W/b 9 January 2023

Monday 9th January

I wouldn’t wish to be a headteacher who doesn’t teach (to start with a double negative).  Couldn’t do it.  I’m not judgemental about those who don’t, but it’s not for me.  I enjoy the interaction with the pupils far too much, which is perhaps a selfish reason. I also think it sends a nice message to pupils and colleagues.  The rest of SLT (who all teach more than my one class) sometimes tease me that I carry my English books around like a prop, to performatively announce “I am a real teacher!” like Pinocchio insisting he’s a real boy.

Every week begins with my Year 8 English class first thing on a Monday morning. I only teach one group, five double periods a fortnight, but I’m their sole teacher and there’s a serious responsibility that comes with that. Sundays are a time for marking and planning each week so that no matter what the week throws my way as Head, I’m prepared to teach English to Year 8, double negatives and all. 

This morning is their last lesson on Romeo and Juliet before a final assessment tomorrow.  Writing an essay on Shakespeare is really bloody hard when you’re twelve.  And it’s been three weeks off over Christmas since we last studied it so I’m not expecting them to be at GCSE standard just yet.  I am concerned they’ll find tomorrow’s unseen extract question tough.  We do a Diamond Nine exercise on the play that hopefully helps them recall Shakespeare’s presentation of violence without giving away the question.

I have a meeting with Anne late morning.  Anne is an incredible colleague that we are lucky to have with us at RMS.  She is organising a conference for 300 teachers at RMS later this year called “We Collaborate” (this is the kind of thing she regularly does), and today is putting pressure on me to build a Professional Development Centre at RMS.  Anne says it would show that we take the professional development of RMS staff seriously.  Anne is of course right to hassle me in this way, that’s partly why she’s here, and we are going to do this.  Mostly though, Anne energises everybody that she meets; she is extremely emotionally intelligent and just plain wonderful like that.

On my lunchtime walk around school I come across a pupil who needs medical support.  Two of her friends and I take care of her in the short term, but I also call our medical team and they arrive within five minutes – all is well.  We are incredibly fortunate to have a medical team on site. 

I then find myself chatting with Year 9 pupils at the end of lunch, and almost accidentally following them into their Year Assembly.  I am now off-piste and not following the day’s route that my PA has planned for me, but Mrs Beedell is Head of Year 9, and Mrs Beedell is one of the most positive people you can meet.  Her assembly today is on, “10 Reasons to be Cheerful in January” and she is comfortable in her role of leading the pupils in this way.  Her ten messages of positivity in January include, “You can catch up on Sleep”, “The good TV series start again”, and “It’s a great time for good walks”.  Year 9 jump on board with the positive messaging and give me a recommendation of “Ginny and Georgia” as an example of a great new series on Netflix that I should watch.

Tuesday 10th January

Year 8 do find the Shakespeare assessment tough.  This is allowed.  It is a GCSE question, and afterward I let them know that as they were writing, Year 11 students were sitting their GCSE English Literature mock examination.  We have three more years to get this right.

Once the teaching finishes, today is a more “grown-up” one involving calls with our lawyer, a complaint, and a potential disciplinary issue or maybe, hopefully, just a misunderstanding.  There’s always more that you can’t talk about than you are able to share as a Head.  That’s just part of the territory.  I then switch my focus to the filming of an introduction to our Five-Year Plan at RMS.  We will be sharing this with our community on Friday, and this video introduction is a little more formal, and more corporate than the roles I am most often asked to perform.  A retired Head said to me last year, only half in jest, that “headship nowadays is all PR and HR”, and while I disagree with this reductive view of a rich and highly varied role, I knew exactly where she was coming from. 

Wednesday 11th January

It’s not a usual morning that begins with successive meetings with three governors.  I don’t think it’s happened before, but today they come swinging around the corner like they’re Benny Goodman.  One meeting is a regular catch-up with the Chair, another to let me know about something we may have got wrong, and the third about the Five-Year Plan.  Momentum is building towards its release on Friday.

Term time in every school is relentless, an unforgiving brute.  One week into term, and the late nights already have me consuming two large pots of coffee in the morning and then pudding with my lunch.  On a good day, lunch is a time for conversations with pupils, and today I get a little time with Year 4.  They are tempted to play by large muddy puddles.  I tell them that the second month of the year used to be called Mud Month before the Romans arrived in Britain, and that’s enough to set them off imagining a world before roads and lights and “with mud so deep it was like walking through quicksand just to visit your neighbour”.

My afternoon is spent liaising with colleagues who are showing great support for a boarder, a few regular line management meetings, and then drafting a paper for a meeting next week.

Thursday 12th January

Whole School SLT has sixteen people crowded around my table.  It’s a larger group than is normally present, but we are considering IT at the school, and I want many voices involved.  Our servers are getting old and could be replaced but the advice is to put everything in the cloud, using Google Drive.  It’s more secure and more efficient, and all makes sense in so many respects, especially as teachers use Google for all lessons nowadays.  We’re going to take between now and September to get it right, with lots of training for those support colleagues less familiar with Google, but even so, we all know this will be a big thing for some colleagues who are used to storing files on the school servers and have never been near Google Drive.  Emails and our calendar will change too, which could be a game-changer in a positive way for our parents, but some minds will be blown.  I understand this will be the case – it will be a big change for us all.

I catch up with a pupil who was in the recent film of “Matilda” just to hear how she’s getting on in Year 9.  There’s a meeting with the Head of our Prep School, as they are considering lengthening the school day for September, and another with the DFO about builders, swimming pools, and bursary applications.  All exciting DFO/Head stuff!  The Head of our Senior School has been extremely busy all week, meeting 192 lovely Year 6 pupils who are applying for a place at RMS next September, and we catch up late on so I can hear how things have been going for them/her, and where she’s at with her thinking.

Friday 13th January

An appraisal with a colleague who wants to be a headteacher excites me greatly today.  You miss out on teaching the pupils when you move into senior management, but seeing colleagues develop is still a big thrill.  I also get enthused by a phone call with our new Director of Marketing and Admissions who joins us in March – she is full of ideas, energy, and positivity.  And our Five-Year Plan is shared with the community after a great deal of work.  Over 500 voices contributed to a new Mission statement, Vision, and strategic plan.  Pupils, colleagues, parents, alumnae, and governors were all involved.  We are excited about it.  If you are interested, you can see what you think of it here.

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