Sunday, 23 August 2015

Another decade creeps up

I'm about as philosophical as a person who isn't too keen on turning 40 can be about turning 40.  

I'm feeling pretty good in myself. I weigh less than my fattest but not as little as my thinnest, which is fine. It's within the healthy range. I can still run 5 miles pretty comfortably & with training can do more. I can do a spin class (even one of Elisa's!)  My school work is done, as much as anyone's ever is.  I eat well, especially now daughter can cook! I drink perhaps a little too much but as Jerome K Jerome wrote 'thirst is a dangerous thing!'

I am very privileged to have great friends and family.  There is always somewhere to turn, someone to listen.  Including my wonderful Twitter friends. There is always laughter too.  Some of my friends and family aren't around any more but if there's one thing I'm sure of it is that they are somewhere. 

I'm not keen on 40, as I said. I wasn't keen on 30 either. I spent the last night of my twenties listening to Duran Duran & feeling impending doom! What was a fabulous and pleasant surprise though was how much more comfortable with who I am I became in my thirties. How much more confident in school leadership too.  

It's very hard to be confident with the shifting sands we stand on as school leaders.  I noticed & commented on a question about the popularity of Estelle Morris as education secretary yesterday. My comment was that she was neither hated nor reviled.  140 characters isn't a lot is it?  In my opinion she was popular with heads but teachers were fairly ambivalent toward her. She stepped down just before I was a head but I hear from others that they felt supported by her.  That her actions and work supported school leaders. She couldn't continue to do that though within her context and stepped down rather than do that in which she did not believe. Political landscapes change and the money ran out. That's how I perceive it and I suppose the idea of her in that context might be popular.  She did the best she could under the circumstances. As the years go on I find I am able to do that more and more. 

I hope my new decade continues to fuel me to keep stepping up though. I'm not finished yet with this job I love, not anywhere near.  I also hope I continue to feel more confident, but never arrogant.   I don't want to be full of it but I'd like to be a teensy bit less scared of the fraud police! (Those imaginary forces that confirm what I secretly suspect...that I actually have no idea what I'm doing!) I credit Amanda Palmer with that term & I think many of us know the feeling. 

So, with ten days to go until I'm 40 I'm going to put 4 songs on Twitter each day.  Today is 1975-1978.  A musical history of me. 

Here is the first. From 'Young Americans' by Bowie 1975, the year I was born. It's actually a Beatles cover.  Lennon & Mcartney ✨

Friday, 7 August 2015

Communication and trust

I would have spent a lot of time and money on things like this 15 years ago: 

Things like this really bother me.  If there's a genuine reason to look you probably know what you're going to find. Often though it's capitalising on worries that are founded on nothing. If there are texts you dislike it's usually only because things read to you as you read them not necessarily as the writer wrote them, or even the recipient read them. 

Adopted Dad Neil Short can charge me royalties on this as it's one of his 'c's but context is everything.  Even a conversation we are having in the same room face to face can so easily be seen differently by you, or me, or both. So many Twitter exchanges that go wrong can be tracked back to exactly that problem. It's even more open to interpretation written down.  

'I didn't mean it like that!'

'Well, that's how I took it!' 

Maybe the most common exchange since communication, and therefore miscommunication, began? 

Why would you choose to read the texts? (Or nowadays pay money to a third party to receive the content of the texts...sigh.) That one's simple sadly. Fraud police.  I can't be this happy. Something will go wrong. Etc. 

So 'Dear younger self' :

If you fear you're being cheated on and you never have before & you have no evidence you are. You're probably not. 

If you fear you're being cheated on & you have a gut feeling & evidence. You probably are (especially if you have been before by the same person.) 

If you fear you're being cheated on & there's no evidence but you have been before by a different person you're probably not. 

I'll waiver the $1 charge. Just for you folks. 

What is it about being human that causes us to question the loyalty of others so very deeply?  Then, once we find someone that lets us down, to make that our marker of how new people are? Most people are actually pretty great.  Perhaps it's the frailty of being human.  The risk taken on relationships, the investment of heart and soul. It's scary to start with the idea that people are great and want to meet more of them. It's safer to stay at home with the ones you know already. 

I love my home people with all my heart and because of them my scared days are over. People are great, I've started meeting more of them & I intend to continue. See you soon! 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Leading learning by example

Leadership.  It's a long game right?  But politics demands it's short term.  What to do? 

I spoke to a really good friend on the phone a while back as his organisation had been asked to speak at a local event.  I know him well, adopted dad.  He asked about our Local Authority & Director of Education.  I said that, whilst some county procedures have seemed really disagreeable from the outside the values of Patrick Leeson, director of education in Kent, are sound in my opinion.  He only ever talks about improving things for children.  He invites us to thank you receptions for our achievements. He's one of those people that I have avoided talking to as I'm sure I'm going to say something stupid to even though I don't know why as he's a kind man.  I went for it this week though! He actually made that easier as I wanted to talk to him about improving things for children.  When you start a conversation with him about that his eyes light up.  I have only ever observed a passion for making the best of our children's one chance at education and courteous respect in his behaviour.

I am going to acknowledge now that Kent policy hasn't always felt kind to some.  I don't have first hand experience of feeling targeted.  But I have friends that say they do. I have been told some sad stories. 

Patrick was given a very tough remit for change when he arrived. And a very short time frame.  I have considered all of this differently since my friend Heather Leatt started working in school improvement in Lewisham.  It's a big ask that job! So, so tough & so voraciously accountable. 

Patrick has already delivered what he promised. Change. Which was needed. It felt a bit pacey.  But it was right.  I wrote this just after his appointment as director. I had just met him & listened to his first speech. 

He had to deliver change and now he will deliver improvement.  He has delivered hugely on the percentage of pupils that attend a good or better school. 82% good+ I believe now.  He is a clever man & we should get behind him.  He has been looking at the work of Saahlberg & Schumacher, & many others.  He commissioned a study.  Conducted in the Autumn term and shared today.  All based on the capacity of the small school head. All capacity is based on necessity and therefore the mind set and skill set of the small school head is paramount.  We think like the village.  It takes a village to raise a child.  

Since Patrick has arrived I have begun to see the undercurrent of change.  He quickly involved Vic Goddard in speaking to us about change. Relationships? Leading by example? Not a small school exclusive. Vic is at the Kent County Showground at Maidstone on November 11th. So are many other great folk with a passion for improving opportunities for children in Kent.  Here's the link to sign up. Come if you can. 

All we can do is work for the best outcomes. This is a song I've sent Vic & a few other shining lights this week. We can only make a difference from inside the fire. 

 I came back from a late alarm call from school happy last night.  The village pub called me.  The alarm was going & no one knew what to do. The new landlord is my mate's cousin & got my number from him.  I went over in my shorts & West Ham Vest. A humble state is best... Anyway now the pub landlord & I are compadres as we've stalked around the school site together.  He'll always be an ally.  

What's left of a village? The school? The pub? The church? It takes a village to raise a child. 

Relationships are all. The overriding message from all research. From Human Scale education (contact Dr Robin Precey Canterbury Christchurch University College) to National Association of Small Schools contact Neil Short @neils46 to relationships & leading a large school & a federation (contact @vicgoddard) 
To our local landlord Jason Blown The St Crispin Inn Worth, Kent :) 

Working together, striving & changing lives (including ours) for the better. 

Lots of inspiring stories today. Thanks for this though Karen Dodd from Shipbourne.  It's just unfinished without a muppet video 

I feel excited and hopeful. I believe in hopeful leadership.  As leaders we must have aim, hope and belief.  Over the years I have heard people in Education cynically talking about things coming around again. Well then so will windows of hope. There have been plenty of those over the years. So we must always be ready to jump through them! 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Rain of thoughts on dry blog ground

I need to end the blog post drought.  Also I have promised Neil Short, chair of National Association for small schools & my adopted Dad, that I will write him something about collaboration by Monday.  So this 'can't write won't write' has to end. 

A short cloud burst of my thoughts on today's happenings. 

Crappy things that have happened today:

My head hurt when I woke up.  I gave up wine a while back but was tempted into copious Rosè in Old Compton St yesterday with my bestest buddy @artymarty78.   Andy was disappointed as not only was I stupidly late home last night, I was also too rough to get up with the kids this morning.  He didn't deserve that. It was really selfish. Guilty feeling is the worst :/ 

I fell on a member of staff in Sainsburys.  I had done my usual stupid thing of not getting a basket because I was only supposed to be getting one thing but then getting loads of things & piling them in my arms. A girl was stacking a low shelf & I fell on her. No damage to me, didn't even break my mother in law's French stick. The girl was very lovely about it but you don't go to work to be fallen on by customers, it must have hurt :/ 

Gemma's still dead. Life is worse and more boring without her. That one's ongoing. :(

Fabulous things that have happened today:

Anthony is still alive, against the odds.  The world is much better with him in it.  

Warden House Summer Fair :) The sight of @chizkent striding across the school field with an actual Minion. If only I had managed to get a photo! Also the NQT dressed up as Elsa from Frozen.  The first of many ridiculous get ups she will don in this fantastic job she has chosen!  The burger was fabulous too :) Well done fellow parent governor Rob Mugford. 

This evening's conversation with Robin Stevenson (@raliel) which I hope will lead to him at least creating a kickstarter for a piece of Art that needs to be a children's book. The realisation that Art is actually always bigger than us. Not just sometimes. 

Rediscovering my many copies of Alice in Wonderland purchased from second hand book stalls, book shops & boot fairs. I am old father William... 

My son's face when, on our 6th watch of Big Hero 6, we discovered there's an extra bit after the credits. And it's voiced by the actual real Stan Lee! 

So there were more good bits than bad.  I hope that's also true for that poor girl I fell on! 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Twitter 5-love, cry, laugh, sing, live

I'll start with a nod toward keeping the rules.  Because I like Ross McGill such a lot and if I were to keep the rules for anyone it would probably be him.  I have been nominated for #Twitteratichallenge by @Kitandrew 

We had been tweeting for ages about edu stuff & then I wrote this one night when my husband had just come home from chemotherapy. 

Chris direct messaged me & we leant upon one another, just gently, with the perfect counterbalance.  Very honoured & glad to have him as a friend and to have shared a few real chats over coffees & glasses of wine as well as virtual ones. I know we will continue to be friends as we go forward into the future. 

Lovely link to the universe that Heather Leatt nominated him.  Another go to person for me, we have lunch or dinner most holidays.  Last time I took a friend with as he was having a tough time. You couldn't do that with many people, I knew Heather would be glad to have him along.  That's who she is, loves good hearted people. Sees good hearts in people. 

So now I've cheated & snuck 2 unofficial picks in, said I wouldn't keep the rules Ross!  

Also, it bothers me to be 'Twitterati' 

'I'm your biggest fan I'll follow you until you love me, Twitter Twitterati' 

I made a right idiot of myself earlier.  Worked a very simple % out completely wrong as I was doing 2 things at once. Didn't just tweet low profile. Tweeted Warwick Mansell & Laura Mcinerney.  Epic fail. Charlie Brown football moment. Well, we all know what pride comes before eh? I'm not 'Twitterati' I'll go with my dear departed Dad's definition: intelligent idiot! 

Right, so. Five people? Here comes more rule breaking.  Not all educationalists. If you follow all edu folk please branch out and follow some other folk. A person needs perspective. 

1. @conflictinbanno - a good time to mention as its my friend Gemma's birthday today, as I write this.  She's 25 somewhere out there.  I found out she'd died just after my husband went down to theatre for a biopsy to find out what level of cancer he had two years ago. I stumbled outside & thought the world might swallow me. Then Ben tweeted that the milkshake machine had exploded all over the person serving in McDonald's. It was a brilliantly worded tweet. The way he put it made me laugh my head off. I've thanked him already but here's another thanks.  The realisation that yes, at the moment this is terrible but somewhere else life is utterly hilarious and all of the universe is made of energy, moments, sadness, laughter. 

2. @arseburgers - a person I am very glad to know.  Gives perspective, opinion, courage and loyalty. Tells me when I'm wrong, in a way even I don't feel like arguing with. Stuck with me even when I went through a phase of watching a trash TV show that makes him feel sick. Gets me.  Has said I get him, huge compliment.  I appreciate it. 

3. @gwenelope - always on the end of the phone if I need to talk. Puts up with my crapping on, starting a story in the middle of another story then coming back to suddenly finish the first one.  Haven't been able to meet her & have had to keep cancelling last minute.  Always understands. The perfect Corwynt. 

4. @musicmind because she makes me happy all the time. She also makes me think because she is a sherbet lemon.  She made me laugh when I was crying when Andy was very ill with a video about a pizza :) 

5. @vicgoddard for an absolute ton of reasons that he knows.  Kept 'boyband' going too with supportive messages through a terrible summer when Vic was supposed to be on official R&R.  He listened to Vic, wouldn't have to me.  Then Vic got me through the doors to pick Andy up after last chemo as it was the date my dad had died in the same hospital. Vic gives a great team talk-sports science. Same as the two little claps :) 

More rule breaking, too many more than 5 to sneak in but @artymarty @raliel & @amandapalmer for helping me to feel that my individuality is to be praised.  School never taught me that, as a pupil or a teacher. 

Finally.  Sing.  Especially if you think you can't. Amanda Palmer sent us Patreon supporters a recent review that was one of the most painful, horrid, personal things I have ever read about her singing. She didn't tweet it as she didn't want the crowd retaliation. Her singing, music, words & art help and heal thousands.  There will always be critics, we can't affect that.  But we can keep going. We can keep singing.  

Just sing 

I love you all.  Love yourselves this week. Promise? 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Another dot on the Raiseonline

Some may remember the last blog post I wrote about statutory testing for 11 year olds and the effects on pupils. Especially the most vulnerable.  I refer to Raiseonline which I'll translate now for you non educationalists.  A statistical document that analyses the test results of children age 7 and 11 for us Primary school folk.  Secondary schools have their version of this too.  Centrally produced by a team of Department for Education statisticians.  Yes, we pay tax for this folks.  It statistically analyses pupil test results from May tests according to vulnerable group, the time of year they are born, how deprived they were judged to be on the last census, whether they are deemed to have special educational needs and a number of other factors.  It also shows data trends for the school over five years.  It is the document that our inspectorate use to form their investigative trails. Our school has a pupil admission number of ten.  Each child represents 10%.  I can almost hear a number of business statisticians beginning to giggle. This year each child in our school is 14% (statistician giggles turn to incredulous laughter.) Two years ago the reportable number for league tables was reduced by the Department for Education from 10 to 5 pupils in a cohort, each pupil representing 25% of the data (statisticians go hysterical & have to be revived.) 

Anyway now that I have explained, here is the original post:

This evening I am once again in that angry and sad place where a vulnerable pupil, who has been through quite enough, is putting too much pressure on themselves over SATs.  Our staff try so very hard to make sure the pressure we are under as a school to achieve numerical targets isn't passed on to the children. But with booster classes going on and a lot of discussion about marks and scores it is inevitable that the pressure seeps through a bit. 

This pupil isn't like the last one I blogged about, but at the same time is. Same situation with home life.  Same late intervention in terms of better home life. Same amazing opportunity because of some talented foster carers.  But this one is also different as has bags of resilience, intelligence (academic and emotional) and aspires to become a lawyer.  This young person took every horrible, crappy thing that happened & built it into a resolve to grow into a successful person. 

Sadly, because of a skewed early perspective on life a successful person to this child is one that does well at exams, gets a good job (wants to be a lawyer) and earns lots of money.  So however we try to make statutory testing less pressurised, this child is suffering this week.  I guess the idea of not being deemed good enough because of your test score is really tough to take when for most of your life you were never regarded good enough by those that were supposed to love you unconditionally. 

The worst bit is that this child is a high achiever. Despite it all. But our education system is still pressurising & punishing rather than nurturing and rewarding. 

Every Wednesday afternoon a very talented counsellor comes in to work with the pupils that need it.  Our aim for this child is for it to be ok and safe to say how you feel & cry if you need to.  I walked past the room they were working in and the child was crying. For the first time since being taken into care. Didn't even cry when very young sibling was adopted.  Expressed gladness that young sibling would have a great life and not remember, even with the understanding of how unlikely it was they would ever see one another again. 

I felt glad, thinking that it was about home.  But no, it was about SATs and the fear of failing and not being good enough. 

The line we're given about statutory testing is that it's important so a good standard of education is maintained. It's good for pupils and informs secondary school.  What it actually does is pile a huge amount of pressure on everyone and predict age 16 results at age 11.  Is the only positive thing about SATs that they can break vulnerable children and teach them how to cry?  

'Life isn't fair, that's what she said so I tried not to care' Madonna 1989

I do care though, I'm burning this evening with unfairness & hurt for our fabulous young people, all over the country, that are feeling the pressure of next week. My daughter is worrying about whether she'll get level 6 (level 8 is B grade GCSE to put this in perspective.) I'm burning about staff putting themselves under pressure, about secondary school staff who will be hit with a stick from on high in five years when these scores will be compared to scores from a test that hasn't even been implemented yet. If it's even been properly invented.

I'm not going to stop keeping on though. It's all we can do. To keep supporting young people and nurturing them within such pressure is a skill that I'm proud of in our staff. It's everywhere in education. Because, unlike the political education directorate, we know who matters. 


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Ghosts and learning from the past

At five to nine on the morning before I began this blog post, several months ago, the fire alarm went off at school.  A tricky situation to manage as there were children on the playground, children in the loo, staff on the gate, staff in the loo, parents dropping children off and every other shade of first thing in the morning school life one can imagine. 

Nobody could work out why the alarm had gone off.  Office manager & I did a thorough search of the building whilst the children waited outside.  We're a very small village school so we don't have a caretaker. There was no fire, heat or smoke and we couldn't find any evidence of anything wrong so, following a phone call to the fire safety company we use, we made the decision to allow everyone in. The day started, if a little late. 

Lunchtime came and our cleaner, Sally, arrived as she is also lunch server.  We talked about the fire alarm, she had tested them all as usual that morning, it being Monday. She cleans from 6.30-8.30am every morning. I have to drop my own children off at 8am so it's best to have someone on site early and I stay late, most usually arriving at about 8.20am just before she leaves. In our small school every member of teaching staff has keys and is able to lock up, unlock and work the burglar alarm.  In small schools the work of the team extends to every aspect of school life, right down to responsibility for opening up and locking up the building.  Something staff in large schools don't have to think about. 

At the end of lunch that day our cleaner & I started chatting as we cleared up from lunch and she told me about her ghost sightings.  She has only been doing early cleaning for a year so it's quite a new thing.  The previous cleaner retired a year ago and did 3.30-5.30pm  so the school was never disturbed before about 8am. Sally jokingly suggested perhaps the school ghost had set off the fire alarm!  

Early in the morning Sally has seen a glimpse of a school mistress several times in the Early Years room, particularly in winter. On a couple of occasions she has heard a cheery 'good morning' from there whilst she cleaned another room. On looking to see which of us was in so early she found no one there.  Our Early Years room used to be the school hall. Where the fire was lit for warmth in the early days, the school was established in 1857.  Back then the school mistress lived on site in a two storey house where our mobile classroom is now. The school would have been her life and home, not only her work.  Lighting the fire and sorting out the milk just a couple of her many early morning jobs to ensure the care of her pupils. The school is in a small rural village, many pupils would have been up from very early on local farms helping with preparing the daily work of the farm. In the winter months I'm sure that being greeted with that nice warm fire as they came in was very much appreciated by the children. Just as now, ensuring they were cared for, warm, safe and happy. Conditions for learning. 

When I was first Headteacher, almost 8 years ago, the husband of a previous Headteacher, sadly deceased, used to come and visit on the first day of the summer holidays. He came each year to wax his wife's commemorative bench. That happened for the first three years of my headship before he also sadly died.  I looked forward to that day each year as he was so full of stories and so wise.  He had also been Headteacher of a small school.  They had both been Heads during the 1960s.  Some of my favourite chats were about the inspection system.  In his and his wife's days as Headteacher there was a rather different checklist.  He was once told off by Her Majesty's Inspectorate because the hall clock read the wrong time.  'Standards and accuracy should be maintained' he was sternly told.  He also gave me some very wise advice from his and his wife's times as Headteacher.  'Always look after the people Lynne, that's what the job is really about.' 

Later that day it occurred to a member of staff as we were chatting that the laminator might have set off the fire alarm that morning. As the laminator was right under the heat sensor I suspect so! My favourite Occam's Razor. That which is most likely is most often the truth. That is not to say I don't believe in ghosts, I just don't think they conduct fire drills for me! 

I think our school thrives on the shades of our rich history and those who led it in the past. There is a hugely positive feel to our school. In the face of change and budget cuts we have a 'face it' feel. A sense that we have come through hard times before and will do so again. Perhaps I have a stoical 19th century school mistress at my shoulder to help me face the hard times that come my way as a leader.  To help me prioritise conditions for learning and concentrate on who our school is for, our children.  Our people.