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.  

Monday, 30 March 2015

Barriers and opportunities

I joined Twitter around five years ago whilst on maternity leave with my son.  He was a very calm, content baby.  A period of time we all remember fondly in our family! Anyway, that left me with a bit of time and I'd got to the stage where not only was the mood on Facebook  seriously getting on my nerves, but I also had a Facebook farm!  Disgusted with the person I had become and wracked with guilt about forgetting to feed my Facebook sheep I decided to give Twitter a go.

I can honestly say that Twitter has been the best source of support, friendship, professional development and interesting dialogue.  Online, over the phone and face to face whenever I have met people I tweet with.  The connections I have developed over that time have given me and our school opportunities we could never have dreamed of, much less afforded. 

Last week I got the opportunity to meet someone I have been in contact with on Twitter for all of that time. One of the first people I connected with actually.  I remember thinking his tweets were intelligent and immediately realising when I read his Twitter name and bio that he had been diagnosed with Aspergers as an adult.  Something a lot of people apparently miss.  That surprised me but I suppose perhaps it shouldn't.  Lots of people make the mistake of making life online two dimensional.  We also like lots of the same music and tend to find the same things funny.  

Over the years in several schools I have been special needs co ordinator, including in my current school.  The issue of labelling or not labelling children with a medical diagnosis has constantly cropped up.  The whole thing is a minefield for parents who often don't know what to do for the best and actually just want their child to be happy and valued at school and through their life.  It's also a hot potato for teachers as we are always mindful that we are not medical professionals but we want to help the child and family as much as we can.  Over the years I have come to use the term 'fixed thinking' when talking about behaviours that parents or medical professionals might feel need labelling with the term Autistic Spectrum Disorder.  After all, who are any of us to say that a person's thoughts are disordered?  What order are they supposed to go in?  My friend that I met last week has an IQ of 154, marking him out as incredibly gifted.  Presumably the order his thoughts choose to go in contributes to that intelligence.

'Arseburgers' as he calls himself on Twitter, put this very simply.  He explained that it means very little to him what the label is.  Hence his choice of Twitter name.  It has helped him very much to learn about the behaviours associated with the diagnosis though.  The way he described it to me was that he has to deal with a lot of extra peripheral stimulation.  Things I may tune out.  The colour of a passer by's coat, a car horn, someone else's tone of voice in a conversation over the road, he finds difficult to tune out. This can become over stimulating, exhausting and stressful. Over time he has developed the ability to filter out a lot of this peripheral matter.  There are also strategies that help him. He has lots of sets of pretty much the same outfit for example, cutting out the need to choose what to wear in the morning and limiting extra brain activity on matters that don't need thinking about. 

As we talked about this it became really clear to me for the first time after all these years as a teacher why children cope with some of this peripheral stuff better at school.  When parents have asked me that question, and I've been asked it a heck of a lot, I usually answer that school is more structured.  But it's more than that.  The innate culture of school is all about cutting down periphery noise and colour. As well as creating opportunities for supported active engagement and risk taking when learning.  Filtering for those too young to filter. School looks as expected, sounds as expected and smells as expected, every day.  Except at Christmas, and we wonder why some children struggle with that! In my school we favour quite traditional methods and children have the same teacher for two years.  It's quiet, it's calm and they know how the adult is going to speak to them and be, without having to think about it at all.  When I described that my friend said that is 'a luxury' to anyone that thinks as he does.  

School was not as positive an experience for him.  There was obviously a lack of understanding about his thinking and he was probably far more intelligent than most of his teachers.  Then there were the misunderstandings.  For example he was caned three times for refusing to call his teacher by her double barrelled surname.  He described his confusion over this 'I have one surname, everyone I had ever met had one surname.  I couldn't process the fact she had two surnames.'  After three encounters with the cane an adult eventually took the trouble to explain why she had two surnames and the issue was resolved.  I'm glad this wouldn't happen to a child now.  However the misunderstandings still do.  A parent recently told me that a pupil of ours thought all of the children at a holiday club they went to knew one another already.  The reasoning behind that was that they were talking to one another and knew one another's names.  They were wearing name labels.  We don't know always where there are misunderstandings because the pupils don't know they are misunderstandings.  That's just how they think.  

Professionally I have learned as much from non educationalists on Twitter as I have from educationalists.  Sometimes a non school perspective really helps, particularly as I have never really left school! 

And so to the title of this post.  How pupils think isn't always a barrier and is often a huge opportunity.  My friend is extremely successful and has had jobs most people, including myself, would admire.  Not many of us have a list of IMDb credits lets just say!  A parent recently showed me a photo of a chair her 9 year old had built out of scrap wood found in Grandad's shed.  It could have been the work of a skilled carpenter. I often encourage parents to embrace the opportunities at the same time as navigating the barriers.  The way the child thinks and the way we react shapes who they are.  We really need to spend time thinking about that and planning our behaviour as adults.  

Sunday, 29 March 2015

'Good' to the tune of 'Love changes everything'

Good, good changes everything 
No one slates your Raiseonline 
Good, good changes everything
far less planning, that's just fine 

Good, means space to innovate 
Less constricted, far less fear
Good means you can keep your job 
Fear of sacking, not so near

Good, is such a world away 
From such pressure, constant pain
Good, like when the clocks go forward
No more dark days, no more rain

Good means that it isn't true 
That our vision is just crazy 
Good means that it isn't true 
That our teachers are just lazy 

Good. It is to be enjoyed
Isn't easy, takes some steel.
Good, the chance to have some space 
Lead your school just as you feel.