W/b 6 February 2023

Monday 6th February

I could begin my weekly posts misquoting Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short Blog, so I wrote a long one instead”. Apologies. My pieces are never finished, only abandoned. Apologies. Pieces and posts like the end of term in schools, with too much unfinished and more that has not been drafted and crafted with the time it deserves.

Three things I know about headship that this diary has already confirmed:

  • the intensity of term time – it is a relentless brute
  • while there is never enough time, sometimes the art of a head’s life is in learning when to slow down and take more time over an issue 
  • if you were tasked with building education from scratch, you would neither start nor end the school year here, with terms as we have inherited them now.

I tell myself that I will make this week’s post a little shorter (Ha!), as time for this half-term is fast running out.

This week we are appointing a new second in department for English. It is a hugely important role for a major department. We are fortunate to have an extremely hardworking and dedicated HoD. But she needs a 2i/c who takes on almost as much leadership of the department as she does, who is also an exceptional teacher, and who in addition can provide a fresh perspective on how we do things. Yes, you’re right, that is a very tough ask. But it’s also a great role for somebody to take up.

My role in this interview process is watching the candidates in the classroom with the students. Always. Teaching is the most important part of any interview for a teacher. It’s the bit I’m most interested in seeing. Any fool can perform a good interview. Teach a great lesson and establish a relationship with students who you’ve never met before while two adults sit in to watch you – now you’re impressing me.

When I watch any interview lesson, I want to be excited, inspired, left feeling that “I really must do better in my own teaching”, because I’m witnessing something truly amazing here and our pupils are going to love learning from this incredible human. Today, in truth, I’m a little underwhelmed by some of the lessons I observe. Which is disappointing because we had a strong field on paper.

I do appreciate that interview lessons are never easy. They are artificial: you don’t know the students; you’re nervous; it’s a standalone lesson. And all of that I will happily take into account when I’m watching an interview lesson. But I need you to engage and stretch the pupils more than some of the lectures I sat in on today; too much teacher talk is not the way to impress me.

Underwhelmed and disappointed as I sometimes was, you only need to appoint one great person for any post.  And by Tuesday evening and the end of a two-day process, we think we may have found that person.  Fingers crossed for Team English. 

Aside from watching four lessons, the highlight of my day was ninety minutes of expert advice from Suzanne Rowse at BBSN on changes in the boarding market. This was a lecture I happily attended.

Tuesday 7th February

I remind myself that I will make this week’s post a little shorter (Ha!), as time for this half-term is fast running out. 

By this stage of half-term, I pretty much always see some colleagues get over involved emotionally. Good colleagues, great colleagues, senior colleagues. When teachers and leaders invest so much into their jobs, some find it hard not to take things personally. They have given the last six weeks their all, they are exhausted, and we can lose balance and perspective over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things when we’re simply shattered. The box of tissues in my office doesn’t lie, and it was empty before the end of this week.

One Head I worked with once told me, “The final fortnight of each half-term is a time to hold the ground you have taken, and not to open battles on any new fronts.”  Poor choice of a military metaphor aside, he had a point. If you were tasked with building education from scratch, you would neither start nor end the school year here, with the intensity of terms as we have inherited them now.

Wednesday 8th February

On Tuesday evening, the Board at RMS heard an interview presentation from a colleague who was appointed our new Chair. Early Wednesday morning begins with a final fortnightly call with the outgoing Chair, a retired Head who stepped up to serve the school in an hour of need. I have always valued the support, advice, and challenge I have received from our governors, and have received particularly valued support from each of the Chairs of Governors I have worked with. Once a fortnight, I inform them of all of the serious and important stuff that I can’t share with many others. It’s more coaching than therapy that you receive on these calls, but there can also be something cathartic in unburdening the issues of a school community to a Chair.

In the remainder of the day, I have lovely meetings with incredibly dedicated students who have worked hard to receive offers from Cambridge, with wonderful former parents who wish to donate money to students requiring pastoral support, and with a great group of new Gap students at RMS. That plus the usual business with Heads of School and our Director of Sport.

I finish my marking in the evening, which always feels good, but I am by now fully aware that I will not get to finish all that I would like completed by Friday. This is fine in some respects as in part that is what the coming half-term is for – catching up on a bit of work and catching up on a bit of family time and rest. I will happily take that from next week.

Thursday 9th February

A great colleague chatting about her career comes to Open Door first thing – this type of conversation is a privilege of my job. Then I watch a lesson, teach a class, attend an accommodation committee meeting, and have an afternoon of line management meetings before getting along to Year 13 Parents’ Evening. One parent of a student who has had a tough time takes me into the Head of Sixth Form’s office to tell me in front of her just how incredible she is. He is right, and I do already know how lucky I am to have her in the team, but it is nonetheless really lovely to see Clare hear me hear this.

Friday 10th February

It is House Day in Cadogan House. This is a day that our Prep School pupils absolutely love. They dress up in House colours as characters from films such as Minions or Totoro, and they bring in art, perform poems, dances, and songs, and have as much fun as a school day allows. My afternoon watching their sketches, acts and songs is a delight, an RMS Royal Variety Show performed by 4-11 year olds.

The day ends with a late after-school meeting with a parent for the second Friday in succession. Behind the scenes, my PA has made both of these meetings a success. The support that a headteacher receives from a PA is in many ways more important than that received from the Chair of Governors. No headteacher’s job could be successful without the daily, unfailing, confidential support and counsel of a great PA. I walk home to my real family thankful for the support of all of the key players in my work ‘family’, but in particular once again knowing how lucky I am to be able to rely on the absolute discretion and great judgement of my PA. She deserves a week off from me.

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