Those small things again
Those small things again

Those small things again

Friday evening (Dec 14th) I fell into a conversation with a former teaching colleague via a Twitter follow that continued over the weekend. I am not going to sugar-coat it, the conversation that followed was the highlight of my day, possibly week and yet it was tinged with regret.

A talented history teacher, Gemma moved away from teaching to youth work, where she still gets to “build relationships with lots of lovely young people but no stress!” The stress of being an at-the-coal-face teacher, was inferred to on more than a few further occasions. Gemma loved being in the classroom, teaching, however the inexorable pressures of moving a school out of the jaws of ‘Inadequate’ to ‘Good’ took it’s toll on her and “everyone at our school.” Regrettably, the constant pressure and drive for improvements in student outcomes impacted on her perceptions of herself. (Respectfully, that part of our conversation will remain private. It is the part tinged with regret as I was part of that leadership push). 

That part of the conversation saddened me, that as one of three Vice Principals, in the pursuit of what we thought was best for the students, we hadn’t offered her and colleagues like her, more support. The truth is, we know that we were constantly pushing and then celebrated the Academy’s “Best Ever” results. Student outcomes improved from the 85th to the 45th percentile nationally but at a cost. A cost I was not aware of. What a loss to teaching – such a gain for youth work. Do not give up just yet folks – she may yet come back “into schools/teaching at some point.” More on that to close.


There was a point, somewhere in the middle of the conversation, where I referenced a brilliant observed practical ‘History of Medicine’ lesson.

**He says reaching for his spray bottle to model infections in his History of medicine class.

An ‘I spent hours preparing for this lesson observation,’ type observed lesson. Rich in historical language, it was brilliant, marquee, captivating. I still remember it three years later for goodness sake! To which Gemma replied,

Hahaha! I thought you hated that lesson… I just thought you didn’t like it being a staged lesson in that way and wanted more written work. I didn’t think you liked it very much.

This short exchange highlighted the frailties of observed lessons

  1. How poor ‘whole-class,’ over-prepared observed lessons are, as a model for professional development – I knew Gemma was a great, committed teacher. As Paul Garvey chimes “formal observations of clearly good Teachers. What’s the point? Enjoy lesson visits & just talk to them about teaching. You’ll both learn.”
  2. How poor my feedback must have been – her performance was scintillating and students where, as I said, captivated. Was it effective? That I can not tell you.


Feeling under-valued

Gemma went on to outline the push-pull factors of the profession (workload, expectation of student outcomes) and of the leadership teachers deserve.

Of leadership she highlighted

You were always so supportive and I appreciated that a lot, especially when you let me borrow the 5 people in heaven book after I lost three close relatives. I will never forget how thoughtful and kind you were at such a difficult time.

That was the one leadership action that she wanted to share with me. Not my exciting data analysis sessions, not my efficient scheduling or rallying the troops briefings, not my report writing or policy drafts, not our walking talking mocks experiments, certainly not our Performance Review feedback sessions. She summed values based leadership up eloquently.

Leadership is about making people feel like they are contributing and making a difference in a good way.

As our profession strains under very real financial constraints, systematic pressures and expectations, as I continue to advocate for the immense contribution made to teachers by the Education Support Partnership, I am reminded by one former teacher, (alternatively, one teacher who may be convinced to return) that,

Teaching seems to have lost that appreciation of the small things (in my experience)! 

If you read this post and it resonants, find the ‘Gemma(s)’ in your school and simply recognise their contribution.

To conclude, this post is written with Gemma’s endorsement.

Use what you need. I do miss teaching my subject which I am so passionate about so as I say I don’t want to say it’s forever but teaching needs to change, and things need to be much more flexible as you say, as well as supportive. If people don’t feel valued they will go somewhere where they do.

To Wiltshire Headteachers, especially those near Bath, be aware that a truly amazing History teacher lurks in your midst, a former teacher “open to possibilities.” If you lead a large school, with a flexible staffing model, then Gemma is a History teacher your History students would thrive with. 

This post is shared for two people. For Gemma, thank you for connecting. Second, for Julian Stanley (CEO – Education Support Partnership) whose coaching, forthright challenge and unwilting support, is without question, a contributory reasons I remain invested in education.


  1. Kristian, this is so honest.
    I really wish more senior managers in school would reflect on their words and actions, as I once again councel fellow teacher-friends as they dread going back to school. It’s rarely the students that are the issue.
    My short time with you was very positive, with memories of being made to feel welcome and part of the school, even though I was ‘just a temp’!

    Looking forward to Southern Rocks 2019


    1. Cate – thank you. Writing and sharing these thoughts were partly offered up as an apology.

      You were never ‘just a temp.’ I role model professional. I was very fortunate to have you work in the school I was leading. As for #srocks19 – indeed!

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