those fall into two camps – those that need a group boost once a week for a short session just to go over something they haven’t quite got, and those that need more intensive, prolonged support. The last group is where our catch up money goes.

We won’t be racing through objectives. We’ll be waiting until they come round in our normal curriculum, and at that point we’ll teach the extra content. Doing speech punctuation? That’s the time to drop back to the objectives missed from last year and catch them up, and keep the learning together and ordered. You might be able to get through more in a similar time frame – but if you just front load the old stuff to September, you definitely won’t.

The key to this catch up is about embedding the new content – the same as we always do. We just might need to take a few steps back when we start off. We might not. That’s for you’re assessment to figure out. My view is teach it, and teach it well. Make sure they know it, and they’ve truly caught up not just been given a sticking plaster to say you’ve ticked off the objective from last year. This catch up has got to stand up to their learning for the rest of their education – do it once and do it right. There is no need to rush it – take the time to get it right, make sure they’re moving forward and can build on it next year and every year onwards. Proper catch up, not just patched up.