Day 1: All Mouth and No Trousers

I’m sat in ‘my’ office. It’s day one. I’m in charge. The sounds of children, parents and teachers reverberate through the solid wooden door emblazoned with engraved plaque: ‘HEADTEACHER’. Why haven’t I got any bloody trousers on?

The door knocks…it’s the office ladies; “There’s a parent demanding to see you. She’s looking really angry; we’d better stay in too.”  What the hell do I do now? She’s half way through the door before I can even think. I pull the nearest thing I can over my sorry-looking knees – a school jumper – bright red against my blue shirt. Why haven’t I got my bloody trousers on? I knew this would happen on my first day.

That was the third dream…at least in my other two I was appropriately attired, even if everything else went wrong. I’ve come to expect the back-to-school nightmares. I tell myself that it’s a sign I’m still ‘on the ball’ – that nerves are a good thing and I should be more worried if I wasn’t having them. But three? I must be brickin’ it.

Ten years ago to the day I was placed on the payroll of a certain rural county council near Wales for my first ever post in teaching…an NQT so fresh faced that the parents of my first class were heard to quip that I looked as young as the children I was teaching. What would they make of me now? Somewhat more haggard-looking after 10 years, three schools, two Deputy Headships, two Ofsteds (yes, I’ve been quite fortunate there), one child and a winding-up order against my beloved football team…but still FAR too young to be a Headteacher, right? What was it Alan Hanson so famously said? “You won’t win anything with kids.”  I have no desire to ‘win’ anything…well, perhaps the hearts and minds of the community in some kind of rose-tinted spectacled reverie would be nice. What do I want to achieve in this Acting Head role? That’s a question that I will undoubtedly come back to in the days and weeks ahead.

Today I stood in front of a wonderful, caring and passionate group of teachers  as their ‘boss’ (a title I’ve been afforded too many times to count in just 24hrs of Headship) with one objective in my mind – remind them how lucky they were to be in the job. In THIS school.

My presentation went as well as I could have dreamed (I had trousers on for a start). We talked, we shared, we laughed and thanks to the video clips of the inspirational Sir John Jones, we got that little vital dose, one that we all need now and then, of gratitude that we are teachers. We are teachers. A simple statement that means so much. A friend of mine once told me that he wants one simple inscription on his gravestone underneath his name: ‘A Teacher’. I like that.

Well, the ball has started rolling. I’ve survived one day as a Headteacher. If this one is anything to go by, there’s going to be an intoxicating mixture of joy and bewilderment up ahead. The little people come back tomorrow….I can’t wait.

Day 9: Challenging Perceptions

At the end of yesterday’s post I was in a reflective mood. Not a dejected one, by any stretch, but enough to have given me my first real feelings of doubt. Doubt, I suppose, in myself.

It’s been an exciting start to the year. I’ve laid out the big vision; appeared cavalier in the face of Ofsted; promised the glittering carrots of one vision; suggested magic formulas to combat excessive workloads and tired teachers; laughed in the face of graded lesson observations; thrown out the efficacy of National Curriculum levels with the type of distain I’ve only ever seen before on the face of a tango dancer. I’ve been able to start playing the game I’ve been rehearsing for some years now – walking what I could only previously dare to talk.

But yesterday I was challenged. I was challenged because I saw, in the body language and facial expressions of a colleague I hold in the highest regard, disappointment. A colleague who just months ago championed my application for the permanent position I didn’t attain. I had to ask the question…why?
The answers were astute, shrewd and, quite frankly, knocked me for six. What I thought was a perfect example of the ‘reactionary’ approach to staff meetings…what I was sure was democracy and consultation leading to shared decision making at its best….what I was CERTAIN was the big vision thinking starting to be broken down into the real steps of action was…well…what was it? Boring.

And it was, wasn’t it? I engaged in a deep discussion with my internal point of reference on the car journey home. I eventually decided that the perceived failure of this meeting from my esteemed colleague was justified on the grounds that she deserved better. After a long day in the classroom, she didn’t want to be talked at for an hour gazing at the Interactive whiteboard that she’d been a slave to all day. It was a matter of presentation. Despite my best efforts to create a snappy, multi-angled meeting with varying topics and speakers it missed one crucial ingredient. ACTIVE engagement.

I came into school this morning clear of mind and sharp of plan. I’d formulated the email to accompany the minutes that evening and, letting it stew overnight (a little technique I’m finding most useful) made a few tweaks before I sent it to all staff. A simple recognition that the meeting was a bit shit, that they wouldn’t all be and that their efforts were really appreciated.

What dropped into my inbox some hours later knocked me for seven:

I thought the staff meeting was absolutely buzzing last night. It didn’t feel heavy at all, just that lots of people were keen to input ideas too. I particularly loved seeing how enthusiastic was last night, though I haven’t said this to her yet! I have never known school to be so positive and alive as it is at the moment, which is so great to see and hear and feel!

I must have read and re-read this email half a dozen times, chuckled quietly to myself and sat back in my oversize leather chair (it’s not a status thing…well, it was when I got it as a teenager, but I love that it’s a bit of my past in my present).
What lessons can I take from this day? Perceptions vary. A ‘staff’ is not one homogenised body. No two minds think and feel alike…I should continue to believe in my convictions whilst always remaining open to challenge (for what it’s worth, I still think the meeting was absolutely pants compared to what it COULD have been)
What I’m learning more than anything, however, is that I LOVE this job. I questioned in day one what I might be hoping to achieve from this acting post. It’s a question I couldn’t have answered – a ‘black swan’ of a question. I’ve learnt things in 9 days I didn’t even know were learnable. What a ride…

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