Good Schools Are Led by Good People

Last week I was appointed as Deputy Head at Framwellgate School Durham, a place very close to my heart as this was where I started my career almost 20 years ago. FRAM as it is affectionately known, is a very special place. Everything about it exudes a warmth and happiness; the students and staff are great and although it may have lost its way a little in the last few years, I truly believe it has all of the necessary conditions to be great again. I also hope that I can play a key part in getting it there as our students and staff totally deserve it.

So why am I writing this blog when I haven’t written in ages? Well I guess the whole two day interview process has made me reflect on who I am as a leader and person and has made me ask many questions about myself in the process, as well as reflecting on what makes a great school. So the purpose of this blog is twofold. First of all just to share a few brief thoughts about good schools being led by good people and secondly as a thank you to all of the people who have been instrumental in helping me believe in myself.

It seems absolute common sense to me that if you treat people with basic common decency, listen to them, value them, encourage and praise them then you’ll get the best out of them. Maya Angelou’s quote ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’ is at the core of my values. Sadly though this isn’t true for some schools. Weak, narcissistic leaders seem to be all too common and I cannot think for the life of me why such a so called leader would think that creating a culture of fear, favouritism and froth would be the way to encourage staff to work together for a common purpose. I know of good schools that were in the process of becoming great and sadly have been ruined because of the egotistical vanity of such leaders. Note to self- make sure any school I work in never operates in this way.

Having spent time at Nou Camp in Barcelona in the summer and read about their youth camp’s (La Masai) ethos I know that this is instrumental in education. They promote the values of discipline, manners and respect and believe that by developing the individual as a person, then the academic success will naturally follow. Not only do we strive to develop these values in our students, but we also need to remember them as leaders to ensure our schools can become great.

Finally I’d just like to say thank you to everyone for your support. First of all the staff at FRAM. You are all absolutely fantastic and I know just like me, want the very best for our students. Thank you for all of your kind words over the last few days; you have no idea what they mean to me. The SLT at FRAM who have supported everything I’ve implemented over the last year. To Andy Byers, our new Head who has made a really positive start and has offered many words of kindness and wisdom. I can’t wait to work alongside you! And last but not least, my lovely husband who made sure I ate and slept while preparing for this interview.

Ps- today I received an email from someone I cried on at the most inappropriate of times. His response to my apology for this was ‘Everyone great I have worked with has been a sobbing mess at some stage- It’s about caring and I treasure that value most’. Final note to self -Good leaders care. They care about their staff, their students and so much more…

The Notebook- ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’

IMG_7904 (2)‘To Thine Own Self Be True’

Being asked to deliver a presentation to NQTs at Shotton Hall SCITT Illuminate really pushed me to once again reflect on my career journey so far. I was asked to share something that would motivate and inspire the NQTs at this stage of their first year of teaching. Jo McShane the course leader described the event as a ‘pit stop’ where the NQTs could stop and reflect, away from the pressures of the classroom, refuel with some great ideas and have time to really reflect on what was important to them. Along with two other speakers, the passionate sage Barry Dunn from Seaham School of Technology who provided a fantastic Survival Guide for first year teachers and Adam Lamb (former SCITTer and all round general enthusiast) we set about sharing our experiences on a fresh Saturday morning at the Raddison Blu Hotel in Durham.

 

 

knowing-yourself-is-the-beginning-of-all-wisdom
For me, as Aristotle said ‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’ so my session focused on three areas- who are you, who do you want to be and how are you going to get there? Reflecting on my youth, I really didn’t know who I was or really where I was going and at times I look back on the decisions I made and wonder how I survived and got where I am today! Today I am much more confident about who I am and what I stand for. Nothing would ever make me deviate from my values. As Polonius says to his son Laertes in Hamlet ‘To thine own self be true’ I believe that self knowledge is a great gift.

 

How do we really know who we are?

After starting with an inspirational video clip of Lily Eskelsen responding to the question of what do teachers do, and asking the delegates to celebrate all of the things that she talked about, that we as teachers do on a daily basis (they are manifold) I set them off thinking about who they really were and how they knew that. I encouraged them to be honest with themselves (no one is perfect) and how would they really know who they were. I know some people have a false impression of their own identity and are actually viewed as the complete opposite of how they see themselves, so how do we find out who we really are? We ask; we ask people that are close to us and we ask for honest feedback. I texted 3 of my friends and asked them to give me 3 adjectives to describe me. They responded with both the positives and negatives and thankfully their choices were very much in common with each other and what I also thought of myself. We also listen (and I mean properly listen) to feedback all around us on a daily basis; it’s there and ripe for the taking as long as we don’t bury our heads in the sand!

 

inspirational-the-difference-between-who-you-are-and-who-you-want-to-be-is
Who is it that we really want to be?
Unashamedly I aspire to be what Sir John Jones describes as a Dream Weaver (if you choose one book to read about teaching, make it Sir John Jones’ The Magic Weaving Business. This book really is an inspiration!) Dream Weavers are individuals who have three main characteristics that serve to change the lives of others. These three characteristics are passion, wisdom and righteous indignation ( that burning sense of injustice and unfairness at life and the unwavering relief that you can do something to change it) The task I set the NQTs thinking about and discussing was who was their Dream Weaver, who did they really want to be? This provoked some interesting discussions about aspiring to be like a teacher who had taught them. I asked them to drill down further. What made that teacher so special? Their answer was that it probably came down to experience. My answer- relationships. Relationships and building strong ones is the most powerful foundation to creating an amazing school. If you don’t have effective relationships with your staff, why would they choose to follow you? How can they follow you and give 100% if trust doesn’t exist and coming to work each day is a miserable experience? If you don’t have effective relationships with your students, relentlessly demonstrate that you believe in them and will support them no matter what, then why should they give more than the minimum that is required?

marigolds
How are we going to get there?
I ended my session with a video clip about tying shoelaces correctly, with the metaphor being that something so small can make a huge difference. I ended by sharing my 10 tips to making sure they could get ‘there’ wherever ‘there’ happened to be. Here they are:
1)Find your marigold! Read this brilliant article by Cult of Pedagody which gives great advice about finding someone in your school who encourages you to grow. Stay away from the walnut trees who stunt growth! http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/marigolds/
2) Always make time for others no matter how busy you are; this will pay off in dividends.
3) Set out a clear vision. How will your students or staff know where they are going or how to get there if their view is muddled?
4) Never make a decision in a corridor. A wise piece of advice given to me many years ago which has served me well. Important decisions need thinking time. Ask the person to come back and talk to you when you have time to discuss and agree things properly.
5) Be prepared to own up to your mistakes and take responsibility for them. It is very easy for others to see when this doesn’t happen and then you’ve lost the trust. Everyone admires the person who holds their hands up and says ‘yep, I got it wrong.. We need to do it like this’
6) Actively seek out people to praise- money is not the biggest motivator believe it or not. Been praised for doing something well means you’ve been recognised for all of that hard work and effort.
7) Share authority- because we all like to be micromanaged don’t we- not?! Trusting your staff, colleagues and students is a great starting point. Schools which have a mutual relationship of trust and support are the ones that flourish.
8) Be courageous. I’m a firm believer in sticking to your convictions. If you truly believe something is right, having looked at it from all angles, then you sometimes have to stand up for what you believe in. It’s a question of ethics for me. Having once been asked to do something unethical, I made the decision to walk away from that situation and I’ve never looked back. It may have been a bumpy ride to begin with but it all worked out for the best in the end. Once again in the words of Shakespeare ‘Screw your courage to the sticking place’
9) Show your sense of humour (even the darkest of times!)
10) Remain humble. Never ever forget who you are or where you come from. There is nothing worse than arrogance…
thank-youNote to Self

Never forget what it is like to be an NQT.  Everything we take for granted as an experienced teacher, can often seem like a mountain to climb for an NQT!

Thank you Jo McShane and Shotton Hall SCITT for once again making me reflect. Yesterday it was a pleasure to work with your former trainees and I’m looking forward to the next one.

 

Jane Rayson Feb 2016

The Notebook- What to Expect from a Senior Leadership Interview

The Notebook- What to Expect from a Senior Leadership Interview

cream always risesHaving sailed easily through two Assistant Headship interviews to gain success on the first occasion with each post, I have over the last few years set my mind on becoming a Deputy Head. Although I’ve not been successful yet, I am cheerfully optimistic that it will come, so armed with great advice from a wise and well respected mentor (“If you shoot, you might just score Jane but if you don’t, you won’t!” and “Cream always rises to the top Jane”) I’m about to embark upon the process again and thought it would be useful to share my thoughts and experiences so far… So thanks for the unwavering support, belief in me and wise words of advice Mr AY, hopefully this time I might just make it…

 

It’s fair to say that I’ve been interviewed for AHT, DHT and even a Headship and all of these interviews I’ve found to be very similar. In fact I found one of the Deputy interviews to be more demanding than the actual Headship one.

Pre-application
Let me start by saying that I’m a big believer in being picky. I don’t just apply for any promoted post that comes along. It has to be something that ‘grabs’ me in some way, somewhere that I feel I could make a difference and somewhere that the Head has similar values and ethos as myself.  After spending 12 years in one school and working my way through the ranks from second year teacher to Assistant Head, I knew it was time for a change so I applied for a second AHT post as I felt that the job was written for me as it was to lead on teaching, learning and CPD. Before I applied, I took advantage of a pre-visit and met the Head on a one to one basis. I knew as soon as I got there that this was the Head that I wanted to work for; his easy manner, passion and beliefs won me over. I felt that he was very open and honest with me and spent time telling me where the school was warts and all and where he wanted to take it.  This transparency was key and I knew before I left the school that I was going to make an application. I went as usual with my gut feeling that it was right for me. I have visited other schools where the Head has painted a glossy picture that all is rosy in the garden, yet evidence deems otherwise. This is not a place I would choose to work.

I know that some people believe in ‘keeping their powder dry’ and not making a pre-visit but I always do this wherever possible and I feel strongly that this has given me an advantage in being shortlisted. With the exception of one post, I’ve never being disadvantaged by making a pre-visit. The one where I wasn’t shortlisted having made a pre-visit was a long shot as it was a pastoral role for which at the time, I had little experience.

Make sure you do as much research as possible about the school and local community before writing your letter. Look at their Ofsted, website, prospectuses, DfE performance tables etc. This will all help you form the basis of your letter and help you know if you really want to work there.

The application
I’m sure we’ve all heard horror stories of letters being addressed to wrong Heads, so much copying and pasting going on that letters don’t make sense and different school names being used in different parts of the letter, so all of that, including careful proof reading goes without saying. Having attended the ASCL course ‘Towards Deputy Headship’ (which I can highly recommend. This not only gave brilliant advice, but gave me the opportunity to measure myself against other prospective candidates. Provided  me with a mentor in the form of an experienced Head who scrutinised my letter of application, interviewed me and then offered a candid opinion as to whether I was ready and  had the necessary skills to become a Deputy) gave me a more focused insight into what my letter should consist of. So here goes…
1) Think about the presentation. Keep it clear, simple, well structured and relevant to the position advertised. Use a minimum font size of 11. Stick to 2 sides of A4 unless you’re asked for more.
2) Ensure you meet the deadline for applying.
3) Match the person specification and job description criteria throughout your letter.
4) Focus on your own educational beliefs, values, vision.
5) Sounds obvious (apparently so many letters don’t do this) but make sure you mention the students and highlight your passion in working with them.
6) Briefly explain why you’re seeking a career move.
7) Demonstrate an awareness of current national agendas and their impact on the school and the role that you are applying for.
7) Having researched the school, state what you would like to tackle as early priorities.
8) Try to avoid overusing ‘I’ as you will also need to demonstrate that you are a team player.
9) Ask for feedback on your letter from trusted people (however avoid giving it to too may people as opinions often clash and this can become confusing)
10) Demonstrate your sense of fun and enjoyment

goldfish

The Interview- day 1
SLT interviews are usually held over 2 days, with the second day (if you get through) usually being the formal panel interview.  The tasks below are from a series of interviews that I’ve attended. I would estimate that you usually get about 5-6 carousel tasks to do on day one.
1) An analysis of data task (usually pages of Raise to wade through, sometimes supplemented with internal data) I have been asked to simply analyse this and set priorities for improvement, but on other occasions, I have been asked to present this information to a panel, where they then asked  supplementary questions.
2) Mini-panel interviews. I’ve experienced these on leadership and management, teaching and learning, governing body, professional dialogue with the Head or another member of the senior team. They usually consist of 4-5 questions on each panel.
3) Student panel interview- always a joy. Be prepared to ask them questions as well as being asked questions about uniform, bullying, your own personal qualities.
4) Delivery of an assembly.
5) In tray tasks such as responding to particular scenarios. One that comes to mind asked me how I would deal with parents feuding over Facebook. I then had to write a letter to be published on the school website addressing the situation.
6) Lesson observations where you either give feedback to the staff member or comment upon the feedback given.
7) Work scrutiny
8) Fishbowl tasks. I’ve only had to do this once and to be honest I was dreading it, but surprisingly I really enjoyed the challenge of it. There were 8 candidates and each candidate was randomly given a different scenario. We had to chair a debate with the rest of the candidates, arrive at an outcome and feed this back to the Head who was observing, along with 3 other members of the Senior team/Governing body. An example of one of the scenarios was ‘It has come to our attention that a group of staff are extremely negative about all of the new strategies and policies put in place to enhance Teaching and Learning. What action should we take to deal with this situation?
9) Teach a lesson
10) Deliver a presentation on a given topic

keep-calm-and-love-your-deputy-head

 

The Interview- day 2
My experience of this is that if you are successful in getting through to the second day, you will be allocated a time to arrive for interview. Panels invariably consist of the Head, a second deputy, several members of the governing body and at times an external advisor in some form, depending on the role advertised. Question that I have had have ranged from 10-20 questions. I have included a sample of some of these below. Should anyone require any more, then please feel free to contact me. I have hundreds!
1) What qualities and characteristics do you have that make you a suitable candidate for this role?
2) Describe your leadership style
3) How would you raise achievement?
4) Describe a situation where you were placed in an unethical situation. How did you deal with this?
5) How would you address a curriculum that does not fully meet the needs of the students?
6) What are the characteristics of an effective school?
7) How would you go about raising staff, pupil and parents’ expectations
8) How would you establish yourself in your first term?
9) What ideas do you have to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the school?
10) We have consistently poor attendance and behaviour from a small number of pupils. How would you address this issue?
11) Describe your role in a situation where significant change was needed to be implemented to bring about improvement.
12) What constitutes good performance management?
13) How would you work with the governing body?
14) How will you ensure that the priorities reflected in the school improvement plan are the priorities of all key stakeholders?
15) From your experience what do you see as the heart of effective financial management?
16) What was the most effective form of CPD you have participated in and why?
17) Based on your experience, what are the most effective ways of increasing parent involvement with the school?
18) How would you go about improving the school’s image?
19) how would you manage work/life balance in such a challenging role?
20) To what extent is uniform important?

cropped-Note-to-self.jpgNote to Self- what have I learned from all of this?
1) I have tenacity! These are gruelling days and I’ve frequently managed to get through to day 2. I’m sure eventually I’ll make it the whole way!
2) Remain upbeat no matter what is thrown at you. The worst that can happen is you make an absolute mess of a question or panel (I have and withdrew from the interview as decided the school wasn’t for me anyway. However the Head did say he was impressed with my tenacity to keep going until the end of day one. He gave me excellent feedback and told me it would come and I was ready)
3) Take any feedback offered.  It is invaluable.
4) Forget about the other candidates and concentrate on yourself.
5) Get a good night’s sleep.
6) Be prepared. I’ve seen some candidates turn up late or not bring documents that they were asked to bring.
7) Expect the unexpected. Sometimes there are no breaks at all in the carousels and the day is just as much a test of endurance as anything else.
8) You’re being observed at all times. Think about what you say, body language,posture etc
9) Be certain this school is where you want to work. You’re going to be spending a lot of time here!
10) Believe in yourself. There are unfortunately, negative people out there who are all too keen to tell you that you’re not ready, don’t have the necessary skills etc, etc.  Unless this comes from someone you trust and respect, my best advice is to ignore it. Life can be full of negativity from people who have their own insecurities and agendas. Instead surround yourself with positivity and people who you know will tell you the truth in the most constructive way possible. We all have areas we are lacking in, but there’s nothing more frustrating and demotivating than hearing you have some sort of skills deficit but not being given any advice on how to improve or what it is you’re deficient in.
10) And finally- smile, try to enjoy it and just be yourself!   Sometimes it can seem like another candidate has been unfairly appointed, but you have no idea what the school is really looking for.  There will be job out there with your name on it.

negativity

Bring on the next interview please….

The Notebook- Implementing a Whole School Approach to Teaching and Learning

Implementing a Whole School Approach to Teaching and Learning

When I was appointed at my last school to take a lead on developing a whole school approach to teaching and learning, I was really excited by the challenge of it and I have to say that my three years of developing this were absolutely joyous and a great learning curve for me.  I’ve outlined my journey below to share my experience, which may or may not be helpful.  If you happen to find yourself in the same position as me, developing a whole school approach from scratch, then I hope you have as much fun as I did and learn as much too! This isn’t meant to be a ‘holy grail’ but simply a ‘these are my experiences, they may or may not be helpful’  Feel free to contact me, should anyone require anymore detail…

A white dry erase board with shiny metal frame and the words To Do List - Learn on it, symbolizing the importance of education and training to succeed in life and reach your goals

The Background

Like many schools, we knew we could make improvements, yet initially weren’t quite sure about the direction to take.  We had embraced the new curriculum and rolled out the assessment for learning national strategy materials amongst other developments, yet practice didn’t really appear to be changing. It quickly became apparent that we needed to move towards a world where we stated exactly how we were going to approach teaching and learning, rather than a one which suggested that staff might like to try a new idea.  Initially we were attracted to the TEEP model, but we soon became aware of a similar model through the Inspirational Schools Partnership.  This had a greater appeal because of the local dimension, and thus, in the summer of 2010 work between our school and another local school began; the approach was to engender a whole school approach to teaching and learning.  Initially the term before I started in post was used to plan a comprehensive approach, develop the model and initially introduce these plans to staff.

 Beginnings

The partnership started with an assessment of the current situation with regards to teaching and learning.  Colleagues from our support school visited our school to undertake a series of learning walks across subject areas and feedback findings to the leadership team; the main area of development from this was to develop a student led approach to learning, where students were encouraged to play a more active part in their own learning. Staff were therefore introduced to a six-part teaching and learning model at a staff meeting at the end of the summer term to raise an awareness of where the school planned to go with regards to teaching and learning.  An introduction was provided by the Head Teacher (who I have to say was absolutely brilliant in giving me both the autonomy and support to develop teaching and learning and always listened to my ideas.  He always challenged me to think in new directions, but was always there to support with any difficulties I may have had) and then aspects of the model were modelled by the Heads of English, Maths and Science who had previously attended a conference to enable them to gain a deeper understanding of the framework.  I was also asked to speak at this, more as a way of introducing myself to staff, as I hadn’t yet started to work at the school. This light touch initial session served to engender curiosity and paved the way for a fresh approach to be launched in the new academic year.

 The First Year

The new academic year started with a two-day bespoke training course led by four trainers from our partner school.  The aim of this was to introduce staff to the six-part lesson cycle and familiarise them with new terminology.  Staff engaged with exciting activities which at all times modelled the new approach.  Staff were also provided with time and support on these days to begin to plan their own lessons using this cycle.  These two days were followed up with a third session at the beginning of the January term to help develop practice even further.  This third session focused upon engaging learners and one of the ‘touchstones’ of the framework- Assessment for Learning.

In conjunction with the three whole school days of training, the school created time for further development by enabling CPD time for all staff from 2.15-4.15 every Wednesday afternoon.  This time was crucial to the success of the development of teaching and learning.  Staff began to work in ‘buddy pairs’ or triads to develop creative, engaging lesson plans.  Sessions often began with an input from middle leaders to highlight an aspect of our bespoke teaching and learning cycle, then staff moved on to work with their partners before returning for a mini review to share ideas at the end of the session.  This was interspersed throughout each term with a more formal input of bespoke training within departments and the showcasing of new ideas as a whole school.

In addition to this a small voluntary teaching and learning group was set up with keen staff who created resources to support their departments. These twelve members of staff were brilliant and also worked further with partner school trainers to develop additional ideas and resources to support development in school. Furthermore a Teaching and Learning area was created on the VLE as an additional resource for staff.

This first year demonstrated an increased ‘buzz’ about teaching and learning, as well as encouraging more professional discussions and sharing of resources than had ever gone on before.  This initial year saw the majority of staff willing to trial new ideas and want to learn from each other. Learning walks in this first year revealed a growth in collaborative working in the classroom and a desire to try activities that would really ‘hook’ students.  At the end of this year, a survey was carried out with Heads of Department and staff and revealed the following:

Percentage of HODs who agree Percentage of whole staff who agree
The new teaching and Learning programmed is improving the quality of teaching and learning in my department/classroom 100% 74%
The majority of staff are regularly sharing and using each others’ lessons 100% 68%
No member of my department is reluctant to embrace the new teaching and learning culture. 72% 82%
Students are more engaged with their learning, this year than last year. 93% 80%
Classroom behaviour in my department is better than last year. 85% 26%
There is a growing culture of openly discussing teaching and learning in my department 100% 77%

The Second Year

The following year, we continued with the collaborative working, but also introduced the concept of Teaching and Learning Communities which enabled staff to share ideas across subject areas, allowing for further growth.  In addition we also created time for HODs to rewrite their schemes of work with an overarching ‘big question’  A coaching programme was introduced for staff who were new to the school or in their second year of teaching to enable them to further hone their skills.  We also introduced the classroom observation tool Iris which enabled staff to examine their own classroom practice and reflect upon how they could improve further.  We appointed two Advanced Skills Teachers who along with myself began to have regular meetings with HODs to discuss areas that they would like support with. Some of our staff also began to attend Teach Meets and bring further new ideas and good practice into school.  Furthermore we encouraged staff to sign up to Twitter which provided a wealth of new and creative ideas. At this stage we also surveyed students. 66% of students agreed that lessons had improved over the past 2 years.  Departments felt that more engaging and vibrant schemes of work had been created which were relevant to today’s society. There was also a growing interest in pedagogy with the advent of Twitter and Teach Meets.

Twitter

 

 

 

 

The Third Year

At the beginning of the next academic year we introduced a more rigorous monitoring and evaluation schedule. We also introduced a teacher learning journal whereby staff were encouraged to reflect on the lesson before being given feedback on formal observations. In addition, hosted our own Teach Meet with over 150 attendees.  Workshops were delivered by teachers from all over the country as well as staff from our own school. Feedback was extremely positive and included the following comments, amongst many

  • What a fantastically inspirational day
  • Outstanding Teachmeet.  Excellent opportunity for a trainee teacher
  • Fantastic – a great atmosphere from the moment you stepped inside
  • Lovely hearing other teachers talking so highly of our school.  Makes me feel very honored to work here.
pedagoo
www.pedagoo.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The impact of this was that more of a dialogue was created with regards to lesson observation feedback through the learning journal.  Rich lesson observation data was collected which was used to feed into appraisal.  We were also seeing a growth in good and outstanding lessons and fewer inadequate lessons.

The final year that I worked on this saw a growth in the team, with an appointment of a Teaching and Learning Coach and the Head of MFL/AST taking on a role in developing departments.  Each member of the team worked with individuals and departments to develop areas as identified in departmental SEFs.  These areas for development were identified from feedback from learning walks and lesson observations.  This data was passed to HODs regularly (every half term) in order for them to continuously highlight areas for development.  More staff than ever attended our own national Teachmeet which again generated very positive feedback and a wealth of new ideas to bring back into school.  Many of our staff were involved in this, including some fantastic members of our governing body. We also started to drill down into specific areas such as differentiation with our ‘Seven Approaches to Differentiation’ model.  Support became much more specific to individuals and departments rather than generic pedagogy.

Final Thoughts

I honestly believe that this approach to changing the nature of teaching and learning brought about many successes including a revived passion about teaching for many staff. Staff would openly speak to me about the progress made, whereas I think if you asked staff about this in the early days there would be grumbles.  With many staff it was difficult and remained difficult (we didn’t convert everyone willingly to our new approach) but the majority of staff were absolutely fantastic.  It was an absolute honour for me to work with them (along with a very supportive Head) and even though at times it was difficult (think several interesting challenges from members of staff!) they honestly made it very easy for me and I will miss many of them immensely as I move onto a new role in a different school.  The majority openly embraced what we did, trialed new ideas and invited me into their lessons to see what they were doing.  In short an open door policy was created, whereas before there was a reluctance about this. Wednesday afternoons became really precious in enabling departments to develop their curriculum and schemes and off course this was always supplemented by visiting speakers such as the amazing Hywel Roberts and the much loved Paul Ginnis to enable staff to have access to new materials and ideas; a real culture of learning for all was created. Teaching and Learning was on every agenda.  Finally, whole school results improved moving from 43% to 59% A*-C inc English and Maths between 2010 (the start of our journey) and 2012.

Note to Self- what did I learn from this experience, that would help me if I was to do it again?

  • Having a supportive Head and SLT who believes in you and listens to your ideas was absolutely key (Thank you Allan Fuller and the LT of 2010) I’m sure at times they probably thought I was mad, but were always willing to listen to what I had to say.
  • Not trying to do too much at once was important. I refer to this as the ‘layering’ approach and making ‘the main the main thing’ We started first of all with staff creating engaging lessons.  This was further developed by focusing on subject specific needs, as well as instigating training for middle leaders to be able to challenge and support their teams. At a later date we introduced a more rigorous monitoring schedule.  In the latter stages we became much more focused on individual issues such as differentiation.  All of this ‘layering’ led to us being able to showcase our successes nationally through the wonderful Pedagoo and host visits from several schools who were interested in emulating our journey.
  • Building a team of core, enthusiastic staff who literally sang and danced teaching and learning made developments so much easier.
  • Listening to feedback from students was crucial.
  • Balancing internal expertise with external support was critical.
  • Ensuring that teaching and learning was on every single agenda was central to all that we did.
  • Creating time to develop teaching was key.
  • Remaining eternally patient was a must- like students, everyone develops at their own pace and some staff needed more support than others.
  • And finally, the ability to be flexible was necessary. As Robert Burns said ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley’ And actually, this is fine- if your truly listen to your staff they will guide you, but you must encourage them to be honest and tell them what you need to hear and not what you want to hear.

Best laid schemes

 

Thank you to everyone I worked with during this very special period.  I’ll never forget it and will treasure these memories of one of the most important learning experiences of my career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Notebook- A Journey of High Expectations

The Notebook- A Journey of High Expectations

There’s no greater lesson on the importance of having high expectations than moving to a new school. I’m reminded of this when I recently visited two inspirational schools (at very different stages of a journey) where high expectations are evident in all that they do- Goole Academy and Wakefield City Academy.  It prompted thoughts of my first year in a new school and a year 10 class in particular where high expectations were key to their success. I clearly remember the first lesson with them; someone had kindly timetabled me into a room with round tables (which the students thought was permission to sit and chat to each other, with their backs to me and ignore me) AND shock, horror chairs on castor wheels! Needless to say it was chaos and not in a good way!  Here’s a few things that I have learnt on the way that were helpful in dealing with these kinds of situations…

High expectations

Seek support when you need it and remember to listen to and act upon great advice no matter how adverse the situation seems!

I vividly remember having many conversations with my other half which went along the lines of ‘ I’ve duped them; I’ve led them to believe I can lead teaching and learning across the school and I can’t even lead my own class’. Full of dread and horror at the thought of my next lesson with them (I had been in my previous school 13 years and had no such trouble in ‘controlling’ my classes) I realised quite quickly that I needed to really reflect and hone my classroom practice. Here was a new situation and a new environment and I had to reinvent myself. In the first place the castor wheel chairs were ditched (luckily the head agreed to replace them immediately, probably recognising by my frantic appearance at his door begging for money that not all had gone well in my first lesson and the fact that they were in a worn state anyway) and I set about getting to know my class. I learned their names quickly, learned their EMGs (estimated minimum grades) off by heart and most importantly held onto the best piece of advice given by the deputy head. What was it he said? Jane, you’ve come from a school with very high standards and this is a challenging class but don’t lower your standards for these students.  This piece of advice stuck with me and I believe that amongst many other things, high expectations were integral for the success of this class. As I got to know other teachers in the school, lo and behold, I soon discovered that guess what, I wasn’t the only one in this boat! Whilst it can feel like a lonely place sometime, there’s always someone else facing the same struggles. A brilliant teacher called Lisa was faced with similar issues and it was really helpful to work with her on these.

Always remember that there’ll be others in a similar situation- you are not alone.

Lisa and I spent many a night after school discussing what we’d done with our classes, how they behaved that day and what progress they were making and I firmly believe that the successes that we eventually achieved were down to our continued high expectations and belief that all our students could achieve. Our conversations developed from initial panic- we’re never going to get ‘C ‘grades out of them, to ok how are we going to ensure we do? Many of the blogs I read reiterate that optimism is a habit of a highly effective teacher and I couldn’t agree more. I was optimistic that this class could achieve so much more and with this in mind I began to use a lot of model responses to encourage them to write at a higher level and to show students how to structure an essay so they could see exactly what is expected of them. I remember finishing such a response for this class in particular and sitting back reading it and thinking ‘mmmmm is this too difficult? This is perhaps an A grade response and my class are working way below this. Will they get it? Will it turn them off or worry them or confuse them?’ Hell no- the vast majority rose to the challenge and had a go. This was a long way from ‘ Miss I’m stuck.’ or ‘Miss I can’t do it’ or ‘ Miss I’m not doing it’ .

Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfect all of the time- life just isn’t like that and teaching definitely isn’t!

Not everything in the garden was rosy; they still had days when they doubted themselves; there were individuals who were still capable of poor behaviour; A handful of students openly insisted on telling me every now and again that they hated poetry, but I never gave up, I remained optimistic, kept my expectations high and believed in them. The result- every single one of them achieved their ‘C’ grade or above in English (even though a third were predicted ‘D’ grades) But for me, most importantly, they’ve ran with challenges, developed as individuals and began to believe in themselves. The key to this, for me anyway, was holding on to the advice of the deputy, not lowering my standards but instead every time setting the bar that little bit higher. A number of them went on study A level English (which they told me they would never have considered in a million years earlier in the school) and every so often one of them would say- ‘Miss I really enjoyed that lesson today’ or ‘eeeeee miss we were horrible to you last year- weren’t we awful!!!!’

pessemist

Celebrate and be proud of your achievements

Another proud moment was when I invited them to participate in the interviews for the appointment of a learning coach. Here’s what they said ‘Miss she just told us about that poem; she didn’t ask us for our ideas and opinions- that’s not right is it? We had lots of ideas that we wanted to share.’ Believe me that’s a long way from the very first lesson on those chairs with the castor wheels! I’m not the best teacher in the world (by a long shot) but I’m proud of the success of this group (and others) and I honestly believe that it was the optimism and never giving up that got us there in the end.

 

 

 

Look at the difficult times optimistically- you’re always going to learn something from these situations aren’t you?

And then there was a lesson of a different kind in high expectations.  I also vividly remember almost skipping to another year 11 class, a year later, thinking great, they are a set 2 class, they’re going to love English (how naïve, for a teacher of 15 years!)  One of the first questions I asked them was ‘Who loves English?’ and guess what… not a single person put their hand up.  The second question I asked was ‘well who likes English?’- two students raised their hands.  I remember being gutted and in full on panic mode arrogantly told them- ‘Well I can guarantee that by the end of year 11, all of you will like it, some of you will love it and a few of you may even want to become English teachers’ After the lesson, with clarity of thought, I may have sworn a little and thought, how am I going to pull that one off and why did I say it???  But I did and I knew I couldn’t let them down. The optimism and high expectations remained (sometimes through difficult times) but I can honestly hand on heart say that I learned so much from this class- they made me a better teacher without a shadow of a doubt.  They had equally high expectations of me. They were open and honest with me; they told me when something was not working or whether (sometimes brutally) that it was rubbish or they’d rather do it a different way.  They kept me on my toes and became one of my favourite classes ever because of how much their attitudes changed in two years and how they constantly raised the bar.

Share your experiences with others- you never know who they might help!

Note to self- and what should I do with these experiences? I believe that I should share them as much as possible with others. Be open and honest that just because I’m a senior leader doesn’t mean I don’t have difficulties like every other teacher in the classroom. I think that too many senior leaders think that it isn’t right to share that they too can have difficulties with challenging students, but why not?  We are all human aren’t we?  Unless you’re Derren Brown and can hypnotise your students into behaving, then I think it’s perfectly normal and actually healthy to admit that you too can be challenged but can overcome this. I personally think it makes you more approachable as a senior leader. I also think this is particularly useful for the NQTs and ITTs that I work with. Hearing that it’s hard for even the most experienced members of staff shows them there’s light at the end of the tunnel. So even though it might be blindingly obvious that optimism and high expectations are important habits in achieving success, sometimes it’s easy to forget this or lose your way. Next time I hear a teacher say about their class, ‘they can’t do this they’re bottom set,’ I’m going to challenge them to think otherwise!

experience

 

 

 

 

 

Hold onto your beliefs and keep your standards high

It was clear from my visit to both Goole and Wakefield, that high expectations and standards are evident in abundance.  It was an inspiring experience to spend time with such wonderful educators and acted as a reminder that this is what teaching and leadership is all about. It really was a pleasure to spend time there and my only wish is that I lived closer…Jackie Beere (another wonderful educator) says the following about high expectations-

‘There is a four-letter word that is more important for learning than ‘exam’ and that is ‘hope’.  Teachers must believe that their pupils can succeed in something… I once delivered an INSET at a school where everyone seemed to have a deeply held belief that any pupil can achieve an A grade- no matter how long it takes them- if we find the right way to teach them.  That school had the best value added results in the country’ (The Perfect Ofsted Inspection 2012- Jackie Beere)

I also remember reading about some experiment in a school that told a group of maths teachers that a class who were lower ability were really a high ability set; apparently the results went through the roof!   Getting teachers into the mindset of thinking big is probably the first and most important step in believing that we can all achieve.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year everyone.  I know that I’m really looking forward to the challenges that 2016 brings!

Jane

December 2015

Character

The Notebook- What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be? (Part 2)

I want to be
A leader that is reflective
Robbie Burns said in ‘To a Louse’ ‘O would some power the giftie gie is, to see oursels as others see us’ As a leader do you make time to reflect on your everyday decisions and conversations? I usually do this just before I nod off to sleep. How do we perceive ourselves? How do we know it’s the right perception? I’m sure many leaders walk around blissfully unaware of what staff’s true opinion is of them and maybe that’s ok in some circumstances. However- how do we know if we are really getting it right? What tools do we have at our disposal? I really like those 360 questionnaires that so many leadership courses ask you to complete, yet are we brave enough to complete them or ask staff for feedback? This is a difficult one, as some staff may be a little worried about writing the truth for fear of consequences. As a former Head of English I used to ask staff to do this anonymously every year- it was great feedback and generally there were lots of positives but also a few hard messages. However hard they were to hear, it certainly made me stop and be reflective and review how I handled certain situations.  I think being reflective goes back to part 1 of his blog about how good a listener you are. Note to self- am I being truly reflective? I know this is an area that I can definitely work on more.  This blog is certainly helping me towards doing that.

I want to be
A leader that is outward looking
How much can we learn from other schools? So much is the answer. I believe some of my best ideas have been from colleagues on Twitter that I’ve taken and then developed further. I love reading case studies from Heads I follow on Twitter and wherever possible visiting their schools. Sometimes it can be too easy to be inward looking when there is so much external pressure. Sometimes it can be too easy to focus on the wrong things when really it’s the basics that need addressing. I like to research topics, find out who is doing really well at something and then make contact with them to learn even more from them. Note to self- if I ever get to be a Head, actively encourage my staff to do this.

I want to be
A leader that can make the right appointments 
Again Richard Branson talks a lot about this. He talks about character being higher than intellect and says ‘don’t get hung up on qualifications alone. A person who has multiple degrees in your field isn’t always better than someone who has broad experience and a great personality’ I love this! Probably because my own qualifications aren’t brilliant yet I feel that I have so much more to offer than just qualifications. Luckily my qualifications haven’t hindered my career progression, but interestingly no one has ever explored why my qualifications perhaps don’t match up to my results or my references. If would be employers did a little more digging they’d perhaps find out that I ran a successful restaurant whilst completing my degree. So whilst I was studying through the day, at night I worked every hour possible getting a restaurant up off the ground. The experience of running a business was invaluable and gave me so much more than qualifications alone ever could. I’m therefore always the champion of the underdog in many interviews that I’ve sat in over the years.  Note to self- those with the best qualifications don’t always cut it in the classroom!

I want to be
A leader that can delegate
Allan Fuller (an absolute gentleman and one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting)  the Head who appointed me in my current role, was very modest with regards to his success. He said to me on more than one occasion “Jane- I’m only successful because of the appointments I’ve made and the fact that I just let people get on with it.” I personally think his success was down to much more than just this but I always remember his words and often see the result when you allow others to take responsibility and fly but always be there to catch them if they need you and things don’t quite go according to plan. Note to self- look for opportunities to delegate. There are many keen members of staff looking for an opportunity to learn and develop themselves.

I want to be
A leader that is all inclusive
I want to be a leader that values individuals for their contribution, no matter what ‘level’ they happen to be at in the organisation. I think the best diagrammatical representations are those which spread out like the solar system, with everyone orbiting the same common goal of improving the school.  Interestingly research shows that money is rarely the prime motivator. Instead respect, politeness (please and thank you go a long way) and recognition of hard work through face to face conversations makes a huge difference. Seeking someone out for praise face to face can be really rewarding coming from a senior leader. I love having the opportunity of saying to my NQTs- ‘ I was really impressed with such and such in your lesson today. Can you share what you did at our next meeting with the rest of the group because I think they’ll be really interested in that’ Note to self- in a busy world ALWAYS make time to genuinely praise staff at every level of the organisation.

And finally…
I want to be a leader that can KISS (keep it simple stupid!)
I love the KISS principle! Quite often the best and the most effective ideas are the simple ones, the common sense ones (you want to make sure a student arrives at your class on time? Then PIP and RIP- praise in public and reprimand in private- simple, but effective. No one wants to be told off in front of others) Keep it simple when discussing developmental ideas- what are the school’s true needs? How can these be developed? Is meeting after meeting productive?  Is a fifteen item agenda manageable? Is it wise to keep your staff sitting there until after 7pm at night? I guess the answer is no. I’m sure it’s tempting to get through everything in the demanding environment that we work in, but I’m of the opinion that ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’  ( let’s crack one initiative fully and embed it before we even attempt the next) Keep it simple- clear agenda, short sharp timings so that staff know exactly what time they can expect to be home or be wherever they need to be.  They’ll love us for this and it will pay dividends with sharp focused discussions. Work life balance is important.  There are so many ideas of what could be kept simple. I’d be interested to hear yours…  Note to self- remember this Colin Powell quote to remind me of the KISS principle “great leaders are almost all great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand’

KISS

So for now that’s my thoughts on leadership. I’m sure as I develop even further as a leader (whether it be inside or outside of the classroom) there’ll be other ‘wants’ that I will add to my list.

Jane Rayson – August 2015

The Notebook- What Kind of Leader Do You Want To Be?

Note to self- what kind of leader do I want to be?

So… After getting married in Barcelona and a fantastic honeymoon in Majorca and Santorini, one of my books of choice was Richard Branson’s The Virgin Way. I love his creativity, the ‘screw it, let’s do it’ attitude and the fact that he seems to be just a nice down to earth bloke that’s done really well for himself! He appears to genuinely care about his staff and want to do the best for them. The book in question was absolutely common sense but really made me think hard about who I am as a leader, whether it be in the classroom leading my students to become all that they can or leading staff.  The purpose of this post is to share my reflections with you and hopefully prompt you to think about what kind of leader you want to be. I’m sure that like me many of you have had the pleasure of working alongside some truly inspirational leaders. Maybe some of you have worked with leaders that have made you think ‘well that’s taught me a lesson of how not to lead people!’ I’m also sure at one time or another, maybe not now but in the future, your experiences will make you think about the kind of leader you really can be… (Ps- as there’s so much to think about, I’ll post my thoughts in 2 parts over a few weeks)

wedding pic
Part 1-
I want to be…
A leader that listens
Richard Branson talks quite a lot about this in his book. It might sound quite straight forward but do you really listen? You may sit there and nod your head, but how do you show your students and staff that you truly are listening? If they tell you something that’s uncomfortable to hear, do you ignore this or pursue it further and really work to do something about it?  Many times, I’ve heard about or seen leaders that surround themselves with ‘yes’ people who will tell them what they want to hear, or shield them from the harsh realities. If you’re not open to all feedback, does that make you an effective leader? I want staff and students to challenge me (in the nicest possible way) and I’d hate to think that I had my head buried in the sand because I wasn’t truly listening. Listening really well is a complex skill as it often involves reading between the lines and perhaps working out what staff are really trying to tell you. Note to self- listen to staff at all levels of the organisation and really work to respond to what they say.

I want to be
A leader that can own up to mistakes and accept responsibilities
I think if you’re truly comfortable in your own skin you can do this easily. Everyone makes mistakes. We tell our students every day that the best learning comes from failing, from making mistakes, so why do many leaders find it difficult to do this? It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact it’s a sign of strength to stand up there and say ‘do you know what. I didn’t get this quite right this time. I’ve listened to feedback and this is the way I’m proposing moving forward with this’ Leading a whole school approach to teaching and learning has meant that I’ve had to do this on several occasions and for me it felt right, rather than blunder down a path that was going to result in confusion for too many staff. On other occasions I’ve been honest with myself and my students that perhaps I could have taught something in a better way. Note to self- always be honest.

I want to be
A leader that demonstrates integrity, honesty and trust
Leaders at all levels often have to make difficult decisions. We can’t keep everyone happy all of the time, but I believe that if we hold onto a set of core principles, are transparent in our actions and do what we say we are going to do then we are half way there. Too many times I hear about or see leaders making bad decisions because of an inability to be honest. An example of this is the common practice of interviewing staff when they have no intention of appointing them. How demoralising and soul destroying is this? If I wasn’t ready for a particular role, I’d hope to be told that and be supported in developing myself rather than face the daunting process of an interview and tasks that I’m never going to be successful in. This may be a hard message for staff to hear, but if it’s done with honesty, and a leader is known for this transparency then staff will trust them and ultimately no matter how hard it may be, accept their decision. I also think it’s clear to witness a leader who is straight talking and demonstrates integrity, honesty and truth. Note to self- always remain true to yourself.

I want to be
A leader that is accessible
How frustrating is it if your door is always closed or your students can’t find you to get that little bit of extra support with their coursework assignment? How do staff feel when the soonest appointment they can get with you is in 2 weeks time? The key here is prioritisation and delegation. Staff are our most important resource and students are our priority so if we have to stay later or move the diary appointments around to be more accommodating then so be it! I once worked with a leader who would say ‘I haven’t got time now but maybe later’ and I (as well as many others I expect) was left feeling irritated and thinking yes but when exactly! The best leaders I know build time into their week for staff. They go and visit their staff in their working areas (I remember nothing worse as an NQT as being summoned to the head’s office and not being told why!) Note to self- make sure staff and students know that my door is always open.

I want to be
A leader that is approachable
Again Richard Branson believes that this is key to a successful business. He talks very much about encouraging his staff to be open and be confident in being able to share their ideas. He focuses on building a culture of collaboration where everyone’s ideas are valued rather than a culture of fear where instead people are focused on doing the perceived ‘right thing’  Everyone has the right to come to work happy and with a sense of being fulfilled; an expectation that if they have a great idea they will be listened to. A friend of mine recently told me about her idea to get an allotment up and running at her school as part of focus on teaching students about living healthy. She spoke with passion and enthusiasm about talking to her Head about this, knowing that she would be listened to. A Head I’ve worked with used to willingly fund special projects that would benefit the students. Note to self- encourage staff to share their opinions without feeling that it’s a career limiting move if their ideas happen to be different to what’s in my head!!!

Richard Branson
So…. What kind of leader do you want to be?

Jane Rayson
August 2015

The Notebook- How Do You Overcome a Lack of Confidence?

Note to self…

Let’s start at the very beginning ( I’m now going to be singing ‘Do Re Mi’ for the rest of the evening) If you’ve already read the ‘About Me’ section then you’ll know that I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. What I haven’t told you yet, is that I used to suffer from crippling shyness (to the point of where I found it really difficult to even ring up the hairdressers for a hair appointment.)So I sometimes wonder how I got to where I am today. My first post is therefore  a little more personal in nature and in particular shares with dealing with a lack of confidence or a crisis of confidence that I’m sure we all suffer from at some stage. So how did I do it?

Paint the Picture of Your Future

The first thing is, I dreamed big. No matter how excruciatingly painful the thought of standing in front of classes or halls full of students could be, for some mad reason it was what I wanted to do- I wanted to teach. I reminded myself of this picture every single day, no matter how tough it got, no matter how much I felt like giving up!

Take Small Steps

I broke my goal down into small manageable chunks which consisted of contributing maybe once in seminars at university and then gradually bit by bit, taking myself out of my comfort zone by completing a drama module, volunteering to present in small groups and making myself strike up conversations with random people in shops or at bus stops. Sometimes I practised what I was going to say for hours on end. Being prepared was key.
Be Prepared to Laugh at Yourself

The next level was to get myself a job in a restaurant where I had to serve people. In addition to this,  I volunteered to answer the telephones in an office I worked in (comedy moment being when my lovely colleagues gave me the number for an aquatic centre and I had to ring up and ask to speak to a Mr C Lyon! Only to turn around to find half the office in stitches and listening to the man on the other end of the phone saying “eee pet. I think someone’s having a laugh”) it was however character forming!

Accept That There Will Be Bad Times

What I do have in bucket loads is tenacity, so there was no way I was going to give up, no matter how many ‘wobbles’ I had.  Sometimes however, it’s actually ok to have a little cry!

Listen to Those Who Know Best

On all of these occasions, I surrounded myself with lovely people who were very patient with me and always believed in me. People who would give me positive feedback and gently prod me to my next stage of development. I had a brilliant mentor in my second teaching job who absolutely believed in me even when I couldn’t see that big picture that I’d painted.

Find a Little Extra Something to Remind You What You Are Capable Of

So- am I cured? Do I suffer from crises of confidence? Of course the answer is yes and I  wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. I still think I’m that shy girl from all of those years ago (my friends just laugh at this) but I guess today’s coping mechanisms are very much the same. Be prepared, practice (I was a great girl guide!) and surround myself by those who will give constructive feedback. Block out the negativity (those people have their own insecurities) And my last little secret?- on those really bad days, where I think I’m totally rubbish at what I do, I dig into a mini suitcase of cards (I’ve kept every thank you card that I’ve ever received throughout my teaching career, from both staff and students)  and I read a few and think well maybe I’m doing something right after all! This is my favourite from Peter which still makes me weep even today…

Peter pic
The Future

So while my confidence has taken somewhat of a hit this last year, this blog is an opportunity for me reflect on my journey so far in order to lead me to where I am going.  It’s a chance to reflect on what I have done and can still do. It’s a chance to share my experiences with others who will hopefully benefit from them.  I have leaped over hurdles before and I am sure that I WILL do it again. So- this is my first post, this is me… I’ll be having a break for a month as I’m about to get married and go on honeymoon. But I’ll be back to try my hand at blogging about things such as introducing a whole school approach to teaching and learning, preparing for SLT interviews, approaches to hands on differentiation and hopefully much more…

Have a restful summer…

Jane

Note to Self…

Notebook quotesPlease check out my latest blog under ‘The Notebook’ tab.