I’ve not blogged as much as I’d like recently.
I suppose I’ve also got a little out of the habit because life gets in the way and I’m being kept busy with “stuff”. We’ve been mega busy on a (not so) Top Secret project that seems to have expanded beyond the original intentions with Matt Nixon (obvs gets lead billing!) and Steve Lomax from Kangaroo Maths (or as they will, from this point onwards be known to me as the “KangaBoys!!”). All will become clear on that front over the next few months but its all very exciting stuff.
In terms of my day job though I’ve been playing my cards close to my chest because … umm … because … **walks away from the laptop**
**Some time later** … umm … I’ve started to get a bit self-conscious about “over-sharing” … who on earth wants to read about the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged teacher? It all feels a bit self-indulgent at times. That was (and still is) not the reason why I started blogging. I also didn’t start writing 6 years ago to get told that I have some “influence” and whilst some of you would imagine this would be flattering what I actually think is A) It’s nonsense. B) It’s not important. C) The person saying it needs to stop trying to blow smoke up my arse and D) such a statement will not detract from the tough conversation we are having. I’m not falling for it.
**even later*** … the teaching community is quite small and everyone seems to know everyone else (forget the whole 7 degrees of separation!) around here and I’ve been really aware of not saying or doing the wrong thing because there are real people involved. No one, and I mean no one, gets up in the morning and thinks whilst brushing their teeth … today I am going to be a really shit teacher or leader. No one. We all have things to learn and sometimes things don’t go to plan. Sometimes we make decisions on the spur of the moment that turn out to be not so great. If we were perfect we wouldn’t be human. That is not to say that all shit decisions are as a result of rash moments – some are ill-considered too and the way they are executed exacerbates the situation. True strength of character comes from admitting that things are not going to plan or that you made a mistake. However, I’ve been around long enough to know that my perception is my reality … the way each of us perceives our own world is our own reality. Realities differ. Reading that back, it sounds like I am being purposely vague. I’m not. There is no mysterious saga going on here. Just my blogging Tourette’s about schools. They are weird places sometimes.
**even later still** … Not being involved at a level of influence within a school or even in a position where you can challenge a decision or even hear something “first-hand” is tough and I have honestly struggled. Working part-time means that for the last 12 months I’ve stepped out of the bubble of work being “all-encompassing” (that’s not to say I don’t give my all to my job!) but I’ve found that I can actually have conversations with people about things other than what’s going on in the school or the latest gossip, or silly directive from above. It’s worked for me so far, in that it allows me to do some “credible specialist” work for Pearson where we get out and about to support other schools and also things for JustMaths. It really is weird. I should also say that it doesn’t mean that I care any less but that there is more to life than work.
Anyway … last term I was involved in some SLE work at a school that is slightly closer to home where I’d previously crossed paths (in a good way!) with one of the interim Head Teachers and it resulted in me starting a new job two weeks ago! The school went into “special measures (SM)” in the Summer and a whole new Maths Department started there in September. The team was always going to be up against it given that there is a whole back story to the situation the school is now in but fast forward 3 months and things are slightly more settled than they were … it’s going to be a long hard slog but every day brings something to be proud about – the important thing is to always remember that this was never going to be an easy fix. Some of the issues are ingrained and need teasing out whilst others are about changing the culture, aspirations and expectations of lots of people which takes time. Change isn’t easy for some people and time and time again teachers that move schools see and feel this reality … changing schools and going into a department where everyone was new, in a school put into SM, with new leadership means that the challenge has been heightened. As to whether, the situation should ever have come to this and looking at the “whys” “how’s” and “who’s” is not going to help – it’s certainly not a conversation I really want to have with anyone … my pragmatism kicks in – that’s not to say I’m not sad (and angry) that schools could allow a culture to be in place where people en-masse feel they have no choice but to leave their jobs. It’s very sad but the reality is that we are where we are and looking back does not improve the situation.
It’s made me realise how important it is that I have a gaffer that I want to work with and for. I want to work for someone who I respect and makes me want to make a difference (at this point I can imagine Seager piping up and saying something sarcastic about me being tough to manage!), I don’t know what he is talking about, personally I think I am all “sweetness and light” … hahahahahahahahaha … Actually, I have no illusions I am not an easy character. Sometimes too honest. Often too blunt. Always well-intentioned. Right! That’s enough of me assassinating my own character! What was I saying? Oh yeah .. the importance of a decent gaffer … actually, the impetus for this post came from someone asking me why I would choose to work in such challenging circumstances at a Pearson HOD conference today in London and I was reminded of something that I meant to post a long time ago.
On the first September 2017, (my first day at Colmers) Barry Doherty, my then HT gave a welcome speech that reinforced my thinking that he was someone I wanted to work for. Sadly, he left the school in August but before he left I asked if I could share what he said and he agreed. To put some context this was the first inset day and it is fair to say that whilst the school is classified as a “good” school, it operates in a challenging area that was seriously affected (at the time of this) 12 years previously when the MG Rover plant went into administration and 6000 jobs were lost. Think about it, the plant went around the time when many of these students were toddlers .. in fact the new year 7 would have just been born. Many of the challenges will be familiar to other schools too. So, to quote Barry: “the words are more than words to me”.
… overall we have secured sound rather than sensational results. They demonstrate that we are a good school – but only just. But we remain a poor school if you are poor, a vulnerable school if you are vulnerable. But this is what we choose to be – professionals serving a truly comprehensive community with all of the rewards and challenges that go with that privilege. But we can do better, not by working harder or even smarter, but by getting to the heart of the problem, for example literacy and self-esteem.
In a nutshell, children at Colmers and children everywhere are much more likely to be unsuccessful if they have doubts in their academic self-esteem. An illiterate child, is much more likely to be a disaffected child, misbehaving, truanting, rocking up late and basically proving they are worthless to justify the one thing they believe they have calculated correctly in life. We mustn’t prove them right and buy into that self-destructive prophecy and this will continue to draw upon the deepest reserves of patience, compassion and imagination on our parts this year and beyond.
This year I ask you the teachers amongst us one question: “If the entire school was like my classes, would we be a better school?” The very best teachers have one thing in common; they are deeply self-evaluative. They don’t blame or finger point. They don’t look for excuses, blame the kids, blame the families or blame the government. They don’t arrive at simplistic conclusions and instead analyse and reflect.
Their judgments of themselves and why children underachieve are nuanced – on one hand sympathetic and compassionate towards themselves and on the other hand critical and harsh when that is needed as well … And so another year begins at Colmers. By my reckoning the 147th start of term on this site. Waking up in the dark, taking the dog out in the drizzle and fog and feeling tired because I am simply not used to this early start makes me at risk of thinking today is all about me. It isn’t of course. I remind myself that whilst the local kids get two more lie-ins we are back here getting ready to give them the chances and opportunities we already enjoy. We are reaching back down that ladder with a helping hand so that they can climb out and discover the world on their terms. That is what motivates me on a day like today – that feeling that you and I are doing something magical and important with our lives. It’s not easy, it’s fraught with difficulties but it’s a good life, a worthwhile life.
Good luck to us all this year. Let’s make it our best yet and give our students even greater opportunities to become their best self and dreams bigger dreams.
I’ll be back soon.