Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tie your boots to the kitchen floor-on sticking with it and working hard

It's no secret I love innovation.  Sometimes a little too much.  Change for me is exciting and interesting, I have a personality people warm to the surface of.  I had one of those 'meteoric ascents' to headship. Other people's words. I was dizzy from the ascent myself. I became a headteacher at 32, my 4th school. I'd been deputy of the 2 previous schools and taught at another one before that. My headteacher in school 2 said 'what you need to do is tie your boots to the kitchen floor for a bit my friend' I think that's lyrics to some folk song.  Wise man. Still in touch. 

As a new head sitting in the staffroom I particularly remember a few conversations.  This is one.  An experienced and outstanding colleague (who's still there & v valued) said 'oh I remember this deputy in one school I worked in that had a swift rise to the top. She sent a memo to us all one day about children swearing & we laughed our heads off as she'd written FOWL language' much chuckling & sideways glances at which lightening here replies 'what did the kids say? Ducking hell?'  No one laughs. Bit of tumbleweed blows by...

Anyway I tied my boots to the kitchen floor on this one.  I have stayed and learned in this school.  I've listened properly.  Put proper work in. Kept folders, asked for help, admitted when I messed things up, took control when they wanted me to.  Learned how to tell our story so they all really know how good our school is and we don't have HMI in every 6 months.  Showed them that if anyone visits they get sent over to ask what they think. I'm no me without them.  I'm no hero leader. 

I just needed to work a bit harder.  I find the people stuff & the behaviour stuff really doable, I won't say easy as it takes an emotional toll, but doable. I got promoted up & up in tough schools just because of that and teaching well.  I'm not doing that down of course but as a head I needed to learn the craft of school improvement. 

I've been headteacher of Worth Primary School in Kent for seven years now. I'm not done learning and never will be.  I am surrounded by colleagues, children, parents, governors and families that teach me more every day.  I am now able to be the consistent leader I've always wanted to be. Just up to me to step up every day.  It's took me five years to be good though. Induction to this job is woeful.  My advice is use the money (if there still is any) for personal coaching.  I have a couple of recommendations, do ask!  Lots of heads in this county don't last past their second year.  Lots of deputies don't aspire to be heads. If that's you and you're reading this please get in touch. 

It's such the best job though. I went out last night, relatively rare! At one point I hadn't seen my friend for a while. Found him outside chatting to a group of people. I start chatting too then realise I taught one of them age 4!  It was my ex pupil that realised, who is now 20. Said in front of all mates how much had loved it in my class. Then took me aside later and thanked me for how much I'd supported self, mum & sibling when their dad left when in my class. Even rang mum with me there to tell her was with me! I heard my ex pupil repeat back 'yeah, she's still Head at Worth' that mum followed my career then. Says it all. 


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Dapper Laughs-dictionary definition smart, charming & hilarious. Turns out not.

The Dapper Laughs story has caught my interest.  I watched Newsnight as Nicky Morgan was on and I was interested to see what she had to say.  Thought she did ok actually, I'd even concede well. Especially when answering questions about Cameron & Imperial measurements!  Anyway one of the stories was about Dapper Laughs. A character I'd never heard of before this weekend.  A friend mentioned him. Apparently a character created by a comedian, same sort of idea as Ali G, Borat or Keith Lemon.  Here's the story & the video at the bottom of this article is the one Newsnight used:

This article in it's very title begins to hint at the complications. Poor Holly Willoughby is suddenly getting a mention for something that's nothing to do with her?  I'll come back to that. 

Initially I watched the video on Newsnight and thought 'This is the opposite of condoning rape.'  However at the end it can be interpreted that it encourages laughing about rape. I started thinking about how fair it is if a proportion of your 'fans' decide to interpret your work as condoning rape.  Then I started to think is laughing about rape ok?  That has a simple answer. It isn't. 

It's a widely held perception that Bernard Manning's work was sexist. People found him funny, they went to clubs to see him and quoted his jokes.  It was the 1970's and there was little recourse in the media. There was no Sali Hughes to comment on Newsnight as she'd have been stuck in the photocopier room or getting a promotion on the condition she kept her mouth shut. Did Bernard Manning intend to demean women? I don't know I've never asked him but his manner suggests he did. Did Dapper Laughs? I'm not sure he did.  His comments suggest that was never his intention.  However he has demeaned women, whether or not it was his intention. But did the people he was working for demean women & encourage that? 

Back to Holly, quite happy to be regularly referred to as 'Willoughbooby'
on Celebrity Juice.  Which has never been questioned let alone cancelled despite some quite explicit content at times.  Anyone who has seen it and asks themselves honestly whether some of the activities on the show could be seen to demean women would probably answer yes. Her husband was one of the TV execs who saw pound signs when he encountered Daniel O'Reilly.  Daniel was presumably surrounded by execs telling him to keep doing what he was doing.  Maybe even to ramp it up a bit.  Then they pulled the plug and took a huge step back. I imagine Daniel is reeling.

It gets big quick here on Twitter.  Daniel 'O Reilly suddenly found that he had thousands of followers. Of course this was a massive compliment and thrill for this young man. In his mind was what he was doing and saying worse than Keith Lemon or Frankie Boyle?  His followers supported him against anyone raising a question about whether it was ok.  Some probably recognised that Daniel O' Reilly wasn't trying to condone rape.  However a proportion clearly didn't. 

Thousands of our young people are Dapper Laughs fans.  This intervention by the media (AKA grown ups!) will make him more popular with them.  Whether they understand his work is the key thing here. When Harry Enfield did 'women know your limits' we were in different times.  We got the irony.  It wasn't about sex either. We also didn't, as teenagers, have access to online porn as young people do today.  Some strongly feel that Enfield's work also demeaned women. I know my mother in law does.  As a professional women during a time women weren't expected to return to work after having children she suffered some scathing comments when she did. She feels Enfield belittled her struggle.  Maybe that wasn't his intention. But that's how she feels, and I bet she wasn't the only one. 

Is the fact that hundreds of fans see Dapper Laughs as their excuse for finding rape, violence and mysoginy funny his fault?  Surely he has to take some blame as the words came out of his mouth.  It can't be undone. Is it his fault alone though or do TV execs share the blame?  Are we missing the fact that the fans themselves have responsibility for their actions and words and therefore should bear the brunt of the blame?  Did the parents of young fans teach them to respect women?  Does the media model respect for women?

Is it even all about blame? How do we teach our children to cope with this over sexualised society? Until we start dealing with the notion of how much our children know and have access to this is going to keep cropping up. 

Daniel 'O Reilly appeared on Newsnight in person the day after the story broke to answer questions and shoulder the blame. He did shoulder the blame and didn't try to justify what had happened.  He appeared visibly upset, guilty and shaken by the media storm he is within.  He said that he feels it's unlikely he'll return to comedy and even spoke about his family's disappointment in him.  It was brave of him to do and I might have felt sorry for him, but I feel sorrier for victims of rape. 

Let's hope this whole dreadful episode teaches at least a few people about actions and consequences.  As I said in a recent blog post I wrote for @teachertoolkit our young people are making some terrible decisions that they can't take back.  Particularly online. 

I also can't help but be a little incredulous that the line the media decides not to cross when demeaning women is laughing about rape.  

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The way you frame

was going to use the whole buzzy 'mindset' word but framing and reframing is the same thing. A clever leader (@MaxtedAngela) once taught me about camera angles. Everyone sees the world through their own lens. That's based on their experiences and emotions. To influence that & allow people to flourish whilst pursuing common goals is the most interesting, continual, important challenge. It's my job and it's the essence I love about it. I love to rock up every day, get a coffee, natter to the team & laugh. I love to greet the children (usually had coffee 2 by then!) ask them about their things I know they have going on, notice if they've had a haircut, new coat, new lunch box. I had a very proud new Leeds lunch box 5 yr old after his first game the other day. 

Andy Moore & I reframed Cancer.  It was a big ask but this was the man that was outstanding on the Tribal video:

For all you video haters (I am too) he also got outstanding every day in 2 Ofsteds in 2 different schools. Annoying isn't he? & I had to endure this vid being shown at Tribal 4 day training & not say anything as the trainer had asked me not to. Fortunately people liked it. 

Anyway back to the actual plot it's hard when anyone gets Cancer. A proven outstanding teacher used to controlling everything? Imagine :/ 

There was black humour. When we had the diagnosis appointment there was a student in. I felt sorry for her. Andy was 32 at the time. When the consultant explained likelihood of infertility mentioned the opportunity to take samples & freeze for more children in the future we both, at the same moment, exclaimed 'oh no, haven't met our son!' Then dissolved into giggles & had to recover our composure.

We decided Cancer takes too much so we were going to look for what it can give. Camera angles. Turn it on its head. Cancer has given us lots of days at the park, youngest can do the big slide now. Cancer has given us always doing a roast dinner on Sunday. Cancer gave us a really fun summer because all was well & we just enjoyed the moment. Cancer gave us chicken night! Every Friday we have southern fried chicken, chips & chicken gravy. 

A person can be punitive or restorative. Proactive or ambivalent. Deficit or abundant. Positive or negative. We've had all of the shock reactions, tears, arguments, rows as a couple that anyone would in this situation but we choose to reframe. Every day. Some days every hour.  What else is there to do? 

It's looking like we are closer to all clear than ever which is fabulous but then dealing with 'after the adrenaline' is also tough. Humans can't just switch off an ongoing high alert. 

There are laughs every day though. And there's always 'you & I' 

Thanks for all the love & support. Reframing is everything, whatever you choose to call it. If the affliction is stress it's just as, if not more important. Treatment for Mental Health is nowhere near as successful as for Cancer. 

Everyone looks through their own lens & perceives everything according to their own emotions & experiences. The ability to understand others and reframe is key. 

Saved, was about to publish & then saw this 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Grammar test results day

I'm a well known hater of selective grammar testing. It goes against the grain of absolutely everything I believe in. I visit other counties that have these fabulous schools within a non selective system and ten year olds are not subject to a pass or fail after being given a ridiculously difficult test in week two of year 6. 

I'll just pause there a moment, week 2. Week 2! At least when it was January we had 14 weeks of year 6. The responsibility of being the eldest in the school, having whole school jobs and the expectation of everyone drives a maturity that is not evident in week 2.

This year it was a different animal. I was a parent in this system for the first time. By the way I cannot emphasise enough how different things are once your own children are encountering these systems. I chatted with Stuart Lock about this at the weekend. He'd had a phonics letter. I remembered receiving a similar reading letter. We are not always a parent friendly system. It's tough to be a teacher parent, you don't expect that and I wasn't ready for it. 

We didn't employ a tutor. We don't believe in it. The fear I experienced that my values might have compromised her was significant. I felt like a hypocrite anyway as I disagree with the whole system. I think it's morally wrong that children are judged like that age ten. It's exclusive, selective and labels children failures. I felt like I threw my socialist values on the fire. But you can't always fight the system. She wanted to go to the selective school and I want her to as well as it's so amazing. 

Test day arrived and daughter was fine. She caused a lump in my throat when I asked how it was that evening though. She said 'I looked across the table & I could see X was going to cry. We weren't allowed to talk so I just slid a tissue over to her.' The girl she mentioned comes here often for sleepovers. She is so lovely & exuberant.  She is also an August birthday and I know it's age standardised but the very experience of the test is hard for those younger ones.  It made me feel sad how this testing decimates kids. 

So tonight was results. Tonight was bizarre. We have parents evenings at my school this week so I was at school late. I went to get her from school & brought her to my school. Andy came over too when he finished at his school & we all camped out in my office as we awaited the results email with biscuits, tea, milk & her as YouTube DJ! 

It was actually lovely to chat to our parents as a family as they came in to their parents evenings. It's good for them to know it's as hard being a parent regardless of whether or not you work in a school! 

Obvs a big clue there but yes, she passed! Very glad & she now has an opportunity to go to the school she loved most when we looked around. 

I went to tuck her into bed about half past eight and she looked sad. When I asked what was wrong she said 'I am glad I passed and I am excited but I'm dreading tomorrow morning mum. It's going to be horrible for people who haven't passed and I'm going to feel so guilty. There's going to be a massive fuss and I hate it.' 

As proud of her for that as passing. 

Awful, exclusive, selective system. When are we going to stop torturing ten year olds? 

I'm as conflicted as I am glad and as proud as I am bewildered. But I am also sad and bothered by a sense of unfairness. Hundreds of ten year olds are going to get up tomorrow with heavy hearts. 

A brief post script a day later following my own reflections:

I've slightly changed the original post as my intention wasn't to be political. Exclusivity exists however one votes or doesn't.

No one has said this but it's not 'awful bloody system, by the way my daughter passed' of course I'm proud of her but the test result is no way the top of my proud list. 

The only intention of the post was to share the feelings of children, parents and professionals as they go through the selective testing process. 

My rational response to her at bedtime can conclude the post and it was this: 

'No one knows which school they are actually going to until March. Everyone's parents get to appeal for a place at the school they want. You've done well and I'm proud but it's a test result, it's not the be all and end all of life.' 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Comparing stars to candles, different children same school.

The year before last I became a parent governor at my kids' school. I love it as it's such a fab school and being part of working for their success is a real privilege. I also get to squirrel all of their ideas that are really brilliant for our school and use their capacity when we don't have much left as a small school. The Head, Graham Chisnell (@chizkent) is an admired colleague and for me the bonus is that he started as a head of a small village school. So he gets it. Always been on my go to list of colleagues. Feel fortunate to regard him as a friend. 

When I became a governor and we talked at my first meeting about my term of office and when it would end I quipped 'oooh you'll have my son by then, you may decide to re consider!'  I don't want to compare my two children,  I know Graham and his staff don't intend to so why did I say that?

I find my son's behaviour harder to manage than my daughter's.  I'm not saying my sons behaviour is worse, it's just harder for my natural default, and for my mum's who looked after him pre school.  

If my daughter misbehaves she does it in a very compliant way.  She mastered subtlety years ago, knows exactly what to say and rarely gets caught. She is also bright, loves school and works hard.  She has been awarded the position of head girl this year in year 6 which I know she had hoped for since year 4. She deserves it. She works hard, she has a good heart. She's not perfect, she is subtle.

My son also has a good heart but he is not the poster boy for subtle! He is big for his age, loud and has all of those qualities (purpose, courage, bravery) as does daughter that really help as an adult but can hinder in the context of school. Where, as he wailed on Monday, you have to do what the adults say all the time!  He needs to learn to conform a bit more and he's with the best adults to teach him to do so. 

Yesterday daughter won the spelling bee. Proud. Today son indecently exposed himself at register time & thought he was pretty funny. Embarrassed.  That's parenting I suppose! They are both loving their learning. I regularly wrestle daughter's book off her at half past 9 when she should be asleep. I'm sitting on the stairs now listening to son clapping out syllables in names which I know they've been doing in class this week. If he's choosing to do that in bed when he could be playing with his Batman people then learning must be irresistible. 

I have to stop comparing them as it's like comparing stars to candles. There is a light to both and that's enough to concentrate on.  I know the staff will be able to bring the best out in both.  The fact that my mum took me into another room when I picked son up tonight & giggled when she told me what he did today shows how well it was handled by the teacher.  Of course we're all putting on our serious face to him but it's normal & she didn't make my mum worry. I need to book her for some tuition, I make my mum worry all the time! 

I've always said I'll spend my life trying to get daughter to shout louder & son to shout quieter. Good to know Warden House are right there doing the same. 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dear Newly Qualified Teachers, welcome to the best job in the world.

The internet is full of useful top tips for those embarking on their teaching career. From setting up your room to managing workload to what to wear.  This post isn't really that type of advice, but it might become something that is of more practical use in some ways.

What you do is a lot louder than what you say.  Sounds simple doesn't it?  It isn't though, as what we do and what we say are so different, so often.  Language and behaviour are fascinatingly linked and separated in ways that I would love to have time to study.  Day to day, we don't even really think about the way we use language, so much is habitual.

My daughter was almost two when she met her stepfather for the first time.  Typically for a girl from my family she talked early and hasn't stopped since.  I remember one occasion where Andy and I were chatting and she was just about two.  In conversation I answered a question from him about doing something with 'oh, we'll see.'  She leaned over to him and, in a stage whisper, said 'Andy, when mummy says we'll see like that she means no!'

She heard the words 'we'll see' she knew what those words meant, but because any time I ever uttered them the thing she had requested didn't happen she translated that meaning into 'no.'  Children do that very quickly from very young, the words you use matter far less than the behaviours they see.

My husband and I sometimes engage in a bit of sarcastic banter.  Both children, in their own way, occasionally try to copy this.  It tends to go wrong for them as they are not mature enough to understand and it just comes across as rudeness.  But how can we chastise them for that if it's what they are seeing modelled?

These behaviours I describe in relation to my children and us are things I have also seen going on in classrooms.  Time buying tactics like 'we'll see, maybe after play, I'll try and sort that out for next week.'  Banter between adults in the classroom that children are trying to get involved in and then are baffled when they are told their version is rude.  Pet phrases we use like 'I mean it' that leave the child  thinking 'so didn't you mean it the last time you told me that?' Adults unwittingly giving confusing messages when their words don't match up with their actions.

Nobody's perfect.  You will get tired, children will wear you down a bit at times, you won't always phrase things the best way.  When you are tired though, or ill, or something's going on at home keep words few and concentrate on actions and behaviours.  Calm breeds calm.  Looking like you know what you are doing is a big plus, even if you feel there's still a lot to figure out.  The best teachers know there's always a heck of a lot to figure out and it's only possible to do a certain amount at a time.  Those teachers become the best leaders.  We have chosen a job that's impossible to finish and yet that never stops us trying!

Actions and demeanour are more effective than words when managing behaviour. I've always found managing the behaviour of young people much easier if I think about mine first so here are a few tips.  Mostly from my vast vault of personal hindsight!

Prepare.  When you have more energy do extra and keep plans, resources and ideas in that bank.  You can draw on that when you are tired, busy or both. When the mood takes you, dive in and do some work.  Even if it's only half an hour.  I'm supposed to be doing the washing up right now but that will neither stimulate my brain or help me in the new term.  It can wait.

Those mornings when you get up and you are really not feeling it wear something colourful, smile at yourself in the mirror and play that role all day.  I once taught a girl who was like a barometer in sussing how I was feeling.  If I was having an off day she would make it her personal mission to wind me up with comments like 'did you know your hair was all sticking out at the back miss?' and 'that's a brave choice of colour, that skirt.'  Every time I dealt with it strictly and calmly.  Coping phrases are useful 'I assume you've finished that task I've set you then? Let's have a look' for example.  My goodness I felt like throwing that child out of the class but I never did.  I stood outside for ten seconds myself on the odd occasion!  It wasn't that she didn't like me though.  She was just pushing because that's what she did with adults, at school and home.  I didn't understand that until a couple of years later when I was pregnant with my daughter but hadn't told anyone.  She came up to me in the playground one day when I was on duty and said 'I've guessed you're pregnant miss.  I hope you don't feel too rough.  If you want some water I'll go and get you some.'  If I'd screamed at her on the many. many occasions I had felt like it two years before I don't supposed that kindness would have been offered.

When you have those moments of hindsight and wished you'd done things differently.  Don't beat yourself up.  We all do it.  I don't don a halo every day, there have been occasions I have shouted and regretted it.  Don't be afraid to tell children you got something wrong.  Especially if you have been inadvertently unfair.  Point out though that you did what you thought was the right thing at the time.  An analogy is often useful there, like football refs and video replays.

Ask people for help.  Most times people will if they can.  Especially on twitter.  I try and stay out of the arguments as I don't find they give me much positive energy.  It's useful to work out who is a radiator and who is a drain, in the staffroom and on twitter, and surround yourself with the radiators as much as you can.  Also when it comes to social networking consider that humour written down doesn't always look so funny as it sounds in the pub.

Remember that most things you read in the media about the teaching profession are hugely exaggerated snippets of something a politician has said.  They are more often than not entirely out of context.  Try not to let the media and resulting fuss online undermine the joy of doing the job.

If you disagree with a leadership decision or feel unhappy about something talk to a trusted friend first, preferably outside of school, to clarify how you feel.  Then, if you really need to say how you feel make an appointment for a chat with one of SLT.  Don't get involved in corner conversations.  They are always noticed and it's best to be your own spokesperson rather than someone else's.  If you chirp up in a meeting others may use that as an opportunity for their own agenda.

Finally, don't miss the opportunities there are every day to laugh in school.  Children are hilarious!  Teachers are too, we are about as close to stand up comedians as it gets!  Laughter gets us through the tough times and keeps us enjoying the best job in the world.

The first few years in this job are arduous.  There's no getting around it.  You are learning your craft and building stamina.  You also often don't see the difference you have made to a child until a few years later.  There's very little immediate gratification.  But there are moments of joy that are unrivalled and when you experience one it makes every bit of the slog worth it.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Children's values

It's been the way for a while to have a 'value statement'

For a time schools were supposed to have great big long mission statements. Akin to the Star Wars thing rolling away into the stars. 

Our National Headship qualification taught us the identikit vision statement and how to construct such a thing. 

Some people learned the vision statements. Some recited them. Some were set to music. It was the same time that we wallpapered layered targets to the walls & made kids recite & sing those too. 


Anyway my kids' school has this great thing about making learning irresistible. There's a value wheel too but it belongs to them. I won't explain it as well as the head: 

The reason this came to mind today was that I was talking to my daughter, who is about to go into year 6.  She was doing Kent Test practice (I hate myself & my socialist values are going to murder me in my sleep!) 

My daughter is the actual pass master at engaging me in conversation to avoid work. We were talking about football. (This is a sure winner in work avoidance as many a yr 5 or 6 class will concur!) 

We ended up talking about boys & girls. Girls are nasty to each other sometimes (she knows that she just lived through year 5!)  That's hard but boys do it through football.  She didn't get it & I explained how boys leave other boys out sometimes. Say nasty things about how other boys play. I wrote what she said next down so I didn't forget. 

She said 'Not at our school! Everyone gets to play and they include everyone. The last week of term the boys let ***** take the penalty & they made sure he scored!' 

She was talking about a boy that cries easily, loves deeply & feels keenly. He is valued by his class, included and loved. He is appreciated for his boundless enthusiasm. He is achieving his potential He isn't left out of football ever. This is the work of some extremely talented adults! 

Those talented adults work within an excellent value framework which a great school leader & his pupils constructed. I hope Graham is still kicking his heels, drinking a glass of red & listening to live folk music, because he is making learning irresistible :)