I used to be that girl 

A long time ago I hosted SLT chat, I hosted it twice I think.  It is a Sunday evening school leadership forum on Twitter.  Back then my job as a headteacher was the best in the world and it was hard and a rollercoaster, but I loved it.  

I haven’t joined in with SLT chat for some time but this evening’s topic was authenticity.  It was hosted by Viv Grant who wrote this:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/feb/03/headteacher-how-deal-with-stress-isolation-tips 

I couldn’t resist.  I was a bit late joining in because of family demands. 

I bowled on in with the fact that in the end my authenticity meant it was time to go.  To leave headship.  I couldn’t do the job and be true to myself any more.  It was ruining quality of life for me and my family.   It was also compromising my most authentic self.  I had to be more robust than kind.  

In the nicest possible way a couple of people took issue with that.  Asking questions about my systems, evaluation, evidence of monitoring etc.  I would wager those people run larger organisations but their intentions were sound.  I don’t want to spoil their hopefulness for the job at hand. 

I used to retain that hopefulness always, but then one day that ended.  A kind of dark panic took over.  I was only ever just in front of the tidal wave that was going to swallow me.  Until I remembered that we often only fear fear itself.  So I paused the tidal wave & walked away in a different direction.  Never to look back.  

I worry that the many positive, constructive comments on SLTChat, just like I used to post, hide the deeper fear some have.  I’m not advocating a moaning shop but in an open forum conversation about authenticity people mostly posted leadership sound bites in my opinion.  I saw only two posts about vulnerability.  That’s just what I would have done too a couple of years ago.  Keep the mask on, smile harder.  But what happens when the mask cracks? 

Well, I think we all know what happens & that keeps the pressure at people’s backs to keep trying harder.  Make the mask teflon.  Bake it in superglue & stick it back on.  

I used to be that girl.  

‘I had such an awful dream last night, everybody’s faces were too tight….’ 

Small enough to shut inside a book 

This morning one of my class presented me with a dead flower.  It hadn’t withstood the long walk to school, that the child and parent do every morning, in a warm small hand particularly well.  I accepted it however as though it were made of gold as I always do with such gifts.  The simple act of picking it up and of carefully carrying it to school says ‘this treasure I have found is for you because I like you.’  Is there any better compliment than that from a six year old to their teacher? 

I wasn’t in class today, I was administering the phonics check.  The children settled with their substitute teacher and their day began.  Mine began with trepidation.  Earlier in the week I had the most dreadful dream.  In my dream we had to administer the phonics check in the sea.  On the shoreline, not adrift on a raft, but in the sea nonetheless.  On the day of my neighbouring teacher’s check the sea was calm and idyllic, the sun shone and the children happily sounded and blended words as the waves lapped the shore.  As my day dawned a huge storm blew up.  The waves crashed in and I looked at the sea feeling fearful.  I decided I would have to tell our head I couldn’t perform the check as we would be swept away and I was afraid.  I woke up and boggled at the oddness of my subconscious.  It is an important score for us as a school this year and I understand only too well the pressure of trying to get above the national percentage.  

This feeling of pressure leads many to criticise checks and tests.  I understand that but it is an important part of building a picture of what our children can do and need to be taught next.  The preceding preparation and planning for this check has ensured that this element of the teaching of reading has been taught so very well.  The gap analysis has ensured the children have had a daily diet of what they need to progress.

This morning I had chosen the child who fetched me the dead flower to be one of the first.  I am ashamed to say I didn’t think the child would pass and wanted to try and get through that feeling of failure as a teacher early.  As the check progressed my feeling of hope became astonishment and then joy. The child scored 3 out of 40 in January. Today it was 34.  I wish I had it on video.  The clear use of taught decoding skills was what made me most happy.  This check gets criticised but actually it is giving disadvantaged children the skill and confidence to access words and begin to read.  To feel like readers.  

I wasn’t relishing today but actually it has given me some feedback about my teaching that has made me feel happy.  I also messaged their teacher who is now on maternity leave last night as she had taught them so well and all I have had to do is build on that.  They had a really excellent foundation stage experience.  We have a school nursery which is a full part of the school also so it is truly the foundation stage.  I haven’t been able to share that success with their foundation teachers yet.  Their department leader has been on a residential visit with year 6 all week.  I love our school.  But I know they will be thrilled.  A lot of work went into conditions for learning last year and it is showing now.  Roots have to grow under the ground before the shoots come through.  

Watching children independently using the skills we have taught them, and not just the phonic skills, was such a pleasure.  Resilience, perseverance, calm and positivity were also skills that factored heavily.  Our school values shone through.  Persevere, aspire, respect, teamwork.  Be a PART of the school.  
The rest of the class gave the child a spontaneous round of applause when I walked back in and explained the fantastic achievement that had just happened.  I was really pleased about that too.  Caring about others has been a big focus in our class and they are really getting there.  

The icing on the cake after school today was story club when the same child arrived and found that this week me and our head of department were running story club.  The child was pink with pride to read a book to me with no help needed.  

I think I shall press my dead flower into a book so I can find it when I’m old.  When I may not remember what I’m supposed to do that day but will probably recall this story with absolute clarity.  

This is the one 

Today I got my letter of permanent appointment through the post.  The happiness and relief are huge.  When I was at home in a type of education purgatory some colleagues told me I’d struggle to get a job as a class teacher having been a head so long as heads would feel threatened by me.  That seemed mad to me as clearly if I were that great I wouldn’t be in that situation but the experiences of colleagues seems to bear that out.  

Serendipity struck for me though.  A second advertisement for a maternity leave cover in a school I knew well.  I knew the head professionally, not personally but got the impression of sound moral courage.  I doubted he would feel threatened at all, never mind by me. 

He spent a lot of time showing me around on his birthday.  I think I was unexpected but not necessarily a gift.  I certainly looked more pregnant than the girl about to depart to give birth.  I applied straight away as it was so clear to me I would love it and it was ‘the one.’ 

A few weeks later.  Competitive interview and observation task done I awaited a call some time into the evening.  I got the job & was thrilled at the new start.  Looking around I said that I just wanted to get my head down, work hard and be a great teacher.  The systems in place support that well. Leadership de-skilled me as a teacher and it has been great to have a list each obs of what to work on next.  The reward each day of positive feedback, from relationships and being part of a great team is huge.  

The permanent vacancy came up several weeks ago and I wanted it.  Our school does not have a recruitment issue so I knew there would be competition.  I sort of went back to my rowing days in my head.  You can’t do anything about how the other crews perform, you can only influence your own performance.  I found ‘the one’ in terms of a lesson and gave it my all.  I never allowed myself to think I would get the job, but I did.  As I said to our head when he rang me it is his job to put the best teacher there is going in front of those children and if that’s not me he would have to let me down however sad he would know I’d be. 

So now it is really time for a new start.  I have a new home and will be teaching for the foreseeable future.  This makes me really happy. 

I have a list of oddments of things to add: 

1. The old.  I have to acknowledge how sad it is to have said goodbye to headship.  The first post on this blog is that.  

Updated-thank you for all the lovely comments and tweets.  For a person who is happy I have cried A LOT the past couple of days.  Reflecting on why there are two reasons.  Getting my letter & knowing I’m finally home has allowed me to think about, and grieve for, my previous job. I still feel I let children, families and staff down enormously by departing, as it must have seemed to them, in a puff of smoke.  Headship never defined me & certainly don’t miss being in charge but was very happy as a head for most of 9 years and miss many aspects of the job I always considered such a privilege. The other thing that has made me face feelings was @teacherhead’s post about how he felt at the worst times toward the end of his headship.  It really resonated and took me back to that helpless, desolate place.  Where whatever I did, however I did it, it just wasn’t enough.  Look it up, the title is ‘Out of the darkness.’  (That’s more music ‘I’ve given all I can-it’s not enough.’). 

But, time to dry the tears now & get on with term 6.  There’s a whole lot of the best job in the world to be getting on with.  

2. I emailed our head (Stone Roses fan) at end of my first term to thank him for giving me a chance & changing my life.  He replied ‘I think you did that’ https://youtu.be/l14kECX08NE -THIS IS THE ONE! 

3. The observation lesson I pulled off would have been nothing without this from @redgierob & @literacyshed http://www.literacyshed.com/bubbles.html who would have thought when I was squabbling with you like a twerp a couple of years ago Rob?! I’m sorry.  Again! 

4. ‘Today I sit in a different car and look forward.  Anything is possible.  Because I am not the girl I used to be.’ Girl on the train (film quote-not sure of Paula Hawkins exact wording) 

5. Thank you everyone that helped along the way, especially during the dark days.   ‘Tomorrow is a new day for everyone, brand new moon.  Brand new sun.’  https://youtu.be/gubz32Zm3gw 

Observation 

I think one of the great things about the school structure I’m working within is the induction process.  There is quite a weighty induction manual, the essential and good practice sign up forms and a clear process.  An assigned induction mentor guides a new member of staff through the systems and processes in manageable bits.  

I remember my first inset day in September 1998 as an NQT, coming out with a pile of paper a little overwhelmed.  There were less essential systems then so to have all in one go in February would have sunk me I think.  Our SLT know my background so they respect my previous role but I know their systems are better and they kinda know I do although it’s respectfully unsaid.  Also this is my first full time teacher role for 12 years & life has changed.  I’m an NQT with preconceived ideas nowadays.  

The safeguarding part of induction was very tight including e-safety.  What was also nice is I was told the SLT stance on phones in school, online behaviours etc up front.  The staff list was also very useful in a big place.  I could email the family liaison officer 2 weeks in and ask to see her to find out who she helps from my little bunch & when/where is best to catch up.  The next day she popped by my room after school.  

As I mentioned SLT know where I’m at so whatever I pretend to be like they know my confidence is recovering.  My induction mentor waited until end of week 2 to break it to me that there’s an observation as part of induction. We booked it up for the following week.  I planned it, changed it 3 or so times & fretted from then on.

The following blog post is an indication of my pretend confidence.  ‘I can do this right!’ *I can do this right?* 

https://flamingonotebook.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/rogers-grenfell-behaviour-management/ 

So when behaviour management came up on my development points I was suitably gutted.  Well, we all know what pride comes before folks!  The column about the good bits was full of the actual teaching.  Clear learning objective.  Children clear about learning, mini plenaries, use of ICT, progress in books.  But a very good point was made about engaging their listening before continuing to teach.  My nagging style also risked becoming white noise to them.  (Just ask Andy Moore!) 

Positive praise was needed.  Not stickers for  listening.  I have an issue with stickering things I expect.  But quiet working merit card stickers and tidy up merit card stickers where we earn for our house by being noticed doing the right things.  They have worked a treat. They are mostly still 5 years old in my class. 

Quiet critters are also amazing.  Recommended by a colleague. Google them.  Basically they come out of the jar & sit by you working if your table is quiet. But they don’t like too much noise so if it gets too clamorous back to their soundproof jar they go.  I’m not talking year ones working in silence here by the way, just being able to hear themselves think! 

I was rusty, and used to a very different school.  Classes of 20 who had to be encouraged to say boo to a goose.  It’s wonderful to have 30 keen voices, I just had to find ways to stop them all talking at once! 

I needed a second observation to put the development points right so I asked for one.  Last week of term. Myself and the class were shattered, what had I done?  This was for sure going to go worse than the first one.  I tried to change the lesson less times.  I could tell that members of our department were quietly around for me which built my confidence.  It went well, the behaviour was so much better.  

The positive behaviour management strategies were needed.  Introducing them has worked, but it challenged me quite a lot.  It also helped me reach out to colleagues and ask for help, and accept it.  It also made me realise how much I pressurise myself even when others don’t.  Important going forward into mission class teacher term 2! 

Disco days 

Our school has a hard working core of PTFA (parents, teachers & friends association) members that support, fund raise and create opportunities for children and families.  I first encountered them about 3 weeks ago when a team of them, in their PTFA T shirts, delivered the fridge magnet casings for the Mother’s Day gifts.  I was impressed such a big school had an active PTFA.  I asked if they needed any help for the disco & they said they’d love some.  

Infant discos are great until you’re 5, hot, tired, hungry & a bit overwrought.  My class have had a big change with a different teacher and they are an emotional bunch anyway.  I just thought at least if that’s also still me it will help.  

They are an academically bright but young class, lots of summer birthdays.  Their emotions tend to pour out of their eyes.  Often that is as quickly resolved as it is caused.  It’s just learning how to deal with things; worrying, losing, winning, being hot, being cold, hunger, thirst, needing the toilet, missing someone. 

For me I think I’m just still in that mode of doing all the outside of school hours things but now I can enjoy them.  I can happily dance with the children and then be the one that sorts out a head bump letter (not as a result of my dancing!) but I’m not ultimately responsible. 

I heard our head thanking PTFA members for their work on the comic relief cake sale Friday night.  He took time to make sure they knew how important they are to the school.  

I came home to my maths marking but with a nice sense of having got to know some PTFA members and governors.  Our family liaison officer was there too & it was a great chance to chat.  On Monday morning I have something to chat about to a third of my class that will hook them in. No cha cha slide, but I’ll get over it 🙂 

Rogers & Grenfell behaviour management 

The first blog post about actually teaching & it is about behaviour management.  Of course it is.  

Without conditions for learning being right the children won’t learn and behaviour for learning is a massive part of that.  When the class are calm and behave well there is a feeling of safety.  I don’t mean when they are quiet by the way.  I was very pleased when one of our Assistant Heads popped in this week.  The children were really into their learning and so was I.  I mentioned it was a bit noisy & he said.  Good, they are learning.  No one was shouting or being inappropriate it was just thirty 5 and 6 year olds being very excited about learning. 

The class has been through a big change with their lovely teacher going on maternity leave.  It has taken them a couple of weeks to settle and become ‘my ducklings.’  I have always thought of teaching infants as managing your row of ducklings, particularly when we trek across the playground to the lunch hall. 

I have gone back to some lovely behaviour management strategies that I learned a long while ago from a very intelligent man named Dr Bill Rogers.  If you haven’t seen his work please find out more.  I was very fortunate to see Bill present at a conference back in 2002.  It was our local learning cluster and all local schools were there. We had a couple of lengthy doses of Bill’s wisdom and I have always kept it at my heart.  It’s all about removing the negative.  Obviously it is a part of your range of  behaviour management strategies as if someone has punched someone else there isn’t really any opportunity to remove the negative.  But it is a valuable tool to set the culture of behaviour.  For example in a situation where everyone needs to listen for 30 seconds ‘Bob, you’re talking’ instead of ‘stop talking Bob.’  Often I don’t even say the child’s name, I just make eye contact & say ‘you’re talking.’ They so often just stop. 

It’s working.  They are happy and settled with me this week. 

This strategy is also brilliant with those children that slightly step outside of our usual policy of reward and sanction.  The ones for whom that just doesn’t work.  I’ll come back to that as before that bit I need to share this bit. 

Back to the ducklings. They need to be behind mummy (or daddy) duck.  Small children feel safe with kind, firm consistency.  The first week I had a duckling who ran ahead of me.  By Thursday of week 2 that duckling was level with me.  By Tuesday this week (week 3) behind me. Today on the way to assembly not only behind me but behind another duckling.  So as a reward was allowed to sit by me & hold the merit cards.  Now back to the aforementioned bit about those beyond the reward/sanction system!  The following conversation took place: 

Child: I want to read out the names from the merit cards when it’s time. 

Me: the adults have to do that

Child: but I want to, I’ve been good

Me: yes, you have that’s why you’re holding the merit cards.  The adults read them out. That’s what happens. 

Child: but I want to 

Me: I know you do. The adults read them. 

End of conversation-no more from child. 

I read them.  What I learned from Bill’s training is to remove all elements of confrontation that actually often just occur in human language and we don’t realise we’re doing.  I didn’t say no, I didn’t say you can’t, I didn’t say ‘but the adults have to read them.’ It was just emotionless fact.  Sadly I slightly fell asleep with my eyes open when we got to the blue merit cards and child started to read one but I came to & called out the name quick!  We’re all only human.  Important to remember that too.  

Unconditional positive regard is the underpinning feature of calm, positive behaviour management in the infants.  The narrative in the behaviour culture has to say ‘I like you so much, you are just great. We might have to work on some of these things you do but you can do it and I want to help.’  If we sort it in the infants, or even just build some strategies it will help a lot later on.  Our class TA said a lovely thing when we were chatting after school.  She said ‘I’ve always thought if we stop believing in them they might stop believing in themselves.’ 

School culture is an essential part of all this and ours is spot on.  The support I have received is so amazing it has actually changed my life quite a bit already.  I’m loving teaching and feeling a sense of accomplishment. Inclusion means inclusion and it is such a joy to be part of.  

I also mentioned Joyce Grenfell there in the post title as I have to say my discourse reminds me of her at times.  I don’t have the slight tone she does of course as hers is for comic value but much of my content is no different.  ‘Oh, take your finger out of there dear.  ‘No, please stop, he doesn’t want you to do that to his head.’ Etc.  

I did it just today ‘take it out of your mouth poppet.  No, don’t stick it on your shoe give it to me.  Oh, this doesn’t look like something you should have anywhere near your mouth.  Go and have a drink love.  That’s it you’re fine now.  Now sit down and listen to the story.’

 Something changed 

Some things change, and some don’t. Lots has changed and I haven’t been able to say much about that until now. But what hasn’t changed is my love of teaching.
Until December 2016 I was a headteacher, but that has changed. I had been there a while and during that time the job changed. When I started I taught a day a week and that affected my capacity to be a head not a jot. There was enough money, it wasn’t plentiful but it was enough. Performance data headlines were viewed realistically for small cohorts by all. Ofsted view them realistically by the way, I wouldn’t want there to be any implicit criticism picked up of them. I have found them supportive and fair in both inspections as a head. Our school’s general quirkiness of context was accepted with fondness by all. I was trusted, allowed to get on with my job and treated as though the general opinion was I was good at it. Every Child Matters was still a strategy.
I can’t get into the specifics of how many of those factors changed in the past few years but they did. The cuts to funding in particular were a huge issue. Results were another enormous pressure. Slowly I was boiling like a frog in a science experiment. Pressure mounting and working ever harder to solve problems that had complex solutions if they had solutions at all.
I had also not recovered well from my husband’s serious illness three years ago.  I saw it as his recovery and didn’t consider the impact on me and the kids.  I wasn’t honest with myself or anyone else about how I was feeling. I just thought keeping going would be enough. But it wasn’t. I was anxious a lot and often dreaded leaving the house. Sometimes I couldn’t. Not a good place to be when leading a school.
The decision, once I made it, happened quite suddenly. We went on a whole school visit and I felt so anxious about the data I had been doing in the morning I could hardly breathe. As I looked at the smiling faces of the children and felt my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest I suddenly knew I couldn’t do it any more.  I wish I could have got another job and then served my period of notice but the way things were at that point that wasn’t an option for me. 
I also knew fairly quickly I couldn’t sit at home on full pay on sick leave for six months with an unresolved situation for me and the school. So made the decision to resolve it quickly with the support of my union. NAHT have been excellent.  Unfortunately although I wrote my leaving statement and sent it at the beginning of January, before I got my new job, it wasn’t released until Friday 3rd March.  I didn’t know that so apologies to anyone who felt this post was poor timing when I originally published it on March 4th.  I am not able to discuss any details nor, sadly, to say goodbye other than with that statement.  
The time between leaving my headship and getting my new job was awful. I felt crushed, guilty and a failure. I dared not leave the house for fear of seeing someone I knew. I couldn’t have begun to know what to say.  I wasn’t allowed to discuss the situation if I did see anyone anyway.   I’m so lucky to have my family and close friends who kept me on the right track and looked after me for that time.  
Now I have started my new job as a class teacher. I absolutely love it. I applied and got the job at interview, even having to do a observed English session. Those weren’t invented last time I got a job as a class teacher. I was nervous but it went well, as did the interview.  I have no choice but to work in order to feed my children and ensure they have a roof over their heads.  However I consider myself fortunate that the job I can do, teaching, is so much fun. 
It’s 12 years since I last had a full time class teaching job. It has changed a lot and I’m having to build up stamina for the workload. Obviously being a headteacher had workload issues too but teacher workload is different. The amount to get done is just enormous. It isn’t sitting in front of a blank SEF panicking, this weekend it is making story paths and play dough. It is a breath of fresh air though being excited about planning and teaching.  Life is much better now that I am coping well with the workload, which I know I didn’t toward the end of my headship. 
Time goes so fast in a year one class. I’m loving having my own class again and there’s so much fun to have. I’m getting positive feedback about how I’m doing which I haven’t had for quite a while. I was particularly happy to hear positive things from the most important adults, the class teaching assistants.
Last week Laura Beale, the police officer who resigned very publicly, spoke on Newsnight. One thing she said really resonated with me when asked what led to her decision. She said:
‘When you’re thinking about going into work and it’s a sad thing. It shouldn’t be sad. The whole point of life is to be happy and when you just can’t, it’s so suffocating.’
I am a teacher, there aren’t enough hours in the day. But I am happy.