We Must Not Go Back to Normal

It seems a common thread amongst the media, friends and online interactions is related to some of the things that we can’t wait to do when we ‘get back to normal’. Going back to normal would be the worst thing we could do. We should not return to the state we were in before this tragic and still unfolding pandemic.

I asked the question, what is the best thing about lockdown? Within twleve hours there had been over 500 replies. The most common responses have fallen overwhemingly into two categories:

Time to do various things – hobbies, think, clean, sort, watch, do

Family – being around them and spending time with them

Whilst there are awful consequences to the global situation we have to look for the postives. The thread from last night (https://twitter.com/secretht1/status/1248664862286372870?s=21) is full of them. There are so many examples of people being able to use their time to do things they have been waiting to do for such a long time. It is littered with people exclaiming they are reconnecting with their children, or seeing their child take their first steps. These are wonderful things.

However, how have we got ourselves to this state? This doesn’t just apply to teachers, it applies to workers everywhere. We are rediscovering what is important to us and what really matters. Of course, at the moment we have more time to spend with families, more than we ever could when we are working at full tilt as we were before lockdown. Reading that parents are being able to reconnect with their young children breaks my heart though. It shouldn’t be this way. This isn’t the parents fault. It is not through lack of willingness, attentiveness or love. It is because of the situation professions have painted themselves into with expectations, the constant quest to be seen to be doing enough and the unrealisitic expectations of others. How, as a society, have we allowed ourselves to reach the point where the one thing we don’t have is time to spend with those that are nearest and dearest to us? I am as guilty of this as anyone at times. This is exactly why we can’t go back to normal.

Normal was not working.

Normal made us neglect.

Normal took away the best part of humanity – togetherness.

Very, very few of the replies to my question mentioned the time to complete work tasks. They aren’t important now. I’m not suggesting that we will never feel the pressure of work again, that’s ludicrous. We will, because that is working life. There will be busy times where we can’t carve time out to do the things we have enjoyed during this time. Maybe though, we need to reflect on how we go about our work when we return. We must change our understanding of normal. It will be so easy to be well intentioned to do this on our return, but we know that within a week it will be far to easy to slip into old habits – habits which made many of us miserable, stressed and unhappy in our work at times.

How do we do this? We need to make positive choices ourselves. We need to resolve to do this and make it happen. Pick three things to initially change. Think about the extra work you do. There will always be thousands of things you can do in your job. Start by just doing the ones you have to do. After that, see if you have any time to work on others. Think about whether it is essential that piece of work gets done this evening. Would you mental health and life, and ultimately your productivity be better served by spending time with your family instead?

Leaders – what are you requiring of your collegues? We have made plenty of brave decisions so far during this time, but perhaps the bravest are yet to come. We have an opportunity to change our working habits for the better. How can you as a leader enable this? It will take self reflection, looking at what is useful and what tasks are bloating peoples workload but, now more than ever, there should be a willingess to do this. Take the opportunity that is given to us out of a terrible situation. It will need systemic change too and this is where we need bravery from policy makers too.

Don’t think you can’t make a difference though. Lead by example. You might not be able to change your whole organisation – but you are in control of what you do to an extent. Resolve not to go back to normal, but to make a new way where all of those things we value now stay at the top of our list of priorities where they belong.

Ask a Headteacher Anything – Part 2

Twitter could ask me anything – and they did! Here are all of the questions I was asked, and my answers.

Who do you turn to when you don’t know what to do?

I’m fortunate, I have a supportive wife, a great deputy, a cluster group and great governors, so I go to them. Perspective away from education helps too, they see the common sense approach. Headship can be lonely – it’s so important to have a support network.

How would you describe the most difficult members of staff to manage?

They can be a challenge, for sure. Frustrating. Generally though, they have a reason for feeling the way and getting to the bottom of it is important. Hard not to get frustrated at times though. Giving them responsibility helps sometimes though!

How many hours do you work on average a night at home?

I try and keep it to a minimum. I’m generally have my phone so respond to emails via that, so I don’t count it. Evening meetings take a lot of time. I’m generally in school 8-6, I think a 50hr week is enough. I make a point of being at home to put kids to bed.

What is your favourite colour?

Red.

Have you ever had a member of staff who you really did not want at your school?

Not personally, but I’ve seen it with a HT I worked for. Horrible situation, but it depends what it comes down to. Is it poor performance or clash of personalities? If it’s the latter, we just need to get over it I think, that’s not a reason for capabilities.

What are you asking your staff to do about reports this year considering we only just had parent evenings before schools ceased to function as normal?

It’s still up in the air for us. Depends if we come back. I’m considering a Maths, English comment and then a longer than usual teacher comment. It’s a legal requirement to give them?

Do you think teachers have it easy?

At the moment, or generally? I’m not sure teaching is ever easy. It’s has peaks and troughs, but on top of the physical energy there is the mental strain which takes its toll. A lot of waking time goes into thinking each day through. It can be all consuming.

How do you decide who’s contract to extend from a fixed term and when would you expect to inform the staff member?

Struggling with this at the moment. It shouldn’t have an impact, but budget often does. If they are really good it’s so much harder. it’s about an honest conversation. I’ll have to tell mine over the next few weeks to give time to find new role if necessary.

Which three things would you change if you were in charge of the asylum? What do you wish you could do more of in school?

Lose testing from 5/7 primary year groups it currently is in. Reform accountability system from Ofsted, don’t know to what. Encourage leaders to trust their staff more. The push towards a wide curriculum is no bad thing. Lots shine in ‘other’ subjects.

What’s the secret to a good Deputy, for both the Head and staff?

Supportive, has your back, but isn’t afraid to challenge and call you out when they think you’ve made the wrong choice. A DHT can be the link from staff to HT, particularly in bigger schools so good comma skills are key.

When do you see schools opening again and how will working practices have changed?

The million dollar question! Half term at best, probably September. Our job is putting the kids back together before we start learning. Those values we put up everywhere will come to the fore above work, and they need to stay there.

What’s the worst mistake you’ve made as a head, what impact did it have, and how did you correct/mitigate it?

Sticking with something I knew wasn’t working through stubbornness. Staff morale bottomed out and people were h happy, not a great environment. I apologised and was honest that I carried on for the wrong reasons. Honestly is magic.

How long would you advise being a vp for before making the the step up to a secondary head?

It’s different for everyone. I only did 2yrs. I wrote a blog about being ready a while ago. You need the right experiences and knowledge to fall back on, but age doesn’t need to be a barrier to those things.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing locally, one nationally and one internationally within education what would your the things be and why?

Locally – better support from LA where they get to know schools and be helpful not a detached entity. Nationally – remove high stakes testing from Primary, high stakes accountability for all schools. Make it supportive. Internationally – share practice more.

Do you ever sleep properly? Is the big job worth it and why?

It comes and goes. Some things stick in your head at 3am. As with any jobs there are pressure points and busy times. It’s stressful, tiring but I wouldn’t do anything else. Watching people develop, flourish and make a difference is amazing.

Good morning. When do you feel children will be back in school? This academic year?

Maybe half term, probably September.

What sort of questions do you use when interviewing- not the standard ones – do you have any that spring to mind ?

I like to know whether a teacher will fit our ethos and values. Is trust and honesty important to them? Do they take pride in their own performance rather than doing something because they are told? The best interviews turn into a chat.

What’s the one thing you would want teachers to know about being a HT??

That a lot gets done they don’t know about. That we protect them from lots of things to help them just do their job. That we genuinely make decisions we think are right. That there is a reason when we ask for something – we must communicate that though.

What are your top 3 most valuable pieces of advice you would give someone wanting to become a teacher right now?

Go in with your eyes open, it’s tough but rewarding. Be doing it for the right reasons.Accept you’ll never get to the bottom of your list. Thousands of things you could do – focus on what you have to do then if you capacity work on the rest.

What’s the best thing about being a headteacher ?

It’s hard to put it into words. I love it when children come scuttling in proud of their work. I love going round classrooms and watching them learn. I love that in a small way I can help the teachers get on with making that happen in an easier way.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I try and be honest, kind and trusting. Kindness is not the same as weakness, you can still have high standards but be nice to people. You get back what you give to people. Trust them first, they trust you back.

What’s one thing that impresses you during the interview process?

Honesty. The all singing and all dancing doesn’t impress me too much. I want the sense that if I employ this person, this is what the kids will get day in day out. If they show that will be consistent and what the kids need, that’s enough for me.

Do you think head teachers should be teaching at least one class a week (several lessons)?

Where possible yes. Sometimes, it just isn’t though. It keeps you in touch with the children if nothing else. I teach a day a week and do as much of the cover as I can. Love my Fridays in class.

Would you rather teach a class yourself or have them split up into other classes?

If someone is off? I’d rather teach them myself. Unless it’s Year R, then I’ll do a sap with someone! Splitting them up doesn’t achieve anything really, apart from logistically.

Is it hard to delegate to your team (when you have an outcome/approach in mind)?

Depends on the team. We are a small staff (about 20 in total) so we all know each other and trust each other. My previous head wouldn’t delegate anything, and she was in school until 10pm every night. Giving people opportunity is what helps them develop.

How do you balance staff wellbeing and workload reduction without taking on more as a HT?

We looked at everything we did and asked why we were doing it. If it didn’t have an impact on children it went. It reduced my workload as we changed the way we did monitoring. If everyone knows the expectations then it’s easier to share the load.

What additional SEMH needs support do you think would be most useful in schools when the children return.

So unknown. It’ll be diff for every child as they will all have had a diff lockdown experience. Some will need getting back in routine, someone won’t have interacted with another child for weeks. first weeks back will need to be about identifying these needs.

Mario or Sonic?

I was a Mario and Nintendo kid and always will be.

Do you think Heads & SLT staff should still have some teaching hours in their week – lead by example?

Where possible yes, but a HT is not the best teacher in a school. I’m not the best teacher in my school, but I dont have to be. It is useful for making sure you don’t lose touch with the kids though.

What kind of person makes an effective Head?

One that gets people. So much of it is about managing parents and staff. Building trusting relationships is key.

How do you get teacher buy in for new programs/changes/etc?

Explain it with them, go through the rationale and give them input. They are the ones who’ll have to do it, why shouldn’t they have a say on what will work or won’t work? Involvement brings engagement.

What is the best attribute a TA can have?

They can be the one to unlock a child where a teacher can’t. They got to be perceptive, quick thinking and reactive. Sometimes they have more to with pastoral wellbeing than the teacher. Shouldn’t be afraid to have professional conversations with the teacher.

What’s your advice for a inexperienced but ambitious member of teaching staff?

Get experience. Ask to shadow and get involved. HTs won’t often refuse an offer of help. Being a governor is the best way to find out ‘behind the scenes’ for me. I learnt so much doing this.

With budget constraints, would you/ could you justify recruiting an experienced teacher over a NQT? Thank you!

Ive always tried my hardest to maintain that we’ll employ good people and find the money, we shouldn’t compromise on standards because of budgets. It’s getting harder and harder though.

Do you think the ‘bar’ has been raised enough and that we should now focus on closing the gap exclusively?

We should never stop striving to push children on, whatever level. You can only do you’re best for an individual child. Having a bar can cause problems. I’ve seen support withdrawn from children because ‘they have no hope of getting expected’. That’s just wrong.

Why are you a secret?

I have a parent body who do hunt people down on social media. Sometimes speaking completely freely doesn’t sit as well with parents, and it shouldn’t. They don’t always need to know the ins and outs of school life in minute detail.

Are all the spelling and grammatical mistakes now commonplace on social media shocking, or is it a sign that language is moving on and we should embrace the change? I am interested to know your take!

I should be the last one to comment on spelling and grammar errors. My tweets are strewn with them. Too much haste. Kids need to know the difference between formal and informal communication and what is appropriate for each and when they are appropriate.

What’s the worst interaction you’ve had with a students parent?

One regarding a permanent exclusion.

How many hours do you work on a typical week? When is a HT’s ‘busy season?’ E.g. Like the few weeks before reports are due for teachers.

Probably 55-60 hours a week, with 50 in school. Evening meeting add more one. Gov meeting seasons get busy as preparing paperwork, report reading definitely. Summer 2. Not that much different to teachers!

When appointing new staff, would you automatically choose someone known to you who you knew was ok or the person who had performed better at interview and lesson observation?

Not automatically. It’s about the best person for the job, always. Sometimes knowing someone is not the ideal at interview – you know their flaws too!

Have you had support from educational psychologists? If so, what is your preference of working with them to support children’s needs? E.g. does individual casework work well for you or would you be interested in more training of staff + community engagement (If funding allowed?)

My LA has two I think. I only see them for statutory EHCP assessments. Wish we had more access, but can’t afford private fees.

Have you ever had to ring social services other than at 3.45 on a Friday (safeguarding witching hour!)

Oh yes. But Friday afternoon is a popular time.

When do you think schools will re-open ? [apologies if you’ve already had this!]

Maybe half term, probably September.

How often should a teacher be going into a hub during the pandemic?

As little as possible.

How do you support pupils AND staff who are dyslexic to ensure they all have the opportunity to achieve their full potential?

I’ve not come across it too much, but like anything, that person will know what helps them. Talk to them and come up with a plan together.

Do you ever regret progressing up the ladder to HT and wish you were back in the classroom?

No. I reached a point where I had had enough of marking books and writing reports. I was more interested in strategic stuff though. Never left the classroom because of the kids though.

Do you follow the ‘Support plan means you’re getting fired’ strategy? Why do heads do this, in your opinion?

I’ve never written a support plan. Shouldn’t get there to be honest. There’s a difference between can’t and won’t too. If you can’t do it, I’ll help you. If you won’t it’s a bit different.

How soon into their employment before you can spot a poor teacher?

So many things affect performance. There are fundamentals though – relationship building and working out what the kids need to do next based on what they’ve just done. Struggling with these may indicate a problem.

What is the most dramatic change you have ever seen in a pupil?

For me, it’s been a child’s confidence and ability to say this is me and I’m OK with that. Big thing to take into the next step of your education.

Do you enjoy working with governors? Do you feel that they are suitably supportive AND challenging? How could governors be more effective in their role?

My governors are fabulous. Challenging isn’t a bad thing. They aren’t asking questions to catch me out, they are asking to see if I’ve thought about it. If I haven’t I’ve learned something. All good. Good govs need to know when to back you and when to challenge.

How would you give advice to a member of staff who feels it’s time to move on?

Do it, but make sure it’s for the right reasons. It’s not a personal decision, it’s a professional one. Leaders should be able to separate the two and not take offence.

What qualities do you believe are fundamental to a good/successful leader? Can you give a top 3?

Trust people. Be honest. Communicate well. Admit when you got it wrong. Know you’re stuff, but don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Ask for help when you need it.

What’s your thoughts on exclusions?

That’s a biggie! I’m always in two minds tbh. I think sometimes there needs to be seen to be a sever consequence, but if they will have no impact on future behaviour then is there a point to it? I’m very conflicted on it.

How much contact do you currently have with staff whilst they aren’t in school?

I try to keep in email contact regularly. We may do a Zoom break time. I’ve told them to focus on keeping themselves and their families safe.

Whats your most favourite and most dreaded part of the job….

Favourite is seeing the kids everyday and watching them develop into amazing young people when they leave us. Dreaded changes from day to day. Parent meetings I know will be tricky, finance meetings, introducing new things.

Do you ever have run ins and conflicts with the Director or CEO of an Academy Trust you are a part of?

I’m still an LA school.

What do you think of extra curricular companies coming into schools and delivering activities or workshops? Needed more or not needed?

With workload issues, if they can help reduce teacher workload fine. Funding it is a problem for some parents. I generally use them to offer things I can’t offer from our staff team.

What advice do you have for a teacher who has been teaching 21 years, had a child 6 years ago and feels stuck and I’m having to start my career again as now haven’t got the right experience to move back up the ladder. Having a child seems to have hampered my ambitions.

Sorry to hear that, it must be frustrating. To me teaching is teaching, the fundamentals don’t change much over the years so you are no less qualified now than you were before your children. Not everyone sees it that way though.

What advice would you give to a DH thinking about moving to headship? What areas should they focus on above and beyond their usual day job?

I’ve written a few blogs about moving to headship at https://secretheadteacher.org Get as much experience of the firefighting stuff that comes up every day, that’s what you’ll spend most of your time dealing with.

With the complexities of legal HRM including Equalities Act 2010 etc, not being fully aware of changes in digital technology ect (video conferencing been around since 2010 no need for excessive late meetings) Do you think HT’s make excellent Human Resources Managers?

There are a lot of things HTs are asked to do that they have no training for. They do the best they can. For example I didn’t train in HR, Finance, Legal, Social Work but j have to fulfil all those roles. The best HTs take advice.

What is the situation you dread most?

Getting it wrong.

Hi, I am a Postgrad student in Primary Education, what would be your advice for getting prepared to have a class of my own (hopefully in a couple of months) despite my third placement being cancelled as a result of the virus outbreak? Anything would be much appreciated!

It’s all about building relationships. Make sure you do that first. A poorer teacher who can make good relationships will get better outcomes than the perfect one who can’t. Don’t worry about setting aside time to do it. Have high expectations and stick to them.

How do you manage change? – and if I can be so bold as to sneak another on in – How do you create a culture where workload is manageable for your staff?

Change – talk it through and get input. Get people involved in the planning and they’ll engage with the output. Workload – same answer. Talk about it, why are we doing this what benefit does it have? If it has none, bin it!

How would you deal with a divide of teaching staff and support staff. I.e. Support staff not feeling valued and treated poorly

I’d meet with both groups and try and get to the bottom of it. Communication and honesty solves a lot of problems. Although, any teacher who doesn’t value their TA needs a word had with them!

I’m starting a headship in September. What should be my priorities in the first day/week?

Congratulations! Listen and watch. Don’t be heavy handed and start building trust. @Carter6D wrote a guide to the first 100 days. I’m sure he’ll point you to it!

Would you judge a potential staff member on their ‘isolation beard’?

A fine beard is a fine thing.

What’s the best way to progress from middle leadership to senior leadership? Are there any courses or in school experience you would recommend?

I didn’t do NPQH, NPQSL or any of the others. I did get involved with my HT, ask questions and offer to do things. Being a staff governor probably gave the most exposure to what I needed to know though.

What has been your lowest moment as a head? How did you dust yourself off and move forward from it?

A Permanent Exclusion that became very legal and long term. Time and an amazing team was a great healer.

What are the first couple of things you look for in a job application?

Personal statement and job history, references. Personal statement tells you so much. You then marry it up to what you see at interview.

1. As budgets continually get tighter, where are the best value savings you’ve found and what school investments have paid off? 2. Did you need to develop your school finance skills to feel more equipped for managing the budget and if so, where did you find the courses?

We have stripped to the bone. Staffing is the most expensive, and that’s what I wont compromise on. It’s so hard. Finance worried me more than anything starting as a HT. a good bursar and knowledgable govs help a lot.

Do you know what’s happening in the classroom when your information is ‘distilled’ through middle leaders?

I am a one form entry primary. I wander the corridors most days so have a handle on it. Even in a big school I’d do the same though, you need to see with yourself own eyes sometimes.

What would you change about the schooling system – if you could – apart from the lack of money?

I’d get rid of primary testing for school accountability, and try and find a system of judging schools that didn’t strike fear and was supportive rather than seemingly judgemental.

What would you want to see in a letter of application/cover letter, particularly from a PGCE student?

What do you stand for, and what’re your views on education. What experience have you had? What are your strengths, but also what do you need to work on? What particular subject areas are you interested in? How do you build relationships with children?

What are your honest opinions about Ofsted? Are their judgements worth valuing?

Any system that terrifies doesn’t work. People shouldn’t be relieved at 2pm when the phone hasn’t rung. Of course, we should be accountable, but a short visit doesn’t do that. We need people who know our schools and can work with us over a longer timeframe.

What would your SLT say about you? What would the cleaning team say?

Hopefully that they feel valued and part of the school community. That I’m fair and consistent and deal with situations in a calm and realistic way. Behind my back, who knows though?!

Do you ever suffer from imposter syndrome?

Every meeting I go to and other HT I meet brings it on. Everyone seems to be doing a better job and have more of a handle on it than me, and think of things I don’t. At the end of the day, the kids are happy, parents and staff are happy so I must be doing OK.

I am in 6th year of teaching, I have a TLR but want to move up into leadership what advice would you give to get my foot on the rung?

Be a governor, ask to do things, show interest, shadow and engage. HTs don’t often turn down an offer of help.

How do you know your staff are happy?

I talk to them. Trust is a two way thing. I trust them, hopefully, they trust me to come and talk. We only have 8 teachers – it’s sometimes easy to spot when someone isn’t happy!

How do I write my letter of application for headship? I’ve tried tailoring to the paperwork and addressing my impact but I’m getting nowhere. When I first tried years ago, I got to interview and fell there instead. I want to progress but think step-back is a barrier now.

Maybe it’s about tailoring to strategic rather than teaching based. I found it hard to see a big picture at first and focussed too narrow. Evidence of how you can do that and implement it is probably a good start. Try to convey your personality too.

What is your greatest flaw as a HT and how do you address it?

I want everyone to be happy so probably focus more on trying to please everyone than I should sometimes. It only takes one negative comment to send me into a bit of a funk, which isn’t helpful. Asking other people would probably give more answers!

Are teachers who challenge you and the decisions you make actually ones you want in school, or would you rather they were all fully on board with your ideas?

I have no problem with being challenged. It means I have to have thought everything through before presenting it. I’d make awful decisions if it was just left to me alone and everyone went along with it.

What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing as a result of the impact of Covid-19? How do you really feel about remote learning and what would you like some support with?

Parent expectations are tough. Some want lots of work, some don’t want any. Some can help their kid, some can’t. The unknown is tough, both time frames and knowing what we come back to. Remote learning is a time filler for me, not useful learning.

With mental health in children increasing, and CAMHS waiting lists too long and thresholds too high. What are/can schools do to support their students with mental health issues?

It probably needs more curriculum time, which is hard because everything is so jammed. Itlll explode when we get back and sorting that out needs to come before learning.

Favourite and least favourite curriculum subject? Favourite and least favourite year group?

I love teaching Maths and English. Science I always found a bit of a chore. Love Y6, Yr R terrifies me, although I can see the appeal for those that love it!

What do you value most in your assistant heads?

Support and challenge. You need to get on too, you’re working closely with them. They have to back you up in public and private but be happy to say, look this is a bad call let’s talk it through. Got to be able to have a laugh with them too.Why do you think so many young teachers leave the profession, and is this something you feel you can do anything about?

Why do you think so many young teachers leave the profession, and is this something you feel you can do anything about?

I think some people don’t fully realise the job. The workload and mental drain can be intense and you have to be prepared. HTs definitely can help with this – talk to staff, why are they leaving? Is it too much work? Have we done everything we can to help?

Do you think the current cohort of trainee teachers will be at a disadvantage and overlooked for September jobs, which wouldn’t have been the case in a non-lockdown world?!

It’s too early to say. Maybe, especially if people don’t move on as they might have done. No movement, no jobs. Schools will have to be practical in recruitment and maybe take more risks.

What’s the most useful thing your teachers could be doing right now to support you?

Setting the work we’ve agreed they will, respond to the children if needed and stay safe so they are fit and well to come back when we open. If they take time to recharge now- fine – it’ll be manic when we’re back.

Why is it so hard for Usborne to get in to schools?

Schools like their traditions.

I need a job (HoD PE, DoS etc) for sept which are far and few in my area right now.. what would you advise me to do / to seek out in order to gain employment when so few jobs are being advertised in the current climate? I want to be proactive but also feel it’s a waiting game

I’m not as clear on secondary, but I’m not sure there is much you can do. Get your application ready, run it by a few people. Do some online CPD if you can. Go to schools and do visits before applying (not poss at the moment!)

How do you explain to the rest of the school what you do all day?

I tell them! We are a small school. They see what I do. Here is a breakdown: https://secretheadteacher.org/2020/02/05/just-what-do-you-do-all-day/

When we work in an industry that’s all about children, and there’s a drive to retain teachers and support work life balance, why aren’t schools promoting part-time working or making it easier for employees to reduce hours or work flexibly?

Outside of the teaching day, as long as my staff are getting the job done, they can do it whenever and wherever they like. Pick up your kids and then work after they’re in bed? Fine. Arrive at 6:30am and leave at 3:30? Fine. Do what works.

Did you always want to be a head? If not… when/why did this change?

Actually, yes. It was something I’d wanted to do. It didn’t stop me loving my time with the children, but I’d always been nosy about how schools work etc. I get it’s not for everyone though.

How do you keep all the “crap” away from those whose main job is to educate children and students?

Communication. We talk about what the crap is and whether it needs doing. I’ll meet parents, make phone calls and do what I can to help them focus on just teaching children. Solving problems early makes everything much easier.

Are “Support Plans” in reality often used as a mechanism to get rid of expensive teaching staff?

I wouldn’t, but I am sure people have. Madness though. If someone’s struggling, help them. Otherwise, just be glad you’ve got a great teacher.

How do you assess how good a teacher is?

Be in lessons with them (not ‘observing’), talk to them, talk to the children, look through books. See what the relationships they build are like. Can’t look at just one thing, and can’t do it on a one-off visit, got to be done over time and through discussion.

What is the first thing you would do a new head teacher in a week and a half?

Watch and listen and start building trust. Don’t be heavy handed. You don’t know the school, the people that are there do. Learn first.

What is the best way to manage mixed ability sets whilst ensuring 1.nobody is left behind and 2. You’re effectively stretching and challenging?

Good planning and knowing your children. Expect them to work independently at every level at times so you can support every group at some point.

Sorry if this has already been asked…What have you learnt from this period of remote/online teaching that you will bring back into school when we return?

Somethings don’t need to be done in school, but nothing can replace face to face teaching.

Would you hire someone UPS for a part time role or would you favour mps?

Ideally it’s the best person for the job. In reality budget comes into it. Lots of adverts I see are MPS only.

How do you manage work life balance?

Is it essential it is done at 8pm tonight? If not, leave it till the next day. Start with what HAS to be done, then do the rest of you have capacity.

Do you value handwriting or is too much emphasis placed on skills from long ago?

I’m not all for the cursive everyone’s writing being the same. But it does need to be legible and efficient. If you don’t get it right at the beginning it’s hard to correct.

Now that children should be self isolating for 15 days if any of their family has a new cough, what should/can heads & SLT do in terms of pressure on attendance figures?

Tell parents not to worry. It’s out of our control.

Does having a new job every 2-5 years as a teacher gets BA/PGCE/MA make them look too flimsy for lead roles?

No, especially if they’ve moved for promotion. It’s gathering experience.

What do you miss about having your own class?

The funny times, the tangents, the banter you can have. Getting to really know them inside out.

Was there one particular thing you learnt from past heads? Good or bad!

Being good at paperwork isn’t enough. Being too relentless doesn’t help anyone. Kindness counts.

What skills do you think make a great head teacher? It’s not a teaching role, and you’ve already implied being a great teacher isn’t necessarily it, which I agree with. So, what makes a teacher right for leadership?

You need to understand how things, systems and people work. You need good people skills – it’s all about managing people. I wrote here: https://secretheadteacher.org/2020/01/12/if-youre-good-enough-youre-old-enough/

When you receive 100 applications for a job, what makes you choose the applications that get through to interview stage?

I wish I got 100 applications! It’s about personal feel as well as teaching one. We are small team, mistake could damage what we’ve build in terms of our team. Experience, skills that fit our team needs. Personal statement a big part – it’s got to match what we see at interview.

In your opinion how much of a school dinner should be eaten by a primary child before they can pur their tray away and go out to lunch?

Ha ha! We can’t, and won’t force them to eat anything. We ask them to go back and eat more, but if they refuse then we can’t do anything. We’ll let the parents know though.

what do you do as a head to promote wellbeing for your staff?

We spent 4 staff meeting sessions looking a different aspects of workload and agreeing how to reduce. People can have PPA at home. As long as they do the job properly, I don’t care what hours on site they keep.

What are the best CPD opportunities you’ve invested in in your school?

Investing is hard at the moment. We’ve moved to 3 mini research projects for appraisal this year. I’ve given at least two staff meetings term to prep and evaluation and the results have generated a lot of discussion. Well worthwhile.

Do you have any traits you don’t like to see in a teacher ?

That’s a hard one. Not putting the kids first puts me off. Not having high standards and expectations. You can have those without working yourself to the bone. I find those who won’t engage with anything we try frustrating too.

Any regrets you have about teaching and is there anything you would do differently ?

I regret when I didn’t work as hard as I should have for a year or two. The kids didn’t get the best of me. I regret not standing up against a few things I knew were wrong. I’d do a lot differently if I knew what I know now, but I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now if I did.

Thank you so much for joining in!

Don’t Stress About the Home Schooling

I’ve seen so many different views on this. Daily work, weekly work, home work packs, must log on, don’t have to log on, remote lessons, live lessons, pre recorded lessons, phone calls home, threatening letters to parents, too high expectations, too low expectations, have to do it, don’t have to do it. I’ve seen it all being right and all being wrong – very rarely have I seen an opinion that is middling. It seems like home schooling work is exactly the same as normal homework – no one will ever get it right and please everyone. Usually we accept this – seemingly in this situation we don’t. Now, some are falling over themselves to provide as much as they can as quickly as they can. Rightly, there is worry about the gaps that might develop between those who can access work and those who can’t, those who will access work and those who won’t.

We have to accept that not all children will do the work. I work in a school where parents are very supportive and really engage with reading at home, place a high value on homework and have high aspirations for their children. However, I have a return rate of about between 50-60% across my school for the first week of work. It’s about what I expected and I fully expect it will drop as time goes on. What it does lead to me to believe though is that there will be so many schools that will have significantly less children engaging in work than this. An all carrot approach won’t work – there is little to no personal contact between school and home to follow it through. Likewise, an all stick approach won’t work either. Threatening emails to parents won’t make chidlren log on – the parents are probably just trying to get through any given day. Threatening emails to children won’t work either. They are children, predominantly interested in instant gratification. The threat of a detention in September will do little do dissuade them from their current actions.

Parent’s don’t have the capacity to work like we do in school. My two kids have had my wife’s undivided attention this week. They haven’t achieved what they would have in school – of course they haven’t. The relationships are different, the rules are different, the expectations are different. Children don’t follow the rules at home the same way they do at school. Those rules and routines take a skilled practitioner weeks to establish in September and now we through everyone a massive curveball and expect them to deal with it and get similar results in terms of output? This is folly.

There is no need to get stressed out about the work you are setting as a teacher, or are not doing as parent. The reality is that everything will need to be retaught when we get back to school. We can’t rely on any of the knowledge or skills that we’ve asked them to work on still being retained when we get back to school. Take my school. At best 50% will have done the work. Half of those will have done it badly as they’ve had no support from a parent, because they are trying to do their own job. A handful will have had support that may have sewn misconceptions because parents aren’t teachers. The ones that do it well will have forgotten all about it when we get back to school. We need a detailed plan for our return more than we need a detailed plan for now. Now we need work that is available for the ones that want to keep their kids ‘ticking over’ to do just that. What we really need to think about is how we get them all caught up in September. Not just some of them, all of them, because they will all need it.

What that looks like, I don’t know. It will be a national problem, not just a local one. For now though, do your best and know that it’s enough. So what if your kid is building Lego, den building and playing outside with their days? There is plenty of evidence that older children should be doing that more anyway, and more than enough examples of the learning that goes on in these activites. It’s our job as teachers to sort it out when we get back, and we will, and we will do it well. Give your families what they need right now – and the chances are that isn’t school work.

When the going gets tough, the tough…feel pretty awful.

This week was a tough week. Nothing major, and people, I’m sure, are dealing with much worse. Just a multitude of little things all piling up at once…governor meetings to prep for, lots of staff absence, few niggles here and there, safeguarding and social care issues, a high level of cover needed from me. Coupled onto that meetings re a particularly challenging child that then led to talk of a formal complaint and a meeting with a SEN advisory service giving my SENCo a going over (unwarranted) it was a hard one. Stress levels were up, sleep disturbed and tiredness became a little overwhelming.

However, out of all that was going on, there was one thing that tipped it over the edge – the threat of a complaint. It’s like a kick in the stomach. Repeatedly, every time you think about it. Should it come, I think we’re on solid ground and we’ve been giving excellent provision, but it hurts. I pride myself on being open and honest, upfront and straight forward about what we can offer, why we do it and how we think it’ll benefit the children. For the most part, it leads to a very happy school, and for that I’m grateful. Unfortunately though, it just takes one comment to undo all of your self esteem about what has been created in the school. One negative comment can outweigh a hundred positive ones, without question. The biggest thing, the thing that sticks the most is that you’ve given everything – literally all of you at times – and to be told that despite that people feel like complaining can often only feel like one thing – an outright rejection of what you stand for and what you are trying to achieve. It affected my whole mood, like living under a cloud for a few days – noticeable to most. I know we shouldn’t take it personally, but I do, and I am sure others do too. Teacher is an intensely personal job. You can’t remove yourself from the relationships you have to build with pupils and parents, and that is why it hurts, frustrates and disappoints when things aren’t working out.

A quick post on Twitter brought a lot of support and concern – edutwitter at its best. I put out there that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard to see that sometimes, but if the time I’ve spent doing this job has taught me one thing – it is there. It might only be the smallest chink of light, but the good thing I find about schools is that as quickly as they can turn the heat up on you and make you feel pretty terrible, they can also do the complete opposite just as quickly. A good comment here, a nice email or an afternoon spent having fun with the the children can put a completely different spin on everything. It makes you realise what you do it for and what is really important and it can give you perspective.

Towards the end of the week, things improved. Was it my mindset or things genuinely getting better? Probably a bit of both. Time, reflection, distraction and changing circumstances can all make that chunk of light a little bit brighter, and once it starts shining a bit brighter it’s much easier to find your way towards it.

However hard it is, look for the positives. Teaching is an up and down job, with such massive highs and lows. However personally you might find a criticism, most of the time try to remember that often it isn’t. Don’t feel bad for being upset – it’s human nature. Besides, if it didn’t hurt, it means you don’t care, and caring is the exact reason we do this job.

Teacher Hacks

Always leave the book you don’t want the HT to see on the top of the pile if they do drop-in book samples. No self respecting headteacher takes the one from the top.

If you are called to the HT’s office, don’t worry. Simply go in and report something worse that someone else is doing and they’ll forget all about your misdemeanour.

Want a perfect looking display? Don’t forget that double mounting and laminating everything increases it’s attractiveness factor by 217%.

A slow moving bin lorry is always the perfect excuse for over sleeping and being late.

If something breaks in your classroom, always blame a child.

Always arrange an emergency phone call to arrive 20 minutes after the beginning of any difficult meeting with a parent.

If you are male and want to avoid funny looks in singing assembly, miming will solve your problem.

To pay for your summer holiday, add £1 to a jar every time a child asks you if they can go on to a new page. By the time July swings round you’ll have saved enough for the dream trip to the Maldives.

If you jam the photocopier, make sure you shout ‘I can’t believe someone has jammed it and walked away!’ loudly enough for a colleague to hear.

When doing playground duty, simply buy two phones, place one on the playground and FaceTime it from the warmth and comfort of your own classroom.

Make parents evening run to time by having a large timer on your desk. Preface every appointment by saying ‘it’s not for you, it’s for me.’.

If you forget to file your weekly planning, don’t worry, no one is checking it anyway.

To make the return to school easier simply think of the fact that’s it’s actually only 30 working days until the next holiday. Brilliant!

Position your desk so it can’t be seen from the door. Work with the lights off and people will assume your room is empty. Uninterrupted time will abound.

Tackle awkward birds and bees questions from pupils by explaining it isn’t in the National Curriculum so they will need to ask their parents. Increase the awkwardness by seeing the parent after school, telling them the question and making sure they ask the child at home.

Brighten a dull assembly by catching another teachers eye and mouthing something. Watch their confusion unfold as they can’t understand you. Compound this by saying it doesn’t matter when they ask you later.

To make INSETs training pass more quickly, play cricket with the speakers umpire like arm movements. Keep track of 4s, 6s, wides, no balls and wickets. A full test match is possible if they are very animated.

If you put two books on top of each other and press hard enough you can mark two at a time.

Reduce your workload by nominating other staff members to take on initiatives in staff meetings. Expound their virtues loudly to make their suitability for the task undeniable.

During a learning walk or lesson ob to your class, tell children to raise their right hand if they know the answer and their left hand if they don’t. Now it looks like they are all engaged all the time with every question.

And finally…

Don’t actually use these. Well, maybe not all of them anyway.

An Open Letter To Teachers Everywhere

Every day you do something amazing.

You might not think it, you might not feel it, but you do. Every day you get up, go in and work your hardest for those kids you are giving them something special, something they might not be getting anywhere else. You give them trust, honesty, challenge, confidence, fun and above all a role model. You give them the chance to be the best version of themselves, to reach achievements they didn’t think were possible, to become people they didn’t think they could be. All of that is done through you. You went into teaching to make a difference and you are – every single day you are having a positive impact on the children in your class.

Some days it’s feels like you can’t do it, like it’s too hard, too overwhelming and some days, it is. But even in those days you are making a difference, you are teaching children new and exciting things. You are still teaching them and moving them forward.

When they are giving you a hard time, when you feel like they’ve got away from you, keep working at it, be consistent and stick to your standards. They need the boundaries, they will grow from them and through them and will be one step further towards being ready for whatever the world throws at them. The ones you think don’t like you? They do. They just don’t know how to express it. They know you’re trying to help them and they appreciate you never giving up on them despite the fact they know they might be making things difficult for you.

Children don’t often realise the importance of their teacher at the time, but when they look back in their education, they will remember you and the difference you made in their life and how your kindness and compassion helped them through. You won’t even know how much you’ve helped some children, the impact you’ve had in their lives. With just a few words you can change the course of their day or the way they feel about themselves. You can make their confidence soar with a smile and reassurance, you can make them feel good about themselves for maybe the first time in days. You build relationships with pupils that might last for years. You inspire, you show, you teach, you learn alongside them and above all you make them better.

Teaching is powerful. You have the futures of these children in our hands and you make sure they get the most out of it. It’s a massive responsibility, but one you wear well, one you realise the importance of and take seriously. Every day you make a difference, every day you make children better and every day you should feel good about yourself because if it. You don’t always get told it enough, you always don’t get thanked enough and you don’t always feel valued enough, but be proud of your profession and the job you do because you’re doing what you set out to do on your very first day of training – making a difference.

What is Great Teaching?

In a world of Ofsted, Learning Walks, Observations, drop-ins (formal or informal), judgement, accountability and everything else teachers have to contend with it is easy to lose what great teaching is. We can fall into the trap of jumping through the hoops and working to what we think people expect to see of great teaching, rather than actually stopping to consider that works best and when. 

Perhaps the best way to start talking about what great teaching is, is to talk about what it’s not. Above all else, it is not formulaic. It can’t be. There are far too many variables in part of lesson, let alone a whole hour for you to be able to stick to the same formula all day every day. Starters, teaching, activity and plenary is a fairly standard way of working through a lesson, but if you did this all day every day it would be to the detriment of some lessons. Some lessons, learning and activities just can’t work this way by their nature. You can’t provide great teaching to the children in your class by jumping through hoops either. If you’re doing something because you’ve been told to, and it has no impact on the children then you won’t do it as effectively. We work our best when we work in ways that suit our strengths, that we are passionate about and when we are confident in it. Blindly following what someone else is telling you do will not make great teaching. This again comes back to variables. Any scheme or plan written by someone else can only ever be a starting point. It was written with another class in mind, with another ability, with another school or is just aimed at the widest group possible. That means the chance of it being right for your class is extremely small. Every plan you download and borrow has to be a starting point, and nothing more. Great teaching isn’t just about great delivery of information, it’s about it being right for your class. 

So, what is great teaching then? 

It Moves Learning Forward

For me, when I’m visiting classrooms, this is what I want to see above all else. Are the children finding out new things? Are they getting the opportunity to build on what they already know? This is key. This is progress. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be new information. It might be children been given the opportunity to apply what they know, to use the skills and knowledge they have learned in a new way. This is just as valuable as the acquiring of new facts. Underpinning moving the learning forward has to be a good system of feedback to the children and assessment of their learning. Does the teacher know why they are doing this next lesson? What was it about the previous lesson that means they have structured this one in the way they have? Learning can’t move forward without using the information from the previous lesson. If I’m in a lesson and the children have moved forward in their learning, then I find it hard to argue that it wasn’t an effective lesson. Surely, the basic requirement of teaching is to help children learn? If you’re lesson does that then it is hard to argue with. 

Brings Out the Best and Engages

As well as that, children have to be interested in what is going on. Now let me be very clear – I do not mean it has to be all singing and all dancing. I have had children just as engaged in my class by me standing up and talking at them, giving them direct information as they have been by practical, pupil led sessions as well. Talking to children to deliver information is not the enemy. Nor is doing it for more than ten minutes, or the age of the child plus 2 or whatever formula is the fashion at the moment. It’s about what is appropriate what is relevant and knowing when to stop. A great teacher will judge that moment. They will know when they have absorbed all they can and have reached that point when they are ready to work independently.

It also lets children achieve. It has to be accessible but challenging. They child should expect to have to work hard in order to be able to complete the work in the lesson. This is what brings out the best in the children. That area where they are challenged enough to have to think, but not challenged so much they can’t get near the task. There are many ways to do this, peer-to-peer support, adult to pupil support, differentiated tasks. Again, context is key – knowing your class, what you want to get out of the activity and how the children in your class can best achieve that. By building on their previous knowledge and drawing them on in their thinking they can start to make those jumps themselves which in turn brings out the best in them. Of course, they can’t always do this independently, they will need support.  This brings us onto…

It is Well Organised and Resourced

We’ve all been there when you couldn’t get things photocopied, or there was a problem in getting everything ready for the lesson. We all know, that it can leave you feeling on the back foot. If you are flapped about a lesson and underprepared, then the children can sense that. I’ve seen it in lessons, and I’ve had it happen to me. It’s not about having a beautifully presented worksheet, or work that is split 5 ways. It is about the thought process and making sure that what you are providing is what the children need. Does it help then get to where they need to get to. Is the support they need available to them? Are there practical resources available? Is the classroom organised as such so they can get up and get resources they feel they might need? If you choose to use slides to help organise the thinking – great. If you don’t, that’s OK, as long as you have given it some thought. Poor outcomes in a session can be because they task hasn’t been thought through in enough detail by the teacher. Again, I’ll hold my hands up, I’ve done it plenty of times. It happens and it doesn’t make you a bad teacher. However, the more confident you are in where you are going with a session and the resources the children are going to use – the more the children will be confident in them as well. 

Is Built on Excellent Teacher Knowledge 

You don’t need to know everything about a topic. No one expects you to. There is no shame in googling a question in front of the children and finding out the answer together. In fact, I applaud it. It models to the children that no-one is expected to know everything and also models how you, as an adult, go about finding out something you don’t know. However, you do need to know the content of your session and beyond it as well. This affects Primary more so than secondary in my view, where we are teaching multiple subjects, multiple topics and not spending a huge amount of time on any of them. Children know if you’re padding and making stuff up, so you don’t need to pretend to them that you know it all. However, they also know if you’re just reading it off the PowerPoint and don’t have much else to add. You are going to need do to your homework on it, and have enough information to fill in some of the gaps for the children. 

Utilises Children’s Knowledge

There are some areas where the children will know more than you. I’m OK with that. But why not use it? If there is a child in your class with clear knowledge they can share – let them. It no reflection on you, it’s a celebration of them. Be clear about your whole class knowledge too. If they all know something, don’t bat on for a whole lesson working through it again. I read something over the summer that resonated (I’m afraid I can’t remember where). It was about seeing lessons as chucks of knowledge rather than chunks of time. If you get through the knowledge and the children are secure within 30 minutes, why not move onto the next lesson, instead of feeling you have to stretch it out for an hour because that is what your timetable says. This becomes possible when you know exactly where your class are at and what their previous knowledge is. What you thought was a lesson may just need to be a refresher, and likewise the complete opposite may be true. Get your understanding of their knowledge right and everything can flow from there. 

Enables Children to Articulate and Discuss Their Learning

If I speak with some pupils and they can tell me what they’ve learned, and how it fits in with what they’ve done before then I can see they’ve made progress. I’m not talking about parroting back information, in fact I’m more worried if they do parrot it back. I’m talking about having a chat. What did you learn? Why do you think it was important? Did you know anything about this before? Does it fit in with other things you know. If they can’t do it off the top of their head, we’ll have a look in their book to jog their memory. It’s not a test on you with how well they can talk about it, of course they might need some reminders. However, if they can talk about it confidently it means they’ve engaged with it, they’ve remembered it and they are happy to share it. They won’t be walking textbooks, but if they’ve had good teaching, they’ll be able to fill me in about it. 

Has a Purpose and Relevance

This is at the centre of our Project Based Learning. If they’ve got a reason for it, they’ll take pride in it. Being able to make it relevant to them and giving it a purpose is going to increase their engagement and help bring out their best. I’m not talking about tenuous and forced links or gimmicks – the kids see through that. If they can see the point of doing it then it’ll help them. We’ve seen kids focus on spelling because an audience will be seeing their work, they neatened their presentation, they been striving to edit it to make it better.  It won’t always be possible, and sometimes it is detrimental to make it seen relevant for the sake of it, but when its right to do, it helps enormously. 

Will you manage all of these all of the time? No. We all know the time pressures of the job and sometimes, you just can’t fit everything in. This isn’t about being perfect all of the time. Great teaching is about giving a consistent level. I purposefully haven’t said a lesson has to have this or has to have that. Tricks, bells, whistles and everything else doesn’t constitute good teaching for me. Giving the children what they need when they need it does. Sometimes this will be getting up and talking to them. Sometimes they’ll have to do a straight exercise and yes, sometimes you will need to sing and dance and show your faux outrage at the local factory being closed down. It’s about what works, it’s about the context of your class, it’s about knowing them and it’s about giving them that consistently. That’s great teaching – giving them what they need, when they need it and knowing when they’re ready to fly. That teacher down the hall might be giving them all the excitement and ‘look at me’ lessons under the sun – but they might not be giving them what they need – a reliable, honest, consistent role model who knows how to get the best out of them. 

Just What Do You Do All Day?

After being posed the question ‘Some headteachers just sit in their office all day, don’t teach and never come out, what do you do all day?’ I thought I’d walk you through my day, just to give a little glimpse of life as headteacher.

Arrived at school at 8am.

Caught up with the teacher I covered yesterday to fill her in on what we’ed managed to do, and what we’d manage to achieve, what she would need to recap and cover again, and what the next steps for her class would need to be.

Morning gate duty.

Met with two parents

Started to work through emails that needed responding to. Probably around 20-30 that had accumulated, or couldn’t wait any longer.

Telephone call from social care. A family is being looked at under Section 47. Information on family needed. Needs to be done immediately. Drop everything and complete.

Child needs a report writing for an appointment on Friday – parent needs it ASAP.

Meet with two TAs, separately about the 1:1 children they are working with to discuss the behaviour of the children they are working.

Popped into Year 5 to see their DT work as I needed a bit of a break.

Completed paperwork for a panel forum to get early help for a family we’ve been trying to get external support for for the last 18 months.

Set up the hall with chairs and tables for lunch.

One hour’s lunch duty outside, longer than usual to cover the absence of a midday supervisor.

Catch up with some more emails.

Catch up with admin assistant about diary dates coming up.

Read through paperwork and risk assessments for 3 upcoming trips.

Filled in after school club about the S47 child.

Spent 10 minutes with some children about the Primary Maths Challenge bonus round they’d just done.

Met with another parent.

Covered Y4 so the teacher could run a parents info session.

Made a whole host of decisions that needed making during the day, all of which will have an impact on other people within the school.

Left at 3:15pm because it’s my daughter’s birthday.

It didn’t even feel like a particuarly busy day, and I am sure there will be many, many people who have had to cram more in to their day. When I went in this morning, about three of those things were on my to-do list. Everything else was new across my desk today and needed dealing with immediately. I would LOVE to spend more time in lessons with children and watch great teaching. Today though, couldn’t fit it in. I didn’t even touch finance, health and safety, personnel, teaching and learning or getting into lessons. We do a lot of things people will never know about, and protect teachers from a lot of work they won’t need to do as a result.

This isn’t a ‘woe is me’ post, but it I thought it might shed a bit of light on a day in the life of a headteacher. Tomorrow, I’ll have today’s to-do list, tomorrow’s and a whole host of new things that need doing.

Still wouldn’t do anything else though.

Building Trust as a Leader

For me this is the most important part of leadership. If you don’t get trust and buy in from your team you aren’t going to achieve much. I’ve written in the past about the fact that people will never be completely satisified with what you can deliver. I know for a fact that I had issues with a number of things that heads I worked for did and I didn’t completely agree with them. You can never please everyone and you shouldn’t assume that you will be able to, but I did trust those headteachers enough to know they were making the decision in the best interests of the school, even if it didn’t suit me perfectly. There was a gap between what I wanted and what was delivered. However, the important thing is what fills that gap. There are two choices here – trust or suspicion. If I fill it with trust then I can accept what is going on and know that the decisions made have come from a good place, if I fill it with suspsicon then the liklihood is that this suspicion will start to permeate other areas of my working life, and then potentially my relationship with that person. I’ve seen it happen between teachers and leaders and I’ve seen it lead to some really toxic environments. The question is, how do you make that people’s default position is to trust you when they disagree rather than doubt you and start to question you decisions in a different way to being professionally challenging? It starts with you putting trust in them rather than the other way round.

This is a tone that you have to set on day one. Trust takes a long time to build and is easy to destroy so a good first impression is key. Of course, you are not there to be all things to all people, you are not a sycophant who is there is appease teachers and give them what they want, but trust isnt about that. Trust is about bringing people along for the ride – them giving you their trust and buying into what it is you want to achieve. The first step of establishing this is giving your trust to the people you are working with. On my very first day as headteacher I spoke to all of my staff. After the usual ideas about an exciting future for the school and lots of new opportunities we got on to more of the nitty gritty. I told them my first thought is to trust them. I will trust them to do a good job. I will trust them to be doing their planning in a way that we have agreed, I will trust they will be marking their books and feedback to children in the ways we have agreed. I won’t be scrutinising everything all of the time, I won’t be checking planning folders each week, I won’t be doing formal learning walks. In short – you are professionals and I will trust you to do the job you have trained and are expert in. This doesn’t make me a pushover, it makes me human. I made it clear that trust can be broken, but that I don’t expect that will happen. We all want to same thing, the best for the children so lets work in our agreed way towards that. Placing trust in teachers doesn’t mean they won’t do the work. It empowers them, ot gives them freedom it always them space to work and breathe giving the potential for better eperiences for the children in the school.

Next I trusted them with my inadequancies. I was honest and up front that there will be things that I do that wll annoy and irritate. There will be decisions made they don’t agree with. There are areas that I am not an expert in (EYFS for a start!). I am not the best teacher in the school, I will not get it right all of the time. By being up front and honest about these areas where I can improve it reassures and again brings in the human aspect of leadership. THe personal connection is so key in schools, primarily between teachers and pupils but the connections between taff are just as key. They are the models the children follow. They pick up on everything so a behind the back comment here and there between adults is soon shared. In a atmoshere of trust and where people rely on and respect each other this is minimalised. By trusting them with my inadequancies I hope they will trust me with theirs – not as a sign of weakness but as a shared experience we can work through together. We can trust each other enough to learn from each other.

The next thing comes down to honesty and transparancy. If we want people to assume trust when there are things we don’t like we have to give them the facts. If you are making a decision, get input. Make staff feel valued and listen to what they say. Don’t guarantee it will all come into affect but show how it has inputted into your final decision. Tell your staff what you considered and what thought went into whatever it is your introducing. Changes to the behaviour policy? Explain what the problem is with the old one. What has led you to this decision? What input do you want from them as staff? If it transpires that the majority of staff feel there is no need to change and it is effective as it is then maybe that needs listening to? There is nothing wrong with changing your mind. Of course, there are timese where this isn’t applicable, but often it is absolutely the right thing to do – otherwise, what was the point in asking them?

What happens when you go into lessons? Is is judgemental? Is it with a critical eye? Does it focus on little things that aren’t that important to the learning of the children, or on the flip side is it so general that nothing can be analysed in depth? In these circumstances lesson visits can become resented and feared, and at worst seen pointless to the staff who have them. By working to build trust between a leader and a team then they can be approached in collaborative and non-threatening way. They know, from your previous actions, that you are doing it for the right reasons and the feedback they receive from it will be rationale and developmental rather than judgemental.

The longer you are in post and the longer you can give consistency in your actions, the more any doubts about what you are doing will be filled with trust rather than suspicion. This is almost certainly better for everyone. You get a better reaction from teachers when they are tasked with something new because they trust in yuor decision making process. It is easier for ou to make decisions as you have more imformation and the capacity of a collective rather than the ignorance of an individual.

Trust takes time to build, but your actions speak louder than your words. Begin by putting your trust in the people in your team, trust their knowledge, their experience and their expertise and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve together. Leadership is not about dragging people to an endpoint, it’s about enabling people to work together to achieve something amazing. Trust throughout the team is the only way you can get there.

How do you know if you’re ready for leadership?

Is there an age limit on when we are ready for leadership positions? Are there factors that mean we are ready or not ready? Do we need a set number of years experience before we put ourselves forward?

The flight controllers at NASA that put Apollo 11 on the moon had an average age of these people was just 27. They were referred to as the kids. This wasn’t an accident, it was by design. They were seen as fearless, not worried about going into the unknown because they had known no different. They knew the stakes and they knew they had to work hard to get it right. They found that older staff were too cautious, too happy to say that things couldn’t be done, too defeatist. Surely the former is a great attitude to have as a head? The idea that things can be done, the cynicism that sometimes comes with more years in teaching? A fresh approach, no fear of what might happen if? Of course, I don’t mean recklessness but ignorance is bliss sometimes isn’t it? The are plenty of examples of successful young CEOs in industry, running very successful companies. Does that translate to teaching and leadership roles in education though?

I was appointed head at 31, after a decade in teaching. I felt ready. Was I? In some parts yes, on others definitely not. If you’re ‘good’ enough are you old enough though? Does age matter?

Whatever stage of your career you are at, here’s what I think you need to consider before taking the plunge:

You Need to Know Your Stuff

Do you need to be the best teacher in the school? No. Do you need to know everything? No. But you do need to know enough about life in different areas of the school to be able to appreciate what it is like to work in those settings. I taught exclusively in Key Stage 2, but made sure I went to see lessons in KS1 and EYFS when I could, talked to teachers, understood how they assessed in those year groups so I could have professional conversations with those teachers. You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you will need to be able to have an overview of what is going on and why. I have huge respect for EYFS staff, it’s definitely not for me, but I tried my best to make sure I understood how it worked, so I knew that if they came to me asking for something I would know why they were asking and whether it was reasonable.

I went to training by John West-Burnham many years ago where he explained that trust is made of consistency, credibility and competency. You need to have a confidence in your competency to build the trust of your staff in you. As I have said, you don’t need to know everything, you need to know when to use the expertise around you, but you’ve got to be able to articulate your understanding in a whole host of areas. A new staff will be watching you closely, whether as a head or a new deputy – I remember feeling it hugely. Being able to be confident in my knowledge helped me hugely. Of course, I thought I knew a lot of stuff, turns out there was a lot more to learn!

So, give yourself a self check before you think about leadership – are there any areas you might need to get a bit more experience in or gen up on?

Be Humble Enough to Still Learn

You might think you are ready, but you are not. There is so much to learn, even the most prepared of people will find new things. Be flexible, be ready to adapt, be ready to say that you were wrong. Above all be humble. There are people that know more than you, have been doing things for longer than you and know the school better than you, if your ready for leadership you’ll be ready to listen, even if it means postponing or chaning that flagship policy you have been waiting to implement. The best teachers carry on learning, and the best leaders do the same. We expect the same from the children in our class, so be ready to expect the same from yourself as well.

Build Your Range of Experiences

This applies to all people moving to leadership not just younger people. I was governor and this really opened my eyes to the world of school strategy. You might have a great handle on teaching and learning, behaviour or assessment but what about the other areas? Do you know about school finance, health and safety, personnel and HR? These will come at you think and fast and you’ll need to make decisions based on them. Have you given yourself enough chance to look into and expereince these things? Governance is such a great way to do this, but so is offering to shadow and help other people. Give yourself as much chance to do this as you have capacity to do. Speak to the head and the bursar, be professionally curious about these areas of school life. As much as we would like headship to be about teaching and learning and giving the kids great outcomes (and of course this is huge) you have to make time for the othr stuff as well.

Ask Others What They Think

You might think you are ready, but to be honest, you might be a little bit biased. Conversely, you might lack confidence in yourself but others think you are totally ready to give it a shot. I felt ready, I got to the point where I was more interested in strategic management and felt I wanted to spend time doing that than I did marking books and writing reports. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED working with the kids and still do, but away from that I wanted to be getting on with trying to help shape the direction of the school. Your line manager should be a good person to have that conversation with, but you need someone who will be honest with you about it, to tell you your strengths and weaknesses honestly, truthfully and in a way that will help you improve. My headteacher when I was a deputy gave me great advice – she told me I was too focussed on small things and needed to step back and see how they fit into the big picture more to have a greater oversight and impact. It hurt a bit at the time, but it was great advice. If you go to an interview and aren’t successful, take the time to engage in meaningful and detailed feedback, use that to help you develop to the point where you feel you have improved your skills. It’s so important to carry that on when you are in post too – listen to your SLT, your collegues. They will see things you don’t.

Think About the Leader You Want to Be

What are your key values and how are you going to apply them? I decided early on – my office door is almost always open (literally) and people can come and talk to me about anything. Consistency was key to me. I worked for a head where you didn’t know whether you were going to be welcomed in or told to go away because she was busy – that made things really hard. Now, if someone comes to see me I drop what I am doing. They’ve come to see me because it is important to them. It might not seem it to me, but it is to them so I’ll give them the time they deserve. I put honesty and transparancy above all else. How can you bring people along with you if they don’t know they can trust you or why you are doing things? So what do you stand for and have you thought about how you are going to model that to the staff around you? How can you communicate it and get the other leaders in the school working from the same principles? Having high standards is not a crime. Being a nice person and having high expecations are not mutually exclusive.

Have Done the Difficult Stuff

Leadership is hard. A great job, but hard. Some stuff you won’t have come across but some you will. Have you give difficult feedback? Do you know what to do when someone breaks down in tears in front of you because it’s all too much? Have you given it consideration? No-one knows how to do it all when they are first in post, but I found this the most challenging part and I think this is where time and experince really helps. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the better you become at it. At the beginning I was too nice trying not to cause offence, trying to be supportive to the point of not being helpful int he long run. Now my staff know theat there is a difference between the personal and the professional. I can give you some feedback and help you improve, or tell you that there are certain things that need to be done differently, but think absolutely nothing less of you as a person. It doesn’t change how I will interact with you in the staffroom or when I pop into your classoom to ask you something or see how you’re getting on. This is where maturity is key. Have you been in that situation yourself? How did you react? What did you want or need?Was it for the best in the long run, even thought it might have been tough? It always hard dealing with people, but at the end of the day the kids have to come first and most teachers will see it from that point of view. All you want is for them to do as well as they can, and be extension you want the teachers to do as well as they can to help this to happen. Dealing with children’s emotions and needs in the classroom is one thing, but the shift to leadership means delaing with adult emotions and needs and this can be a completely different ball game.

Be Prepared for Challenge

People will challenge you on almost anything and often on the things you expected challenge the least. At times you’ll need a think skin. Whilst being flexible and honest is a skill and a strength, so is knowing when you are right and whn to push through with things. This is where a great leadership team is key, where everyone backs each other up. It can take great courage to stick to your guns on something where there is uncertainty. This can be especially true when dealing with parents. Make sure you’ve got a good reason for doing it, and back it up with facts and be prepared to fight for it.

Prepare Yourself to Get it Wrong

No-one likes to be told they’ve made a bad call, or to realise it themselves with hindsight. It will happen and it will feel rubbish. The difference with leadership is that the consequences can feel worse. Its ok to feel bad about it, it means you care, but don’t wallow. It’s like we say to the kids – every mistake is an opportunity to do it better. Saying “We got it wrong, sorry, we’ll do better next time” is so powerful to staff and parents alike. It stops people in their tracks, and as long as you follow through and make the changes then works wonders for building relationships.

So, is it for you?

No-one will ever have a handle on all of this. I certainly haven’t yet, and I doubt I will by the time I retire. However, thinking about where you stand on these might just give you a little bit of insight onto whether your ready. Are you old enough? I’m not sure that matters as much as people think, but have you considered it and reflected on yourself enough? That’s a different matter. Only you’ll know if it’s the right time. If not, reflect and work on it. If you think it is, have confidence in yourself, be brave and go for it, you’ll be great.