More hamster wheel than spinning plates

What does it say about my leadership that following the start of the new headship post, it has taken me three weeks before I’ve been out to set aside time to write my first post? (That is not to say that I have not been looking ahead to January, next April, next year.)

Thinking and reflection time, self-coaching is important and I have made excellent use of my modest commute (45 minutes). I have re-found time for podcasts and having joyed listening to Curious Minds and the TES podcasts. I have used my cars bluetooth to make calls to the governors (Trustees) and one or two trusted colleagues and too often to apologise for “being late home again.” Though I have not been able to justify writing time. It has been a whirlwind, more “hamster wheel” that “spinning plates” despite considerable planning and forethought – Of Mice and Men springs to mind.

One rightly expected that starting my first role as head, it was going to be challenging. That there would be plenty to observe and take in, plenty to do and that mistakes would be made, and then adjusted for. I had spoken to recently new heads and experienced heads, and I had read “The first 100 days of headship.” Every school and therefore by default every headship is going to be unique (the maturity of the school and staff body, the climate, culture and established practices), and in my case, adding to the conundrum was the fact that the school was going through a significant building refurbishment that summer and that we were expecting a significantly number of new staff (including me).

I had a relatively clear appreciation of what I should be doing. I had planned and consulted on the INSET programme, made clear in my own mind what I wanted to convey to the staff and I had spent time considering what it would be like to be a new member of staff. I had set aside non-directed time to cope with the “unknown-unknowns” and set aside a pre-school leadership meeting to go over our roles and responsibilities and booked meetings with Trustees.

I charted the development of the significant building plans through the summer and by mid August it became apparent that the school was not going to be in a ready state to open on time. My first act as a head was to delay the start of term. I was disappointed, I felt guilty almost, though what I did not anticipate was the significant opportunities this unscheduled delay would have.

Our inexperienced and new form leadership team needed more time than I had originally scheduled. The two-day closure helped us immensely and should I ever get the opportunity to lead another school, I would move to at least a two-day pre-school meeting, possibly three-day. To start next year, I will stay with two day pre-meeting not one. More importantly, for the first time in the schools history we scheduled academic one-to-one mentoring conversations with all year 11s into 12, and all year 12’s into 13. These overlapped the final INSET day and first day return. These have been significant and sent out a very clear message that we cared about our students.

file-25-09-2016
Staffroom 25-09-2016

INSET was almost a wash out. The best laid plans… my introduction to the school was certainly not a reflection of how I envisaged it. We soldiered on neck high in crates and boxes, without staffroom furniture, with contractors on site, failing IT and for good measure an unscheduled fire alarm in a drizzly morning in early September. I am only writing this to show that out of adversity can sometimes come something special. Something you can not create by design. “It will be great” as become our mantra as the calamitous day became almost laughable. “Control the controllables” rang in my thoughts and the unshakeable resolve of Mandy Hickson our guest speaker, my deputy and leadership team kept me going (if truth be known, I was heart-broken on the inside). If I were to write a recommendation for Mandy, it would be something like this.

In the midst of buildings work and rooms changes, IT failure and even an unscheduled fire alarm, Mandy was unshakeable. It is one thing to talk about resilience and grit, another to demonstrate it and evidence it. For many staff, Mandy’s talk and session was the highlight of their two one-day in-service training.

Staff pulled together in the most supportive of ways, supportive of one another and of the INSET event itself. The feedback from day 1 was poignant and I cancelled day two (despite all the preparation).

Adversity reveals character and more than a handful of staff stepped up to the plate. Some three weeks into term a handful of blue crates remain (these haunt me), through continued buildings work and contractors, I fully understand that this rather fraught start continues to damage the school although the sense of togetherness and teamwork it generated will last for longer. It will become the fable of yester year.

We were keen to get the school up and running and still not ready by the third day we offered a staggered start with just year 3 and year 7 returning. The consequence of the unplanned staggered start was that these younger students really felt they got to know the school (and playgrounds) and year seven were able to test run their timetables within the relative calm an relatively empty school. Staff had time to reassure parents and I was able to commit time to these years groups. It was an unplanned outcome that will become part of our operational plans moving forward.

I’m sure that all headteachers are expecting to have to work hard at the start of term though I can safely say that the leadership team that we appointed in the summer have met me every step of the way. The internal appointments bringing a knowledge and understanding of the school culture and new the leaders appropriate challenge. It has been a valuable mix of old and new. The Trustees have always been ready and willing to return my calls and kept the level of scrutiny appropriate, if demanding.

Lastly safeguarding.

Safeguarding and child protection should be the golden thread sewn through everything we do in our schools.

I am sure you know this. Now not only responsible, but accountable, I wish I had made assigned more time on this aspect of headship before starting school. I would advise my to really get to grips with this aspect of school leadership; the Policy and Procedures, the Single Central Record, meeting and discussing issues with the Designated Safeguarding Lead and Trustee. Finding out and contacting the Local Authority Designated Officer and introducing myself to the Multi-agency safeguarding hub.

I am now off to learn more about the origins of World War I. I have lessons to prepare. Undoubtedly, teaching has been the most welcomed rest bite from leading the school. Even then, I can not help but extrapolate from the classroom, evidence for our development plan and Teaching and Learning priorities.

Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you want. I guess I am more experienced now and next September our students will benefit from our unexpected learning, possible students at other school in the Trust as well as a consequence of sharing these tribulations.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer‘s view in any way.

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