From the macro to the microLast week my mind was filled with more recruitment, more visits to local primary schools, a Governors meeting and deciding on room names for the building. It always amuses me how many times each day I have to switch my mind from thinking about ‘big’ (macro) ideas such as vision and values, to the small (micro) details such as room numbers. One of the really important functions of the Governing body of any school is to challenge the Principal on all aspects of the functioning of the school: I always look forward to my Governors meetings as I love a challenge! Last week we were thinking about how we will represent our vision and values in easy to remember and clear formats for all the different audiences who might be interested. This is a great opportunity for us to share our mission and I know from having worked with students at St Mary Redcliffe and Temple school that it is always the students who are the best ambassadors for any school. I think it is not only a case of students being able to articulate the vision and values, whilst this is vitally important, it is also crucial to consider how students live out these values. We want to inspire in our students to hold the very highest of personal standards and to flourish in their lives. The type of person who is successful in today’s world does not have to necessarily be the person who is the fastest, the cleverest or the most articulate – much more important is their persistence or resilience. I have been reading a very popular book recently titled “Grit” and this explains the concept very clearly: it is essentially a macro idea, a way of being, an attitude to life. But I actually think alongside this we have a real duty to teach students much more than just persistence – how to act when things do not go well, how to get on with other students after a disagreement, indeed, how to disagree with someone without it turning into an argument. These are micro skills – specific to certain situations, but already in the planning. Of all the things students learn at school, sometimes I think it is these skills and attitudes that are arguably more important than the knowledge, skills and content of subjects. Our world is a tough place to be growing up in: children have to hear terrible news from around the world, such as the terrorist atrocity in New Zealand, they have to listen to our politicians failing to agree on Brexit and nearer to home they have to hear tales of knife crime being on the rise in our towns and cities. We need to equip students with the capacity to understand these situations, know how to make careful judgements about how they feel about them and how to keep themselves and each other safe in the myriad of situations they may find themselves in. This is all going to be done through our Values in Practice (VIP) programme, which will teach them safe boundaries, strong relationships and empowered learning. And so to the room names: one of the names given to us by the architects was the name for our dining area, the agora. This is turning into one of my favourite places in the academy, not least because I love eating so much! The potential for this space is actually enormous, which is appropriate because the space is enormous as well! I am planning all sorts of exciting things for the agora, not least having live music playing on the ‘bridge’ (above the agora) while we eat together. I am really keen that this area is used by most, if not all, students at the academy and I also hope that as many students as possible will join us for hot food at lunchtime. It is so important that we sit together to eat, talk and get to know each other. I have named every single room in the academy now: offices, classrooms, meeting rooms and even the ‘staffroom’ (which is not actually a staffroom and is not actually called the staffroom!). The building is really starting to take shape and the furniture designers have been busy helping us choose the best furniture for all the classrooms as well. With only 169 days to go until we open for students, it is easy to see why we are so busy! I hope all those who have received confirmation of their places are as excited as I am, for the most amazing opportunity to be the pioneers in this incredible new secondary school. We will be contacting all those who have received a place before we break up for Easter and in the next 2 weeks our uniform supplier has promised that the weblink to our direct sales website will be made live.Read More
Brexit and roundersPosted on: 04/02/2019
Teacher wellbeing. This is a well-written and much-spoken about topic at the moment. Before I talk about that, I have one thing to get off my chest: the thing that I am most delighted about regarding Brexit. Rounders is often the poor relative in sporting circles yet was one of the most popular games I taught as a PE teacher. Getting students to lunchtime team training was often challenging, but not with rounders. In fact, I would be leading training for the girls’ team at St Joseph’s lower school on Queen’s Drive back in the early 1990’s, and lots of other students would be begging to join in – and I have to say it was usually the boys! They loved their cricket, but rounders is much quicker and potentially more exciting!! There is not really a strong tradition for adult rounders in this country, maybe at summer bar-b-ques and family get togethers on the beach, but Rounders England is working hard to raise the profile of the game and get more people involved. *see their website here
As I have been writing job adverts, person specifications and job descriptions for the staff we are going to appoint to the Deanery, two things have been very much in the forefront of my mind. How can we recruit and keep the very best teachers at the Deanery? And how can we develop our very distinctive focus on high standards for all and positive relationships? Part of what makes us distinctive in the Diocese of Bristol Academies Trust is that we focus on family and building strong and positive relationships. Last week I attended a meeting of Headteachers, Directors of DBAT and Clergy to look at what it means to be distinctive for teachers in our multi-academy trust, specifically in terms of their wellbeing. We want our staff to have ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10) as well as our students and their families. It is really important to us that our teachers are the highest quality professionals and that they work to the best of their ability, to get the very best out of the students in their care, and they do this whilst remaining happy and healthy.
I have worked in many different schools and have witnessed teachers experiencing immense pressures and performing well below their best as a result. Late night emails, over-burdensome marking loads, poorly led performance management, over-complicated assessment systems; I have witnessed first-hand the effects that these things can have on families and students and therefore will not allow this to happen at the Deanery. It is not an easy fix and I do appreciate that all jobs are challenging, and everyone is busy. However, I do stress to all staff that I work with, that, above all, we have a personal professional responsibility to keep ourselves healthy. You do have to be ‘well’ emotionally and physically to be a teacher. It is a tough job, physically demanding and often emotionally draining. So what are we going to do at the Deanery to ensure staff are well and can be at their best to teach the exceptional quality of curriculum? All staff will be joining in with the many sports teams we will be running, in fact, it is written into staff job descriptions. This is really important, as not only will it enable students to experience lots of team games, it is also the place that strong bonds and good relationships can be developed. Those people who played in school teams themselves will often remember their PE teacher fondly (unless they were a bit too much like Mr Sugden in Kes). There will also be an opportunity for staff to play together (watch this space for the staff rounders team – we will be looking for opponents!) and to train together in the gym. Bonding through physical struggle and endeavour is really important, both in physical activities but also in active learning. There will be lots of high-quality learning taking place in the academy and lots of it will be active. We will encourage staff to steer away from purely didactic lessons and encourage them to engage the students actively in their learning. And we will take time to teach people how to make and develop strong and safe boundaries. This is illustrated best by rugby players – tackling hard during the game and then the moment whistle goes turning and shaking hands, patting each other on the back and becoming the best of friends. People often talk about ‘working hard together and playing hard together’, this will be our philosophy as we develop character and resilience in our students.
And so, as we struggle as a country to make sense of our future, I am delighted that my favourite fielding position in rounders has become such a part of our every day language. And I do hope that you will forgive me for my flippancy as I have tried to begin to unpack what will make our school distinctive in terms of wellbeing.