Sunday, 31 January 2016

On creating a culture

The Daughter and I were out of the house before seven this morning to travel to a regional gymnastics competition.  She is, and has been for six years, part of a local acro gymnastics club. We are a small town, the club train in our local leisure centre.  At each one of their three training sessions a week coaches and gymnasts get out equipment and put it away.  Yet in no way does this small club from our small town have small ambitions.  They compete and hold their own against bigger clubs, with elite facilities and far more money. 

The ethos of the club is excellent.  I never see a gymnast admonished for slipping up, sometimes I see that from coaches of other 'elite' clubs at competitions and I always think it's such a pity. If a gymnast does make a mistake they beat themselves up enough. If it happens to an East Kent Acro gymnast the first thing you see when the gymnast leaves the floor is a handful of their club colleagues rushing to make sure they are ok and dry the inevitable tears.  

As well as that supportive ethos there is also discipline.  Like a school that has a supportively strict attitude toward correct uniform the club has a high expectation when it comes to correct kit.  Right down to their black socks.  There is a club competition leotard & a club track suit.  It makes them look dedicated and professional.  Therefore they stand taller.  

Competing against clubs of such a high standard can lead to feelings of disappointment sometimes.  My daughter has an 'in it to win it' approach to any kind of competitive sporting occasion!  I encourage that but don't want her to get too down if I know she is the 2nd division competing against the premiership. 

But then, there's always the FA cup isn't there?

My daughter took up gymnastics aged 6.  She had spent the previous two years horse riding-until one bit her.  That was a deal breaker for her!  So gymnastics it was.  Before gymnastics she used to regularly fall over thin air.  I have seen gymnastics transform her into a young lady with more grace and poise than I could ever dream of. 

When it comes to gymnastics she is 10% talent and 90% hard graft.  She learned early on that sometimes natural gymnasts come in and go ahead of her in the squad.  That's how competitive sport is.  She's a West Ham fan, she gets it! But she has continued to give it 100% effort.  Her coaches awarded her 'Coaches gymnast 2015' at the club award evening at Christmas in recognition of the work she puts in.  She has also started coaching recently and loves everything about it.  

I'm a huge fan of local club level sport.  I loved being part of the rowing squad for Deal rowing club when I was younger.  It teaches young people such a range of qualities and skills.  The work that goes into competition, the preparation for competition, the thrill of the day.  The euphoria when it's your day.  The digging deep and starting again when it isn't. 

This year's competitive gymnastics season didn't get off to the best start for daughter and her partner, they scored and placed quite low.  They worked hard with their coach and in the next big competition a couple of months later their score had improved to only around a point below the medal places.  They were encouraged and continued to work their socks off in preparation for today's competition. 

Yesterday they had a mini competition within their own club.  My mother in law took daughter.  She came back totally disillusioned having come seventh out of eight pairs.  She and mother in law had a really good chat about being resilient.  Last night she did all her prep-warm bath, stretch, early night, got up extra early to stretch this morning-and off we went. 

Before their round she and her partner stretched, warmed up, practised and I also noticed them just standing by the mat talking through their routine.  

They came in from their routine visibly proud of themselves.  

What was also wonderful at that point was the praise from their coaches and fellow club gymnasts.  She sat next to me and was visibly pleased-and then asked me if I thought they had placed! I said if they hadn't they wouldn't be far off and I thought that their score had improved. 

Presentation time came.  My daughter had got muddled about which category she was in, so when the medals were announced we both thought she hadn't placed. I glanced over to her, knowing how disappointed she would be, and felt nothing but pride to see her congratulating two fellow EKA gymnasts on their medal with genuine happiness on her face.  The category she and her partner were in (but didn't realise they were) was then announced.  When she and her partner's names were announced for a medal I really wish I had been videoing her as I don't think I have ever seen a child look more surprised, overwhelmed and then ecstatic inside of five seconds!  Here they are on the podium, mine's the one with a grin a mile wide. She's still wearing it! 

East Kent Acro did amazingly well in the medals today, against a very high standard.  I couldn't be prouder of the club spirit, discipline, support and pride in one another.  Kelly and her team of coaches have set a fabulous culture.  It's a real privilege to be a part of the club.  Some schools have a lot they could learn from the culture of EKA.

Daughter is at her dad's tonight so I text her all the photos and asked if she would like me to make a video of them and if so which song. She text back asking for the following.  So honest about how she is hard on herself.  I have something to learn from that. 

One more in the club track suit. 

Friday, 29 January 2016

'My blood don't run cold no more' Coasts

It's been such a weird week.  It's been the usual 'work like crazy, laugh, teach, worry, resolve, sing, dance, boggle, backfill, reconcile, get back on it, this again? Love when this happens!' week.  But it's been such a weird week. 

I have seen one of my favourite but most elusive colleagues twice this week at different meetings.  Today he chaired the meeting we were at and half way through mentioned something we had discussed at the other meeting that needed to be shared. He said 'when was that we said this Lynne? Last week or was it the week before?' I replied 'it was Tuesday dear.' For him, like me, this week has been a long month! 

I'm currently advertising an assistant headteacher post (come and look! I'm not as potty as I sound on here I promise!) 

I have shown eight people around and spoken to them about the post this week.  I let them talk first (not easy for me-get office manager to bring tea & biscuits so my mouth is full!) then I tell them about where Worth is at. It has been so interesting to tell the potted history of my eight year headship in terms of the school's journey eight times, with the same details for parity.  It has made me think and reflect quite a lot. 

I had this thing about asking each candidate if they want to be a head.  I have said it's only because I'm interested to gage whether people aspiring to leadership posts do.  6 out of 8 so far have said they do. Some clearly because they are passionate to be a head, a couple I suspect because they thought that was what I wanted to hear.  I was all pleased with myself last night on twitter that so many 'aspiring heads' were looking at the role. Oh Lynne :-/ 

Of the two so far that don't aspire to be a head neither ruled it out. One said she struggled to picture herself in that role.  The other, a candidate I showed around today, gave a brilliant answer.  She thought for a bit and then said 'it's difficult to answer in the way I want to honestly without sounding a bit insulting but I would like to answer honestly'  I said 'go for it!' 

She said 'I love this job because I'm with little children all the time and they are so brilliant. I love the management side too and in a small school you can do both. But, honestly I'm not trying to be rude, if I wanted to just lead & manage I could go back to what I was doing before in the city & earn 4 times the salary!' 

Great answer! 

I'm excited about this appointment as those of you that remember the early days of my blog will remember that AHT was a big influence in my leadership. She is now a head. Finances have left us in limbo the past 2 school years but we're back in the zone & I get the chance to lead day to day with someone else again.  Stoked! 

Husband's other school in federation had Ofsted this week. He is a governor there so was interviewed by HMI. It was one of the new 'one day monitoring of good school' visits.  The timetable is robust to say the least!  The experience of everyone I know that's had one so far is that inspectors absolutely do come in with the premise the school is good.  Which is what Wilshaw said, so that is encouraging.  If Ofsted find that to be the case you bank your good & then you get to exercise your brevity in inviting them back to push for more than good. I feel more positive than I had been about all this. 

As well as everything else going on this week we had the official confirmation yesterday that husband is cancer free.  No more scans, 6 monthly consultant appointments or worries about stem cell transplants.  Different world.  It's a weird feeling.  I bought prosecco on the way home & we sipped our way through it but we're a bit numb. Happy but numb. 

Weird week.  Very happy, excited for the future, grateful. Mostly grateful. We're off to see a great band in Camden in Feb. Coasts. I made this last night once I'd processed the great 'no more cancer' news using one of their tracks. 

My blood don't run cold no more 

Monday, 18 January 2016

Another attack of the fraud police

I am attending a meeting tomorrow that I'm scared of.  The people are lovely, the aim is sound, the coffee is nice. But...

I'm on this board & I was asked to be & it's quite important. My improvement adviser's  boss is on it.  She is coming to see our school in March now. Which also terrifies me. It's far worse I think when a colleague you know & want to gain the respect of visits. I know the team will show what we do but will I be good enough? I'm not great at writing action plans & compiling evidence files. The issue really is I don't want to be good at those things.  I'd like to be better at playing the piano.  Everyone else that lives in our house would like me to also. 

 I want to be on this board & help & make a difference. But so far it has rendered me speechless.  It's not like me. There are so many super mega heads on it though.  I'm having a major, debilitating attack of the fraud police. I really need to get a grip! 

I blame Goddard for all this by the way, all that about making a difference from the inside.  There was something about a tent but I wouldn't want to misquote... Anyway he inspired me to apply to be a Kent Leader of education & on this board. And now I am. 

I don't want to go. I want my mum to write me a note. I'm watching the highlights of the indoor bowls championships & drinking fizzy cucumber water (it's January) I should probably be in bed. 

I will be there. I hope I manage to speak. At least the chair is a good mate & friendly face.  It's weird as when I first came into this job I needed to learn to shut up!  I yearn for the naivity I once had. But I still have the inspiration. 

The indoor bowling championships-actually gripping stuff! 

Friday, 4 December 2015

Year 7 lessons #1

I hadn't been feeling well today so was home early and daughter could walk back here from her bus. She started year 7 in September and that was the first time she's been able to come home to me. It was a lovely rarity to be just me and her and together when she still wants to talk about her day. 

Sooo the brief highlights: Tudor House (hers) won inter house hockey.  Three of her best friends from her primary school happened to be on the same bus home as her today.  There were ham & cheese melts at break.  You know, all the important stuff! 

Anyway, then she said 'arrrr mum it was really weird in assembly. We got told that no pupils are allowed to take photos of other pupils on our phones, whether they've given permission or not. Don't you think that's a bit unfair mum? We're always taking photos of each other me and my friends. Why is it such a problem?' 

Ahh here was a choice to make about how heavy to make this light conversation! 

I was a bit intrigued by all this as a new Head was appointed last year and the policy on mobile phones has come into line with the current decade very recently as I understand. That can't be easy for all staff. However subtle questioning to try and ascertain who gave this assembly directive proved fruitless. I'd assume not the Head only because he had almost no voice left as he welcomed us to the school concert last night. Apparently a woman in a red top with short hair. Daughter has very little idea who anyone on the staff is yet other than the Head, her PE teacher, also her form tutor (who she adores) her English teacher (she loves English) and her maths teacher who 'is a really nice person mum but I'm still a bit scared of her!' 

Anyway that's just me being nosey! Back to the plot. In answer to 'what do you reckon that's all about with the photos on phones mum?' I explained the following...

Teachers have to deal with an inordinate amount of 'he said she said, no I didn't yes you did' nonsense. It is a time sponge, it is exhausting and it is extremely irritating. Sometimes your teachers are dealing with something online that worries them about a pupil's ability to keep themselves and others safe. Your teachers have a bigger job than you sometimes realise. So the next time someone posts a photo of someone else somewhere, or in some way that person doesn't want it and then tries to say they had their permission your teachers can just say 'that makes no difference you didn't have ours!' Then they can impose the consequence for that bad decision made by a pupil accordingly. It just cuts the waste of time, general nonsense and unsafe behaviour.

That was a conversation not a diatribe by the way but her responses were all 'yeah, mmm' She thought a bit then said 'ohhh yeah, that makes sense!'

Along with more right to freedom comes more responsibility, a big year 7 lesson. Probably the biggest of all. Sounds like the Head and teachers of daughter's new school are negotiating the worrying and downright annoying aspects of all that very well! 

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Life is fragile

Before I got on the train I stood in the sunshine on the train platform in my home town. I have been there hundreds of times before. 

When I get off the train I will be on the train platform in your home town, where you have been hundreds of times before. 

But you'll never be there again. 

I've been in your home town before, but never with you in it.  You were never in my home town.  There wasn't enough time. 

I've spoken to you loads of times when you were at home and so was I.  But we won't again. 

It always feels strange walking along the platform in your home town, knowing the last photo you text me was a selfie from that very platform.  With no knowledge it was the last time you'd be there. Or anywhere in this world. 

Tomorrow I will walk along the platform in my home town again.  If I'm anywhere. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Love and dancing & other stuff

Just heard this on the radio from Tor Miller 

Love it. I'm apparently not of the radio 1 demographic so it was lucky I heard it really. Pure chance, popped to the shop late at night for bananas for son's lunch box & R1 on in the car. 

There's a brilliantly written tragic episode of the Royle family where Cash is just perfect. There isn't anything except love is there? Johnny Cash knew it

Once nanna has died Jim & Barbara cry & wish for one more row. A beautiful moment Beautifully written by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash. 

What do we do to recover from loss? We breathe in and out. First. We keep doing that, we try. We hurt people close to us. They keep loving us anyway. We keep trying. We manage marginal gains in positivity. (Marginal gains thing nicked from Vic Goddard btw, marginal gains work for everything!) 

We keep going. Life never hurts less but it's wonderful too. I'll keep you safe, you keep me safe xx

I only have one thing to add. Peanut butter jelly. You can approach this how you you want but personally I'm dancing like a nutter to it

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Music for the soul

It was daughter's first year 7 choral concert at Manwoods this evening and it was great.  I absolutely get why it's one of her favourite lessons. I had always expected it to be, she loves music, but Mr Smith is quite something. He used the hour he had with us to not only show what he has managed to do with all (and I mean all) of his new pupils. Whether musically inclined or not. But to share his vision for inclusive music and why the arts are important.  Even Andy Moore was impressed and that isn't easy to achieve. 

No one on that stage felt they couldn't sing, everyone felt they could and they wanted to. They loved it. It was obvious. Mr Smith also spoke to us about the structure and recipe of music and why he loves it. Why we love it and how ingrained in us music is. It was infectious.

Seamless transfer from the musical passion and sheer bravery of Mr Hackett & Mr Atkinson at her previous school, inclusive and beautiful:

I remember when Andy was first ill we had a thing about not using the word cancer. He thought it would scare the kids. About a week after he was diagnosed daughter picked her grandma (his mum) for info. Daughter knew what she was doing in her interrogation as she'd already read it on a charity bag that had come through the door. 'So, Lymphoma is Cancer, right Grandma?'

It turns out you just cannot teach your child to have an enquiring mind & not enquire! Damn! 

The only time she cried when my husband was having chemo was when she woke up & heard me recording this:

She came down because she was a bit intrigued & found me crying having just finished recording it. She was afraid as she thought it was all pointing to us hiding things about Andy's  illness. She thought I was crying because he was going to die. 

It was a really stark example of how true it is that when you try to protect kids from stuff they get more scared. 

I explained that wasn't why I was crying and that actually my friend Gemma had died and it was going to be her funeral the next day. I couldn't go because of the chemo Andy was having and because it was too far away. But everyone had learned her favourite song for it so I had to send my version. 

She knew about Gemma and then there were loads more tears. Her tears were relief though as much as sadness for me losing a friend. Her world was safer. She knew the truth. For me I had been able to join in with saying goodbye to my friend because of music.  I know her parents listened to it and liked it.  Gemma always said she liked my odd little ukulele videos where I've only learned half the words or forgotten the tune half way through. Even when life was on that tough path through illness and grief, music was there. Music is always there.  Pulse, rhythm, silence.

Imogen already knew a lot about music.  Orson's 'Bright Idea' was her first favourite aged 2.  We have a piano and she's had a ukulele for a long time. She plays both but hasn't had lessons. She has a personalised autograph from Amanda Palmer to her as she drew a rather marvellous picture of her when she was 8. She has seen live music. She had a great grounding from her primary school, Warden House. I think this is my favourite. Collaborative concert with other local schools with the brilliant John Holland conducting the children and orchestra:

Daughter's head of music at her new school is inspirational. He is absolutely right about music. Everyone needs the opportunity to know about it and have it in their life. It is the creative outlet for any person, whoever they are. It is not elite, nor is it based in an ability to play an instrument to a high grade or read notation. It affects all of us, in ways some of us don't even realise. Young people can enjoy all types of music, expose them to it. They can also perform and love it. My daughter isn't confident to speak up, most common parents evening comment. But because of the musical education she has had she can sing up. Even in one of the most pressured parts of her end of primary school play as a narrator in Joseph:

Mr Smith gets it. And more! The idea of creativity solving problems. Music being the solution, the energy, the space. The silence. 

Then he got them to sing Bowie. He had me at hello!