W/b 23 January 2023

Monday 23rd January

We are all very busy at RMS at present, which is a great place to be.  By February 2020, I had been a part of the community for three years, had gained quite a good understanding of where we were at as a school, and was listening hard to views about where we should be heading.  And then Covid hit. 

The next couple of years required a large operational focus.  We were managing a school community safely through a pandemic.  The extraordinary demands and pressure that working in a pandemic placed on teachers and school staff, and the incredible way my colleagues rose to these challenges, meant that we were not going to introduce change beyond that which was necessary.

But we’re no longer there, which, we can all agree, is a great place to be. 

Beyond lesson planning, my weekend work time was therefore partly time spent developing or clarifying my own thoughts on changes we’re working on.  There are a few at present, all looking forwards to next year and/or those beyond (CPD, wellbeing, rationalising the IT ecosystem, improving comms to parents, considering the best structure for our day).  Pacing change right is really important, and of course not all of the above are for September, but still it’s the pace and management of what we will be asking colleagues to do before and after September that is occupying my mind.  How you introduce and manage change is possibly more important than what the change involves.  Somebody one said to me that “A mediocre idea implemented well is better than a great idea done poorly”.  And while I don’t like the idea of introducing any mediocre idea, they were of course right that it ain’t what you do…

Monday morning brings me back to the reality of teaching Year 8 (still always a genuine joy), then feeding back to an ECT, an appraisal meeting with a Head of School, and catching up with a new colleague who is joining us to lead our Admissions team from March. 

One exciting Monday meeting was about RMS hosting the inaugural We Collaborate teachers’ conference on Saturday 10 June.  I’ll resist going into sales pitch mode and listing all the wonderful people speaking at the conference, (though you can get tickets here), but there is lots to be excited about, including a chance to work with great staff from local schools alongside national names in education.  RMS is a special school; unique, different and truly wonderful for our students.  One fringe benefit of events such as the We Collaborate conference is that the work of colleagues at RMS and other local schools will have more light shone upon their greatness.

A good, busy day that ends embarrassingly with me collecting my youngest daughter fifteen minutes’ late from drama rehearsals as I have confused the Monday and Tuesday collection times.  Inwardly, I am both mortified and laughing at myself.  I apologise profusely to Mrs Espinoza!   

Tuesday 24th January

One takeaway from today was a meeting that wasn’t a good one.  I’m still reflecting on it now. 

I’ll omit the content and details but share that afterwards my mind started with criticisms of others and wanting to immediately call them out, before very soon realising that I would do no such thing, and then, over time, coming back to my own failings in that context, and then my wish to better understand where others were coming from, before finally arriving at what I could do to move things forward and considering when and how would be the right time for that.

One way of viewing the job of being a teacher is that every day involves hundreds of social interactions as you repeatedly consider “What does this pupil need to know next, and how do I best help them with that?” or other questions of a similar nature about pastoral matters and personal development.  Given so many interactions with so many human beings, on occasion you are bound to get some wrong.  And when I was a full-time ‘proper’ teacher, I tried to stay conscious of the fact that every adult I know can remember a time when a teacher said something negative or critical to them, possibly unintentionally or even with good intentions, and how those words had stayed with that person over the decades into adulthood.  And I didn’t ever want to be that teacher for my pupils.  As a teacher you can’t praise enough, and you have to be even more careful with how you approach and word your developmental points, the ways that you strive to help a pupil to improve.

As a headteacher, (not wishing to offend through the implicit teacher/pupil analogy here), and returning to my meeting that didn’t go well, it really is very similar: lots of social interactions daily, not all will go perfectly, and you have to be extra careful about how you go about trying to help a person improve.  In this case, regardless of the interactions of others, I had not managed the meeting as well as I should have done.  By the end of the week, the one thing I know is that I need to find ways better understand at least one of the other participants in that meeting. 

Empathy.  I like to think that I’ve always got the courage to show empathy.  I like to think it’s one of my stronger points.  Sometimes it comes quickly to an interaction, and sometimes empathy requires an investment of time insofar as it takes time to identify with another person’s viewpoint.  In this particular instance, I need to find the best way to do that.

The meeting was midway through a usual busy day of perfectly fine meetings with our DFO, the Head of HR, my spelling group, the Head of Senior School, and being interviewed by Year 12 ahead of Safer Internet Day.  The highlight of the day came after school when I got to watch the Year 7 netballers come from 7-5 down at the end of the third quarter to win 12-8, and then our Year 10 hockey team respond to a late equaliser that made it 3-3 by going straight up the other end and scoring the winner.  As a sports fan, there’s nothing better than a last-minute winner.  As a headteacher, I love all team sports and especially close matches like these for the battle, the competitiveness and determination, and for the collective pride that comes from representing your school in a memorable victory.

Wednesday 25th January

A regular fortnightly catch up with my Chair of Governors is followed by a Whole School SLT meeting.  We are giving thought to our comms to parents, which we know we can improve.  We want there to be a clear distinction between Notices and News.  For the Notices aspect, the team here are keen on looking more at School Post, which is an online parent communication system used by many independent schools.  It sounds great (they always do), will certainly make it easier for parents to keep track of communications, links with our current parent portal, and seems to save time for our admin teams.  We see how it looks elsewhere and talk through the disadvantages too.  We consider thoughts regarding staff training as from the research done so far by colleagues it definitely seems a step up from where we are at present.  I am encouraged!  While School Post would tie in with work on improving our calendar to get the Notices side of parent comms better, we also heard from the team in Marketing about better ways to share success stories with parents.  It was a decent meeting – there was good work in advance of the meeting, good questions and debate.  I love my colleagues here: great, talented, hardworking people who are on the right seats on the bus.

The day is going well until I hear that the local paper has misunderstood something and is considering publishing a misrepresentation of things.  My day shifts gear as we speak with a friend who is a journalist at the BBC, a comms professional, and a lawyer.  It’s a busy afternoon, but the team here receive good advice and work well to clarify things. 

The day ends with me driving home to Liverpool for my grandmother’s funeral tomorrow.  She was ninety-four, a great matriarch with eight children, and forty-three grandchildren/great grandchildren.  I think of my nan as my role model in not making a fuss, no drama, just getting on with what needs to be done. She wasn’t showy or performative, as so many are now.  She was from another era, her values forged in a period in history when times were truly hard. And so she understood what did and did not matter.  A modest woman who needed no lessons in assertiveness, a union rep, you knew my nan was always going to speak her mind to one and all.  She stood up to bullies, fought injustice, and would always give you her truth, politely but insistently.  As I got older, I appreciated the extent to which she had instilled values of hard work, honesty, and integrity in three generations.  And by the time I would bring my children to visit her, I loved that every time we visited, she would begin with a cup of tea, and end by insisting on giving my daughters a few bob and telling me, “I’m fine lad, I can’t complain, there’s thousands worse off than me.”  Honest, hardworking, selfless, and a model for consistently facing life’s challenges head-on in a measured way.  My brother is a man of fewer words than me.  “No bullshit”, was his take on my nan. 

Friday 27th January

The funeral was a good one, standing room only at her church, St Gabriel’s.  I wake at 5am to drive back, and think back to yesterday while doing so.  One strand of conversations were with my brother who teaches at a school in Knowsley, one of the most deprived areas of the country.  It’s another world.  A completely different job.  The things that he experiences are like nothing known in schools such as RMS. Whenever I or a colleague think we have something tough going on here, we need to be taken to a school in Huyton or Kirkby for a week. Maybe I’ll ask him to write an account of his working week sometime, to juxtapose with this.

That all said, I do return to something tough for RMS as we are writing to parents following the downgrading of the food hygiene rating.  There is a story behind this, which I won’t share here, and the context of an external company taking over all food preparation and provision at the school since August 2022.  However, the email from me to parents needs to give nothing more than the plain facts of the report, to own the hugely disappointing news, and to not try to defend ourselves or to appear defensive in any respect.  Publish it and own it without fuss or drama, and then get on with what needs to be done to make sure our usual rating of five is restored at the earliest opportunity.

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