Moving On

Picture-620x340

It’s always been a wrench to leave a school. Maybe I’ve been lucky in the schools I’ve worked in, but I’ve never been desperate to leave any of them. For me, moving on has always been about the next challenge and the next step in my career, moving up to new responsibilities in new contexts.

I know that internal promotions can work really well. I’ve had two in my career, firstly with a responsibility point added in my first school and secondly when TLRs were introduced and leadership in my school at the time was restructured. I remember now the trauma of having to re-apply for my job, up against external candidates, and the relief when I was successful. I really enjoyed the new responsibilities and the challenge as I moved on to the leadership spine, but I found it difficult to “re-make” myself in the new role. It seems silly now, but I remember that as a Head of Department my work clothes were shirt-and-tie-with-smart-trousers, accessorised with a nice line in v-necked jumpers. On my first morning of my new leadership spine role, I wore a suit. It was my attempt at signifying that, although I was the same person in the same school with the same staff and the same children, something was different. Navigating that shift in relationships in an internal promotion can be a tricky business!

moving on

In my experience, I’ve always found it preferable to look for my next steps beyond the school I’m currently working in. Arriving somewhere different allows you to re-establish yourself afresh, each time with the benefit of a few more years’ experience and the benefit of knowledge gained from mistakes and missteps in the current role. It’s also, I think, helpful to work in a variety of contexts, seeing how it’s done in different schools with different cultures and ethos (ethe? ethea? ethoses?) I’ve learned so much from every school I’ve worked in, and each one has added to the repertoire of approaches I can use in any given context.

always done it

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s useful quote (source)

There’s a benefit to the school in appointing from outside as well. New faces from other schools bring new approaches and challenge the status quo. Even if this doesn’t lead to change, the process of challenging “the way it’s always been done” has got to be healthy.

Despite all this, it’s still hard to leave. It’s hard to re-establish yourself; every time you start at a new school you remember how much classroom and behaviour management is based on reputation, routine and relationships that you’ve built up over time. A fresh start means starting again. It’s hard to leave the students, from knowing all the names, characters, families and histories to a completely blank slate. And it’s hard to leave the staff, that dedicated group of professionals who pull together for the benefit of young people in the face of sometimes overwhelming challenges. But despite all this, I know that moving on is the right thing to do, the right thing for me – and I’m looking forward to the next step.

Doing NPQH as a member of SLT

With thanks and apologies to Kev Bartle for the title!

News from the NCTL

News from the NCTL

I received notification yesterday that I have passed the NPQH. It’s no longer mandatory to have the qualification to be a Headteacher, but I’ve spent sixteen months on the course. This blog is really for anyone weighing up the prospect of taking it on. I’ll run through my experiences, and try to answer the question…is it worth it?

Getting on the course

This is really, really tough. I can’t actually blog about what happens in the selection process, as we were sworn to secrecy so as not to prejudice or advantage future cohorts. Suffice to say, when our cohort got together for the first time we bonded over the incredibly rigorous, taxing tasks you have to do just to get a place on the course – really, really tough! The idea is that, if you pass the selection process, you’re definitely capable of passing the course; it reduces the likelihood of anyone getting on it, spending a year and a half, and then failing. Sensible investment I suppose, and a good test!

After successfully passing the selection process, there’s a useful 360° exercise where you self-assess your competencies and your colleagues do the same. You get a report of the results and I found this a great starting point to pinpoint strengths, areas for development and discrepancies between my self-assessment and my colleagues’ views. A really useful process.

My chosen licensee

My chosen licensee

Finally, you have to choose a licensee. NPQH is not delivered direct by the NCTL any more, but by regional licensees. I did mine with CPD Southwest and I was very happy with my choice – efficient administration, knowledgeable and helpful trainers, and a functional online resource bank. I went to an information session before I chose my licensee and this was definitely useful in helping make my mind up. I’d recommend doing a bit of research first! Although much of the material is common across NPQH courses, and the assessment is standard, it’s worth bearing in mind that my experience is with one particular licensee and they’re not all the same!

The Leadership Capacity Matrix. I took the red pill.

The Leadership Capacity Matrix. I took the red pill.

Face to face sessions

There were nine of these in total, covering the core modules: Leading and Improving Teaching, Succeeding in Headship, and Leading an Effective School. There were also sessions on Advanced Coaching Skills and a Viewpoints on Style self-assessment day. On the whole, these were useful days! Here are some of the plus points:

  • “Talking Heads” sessions: most days, a serving Headteacher came in to talk to us about aspects of their practice and their route to Headship. These were, without exception, really inspiring and useful. There was a huge range, including Heads from large secondaries and tiny primaries, special schools, new heads, experienced system leaders…and all dedicated, positive, uplifting speakers with lots to offer. I was scribbling furiously during these, cribbing tips and ideas aplenty!
  • Cross-phase working: the NPQH was a great opportunity for me to work alongside school leaders from primary and special school sector. Most of the CPD events I go to are secondary-focused, so it was really refreshing to get a different perspective and work with colleagues from across a range of schools. My cohort were brilliant – really supportive of one another and thoughtful, caring leaders.
  • Time to reflect: there is rarely enough time in school to step back and think properly about what you’re doing. Taking nine days out across ten terms is a considerable investment of time but the opportunity it provides to reflect is invaluable. It felt, at times, like a retreat – and a treat.
  • Coaching: this was my single biggest take-away from NPQH. I’d done coaching training before but it hadn’t really been embedded in my practice; now I use it daily in interactions with staff but also with students. It’s worth a blog post on its own! I know Vic Goddard swears by it and I can see why. I was lucky to have Judith Tolhurst running our session, whose book is well worth a read.
  • Finance: we were all worried about this aspect of Headship, and there was a really useful session on running the budget of a school. This was a real confidence booster – it turned out I knew a lot more than I thought I did!

Of course, it wasn’t all brilliant. This happened on one of the days:

And then there was this:

I suppose you can’t get through nine days of CPD without being asked to draw yourself a spirit animal! But aside from these points the days were really valuable and the opportunity to take time out from the daily whirlwind was incredible helpful.

Hitting the books...well, the pdfs.

Hitting the books…well, the pdfs.

Online learning

Aside from the three core modules, NPQH involves two elective modules. I did mine on Leading Change for Improvement and School Improvement for Effective Partnerships. At the start of my course, all of the material was hosted on the NCTL’s own rather convoluted website, but halfway through that was shut down and the material moved over to licensees. Either way, there is a lot of reading! At the start, I tried to read everything and I did a pretty good job, filing it away and keeping a running record of key points in Evernote. We discussed the reading often on our face to face days – mainly how hard it was to read it all! – and we soon worked out that you could be selective in your choices. However, I would recommend looking at as much of the resource as possible, because there are some gems in there. Case studies, research papers, policy documents, official guidance, legal frameworks – all useful, some essential. I didn’t agree with all that I read, but then as an avid reader of edublogs I’m used to that – and reading stuff you don’t agree with is often more valuable than reading in an echo chamber as it helps you define what it is that you do really believe that little bit more clearly.

Projects

NPQH involves two separate projects: one in your “home” school, and a second in a “Placement” school. My home school project was to implement Teaching and Learning Leaders, and my placement project was an examination of literacy across the curriculum at another secondary academy. This was fantastic – spending five days in another school, seeing what’s the same and what’s different, was an invaluable opportunity. I’ve forged long-lasting links with the SLT there: they came out to visit Chew Valley to have a look at how we’d implemented growth mindset, and I’ve been back there to work on assessment without levels. NPQH forces this kind of system partnership and there’s no doubt this is a real strength of the programme.

Assessment

The assessment part of the NPQH was time-consuming and difficult. It’s necessary, and in all honesty I couldn’t see a way of making it simpler without reducing the quality. It’s supposed to be challenging! Each of the five modules required a reflective “impact evaluation form” – a summary of what you’d learned and the impact it had had on your leadership. Again, the process here forces reflection, which is important for the process of self-improvement the course is trying to implement. But they are time-consuming to fill in!

Towards the end of the course you have to submit write-ups of your two projects. There are very strict guidelines around pages and word counts here, which were difficult to stick to, and the process of writing up took several days for each project. There was plenty of guidance from the NCTL and my licensee, so I knew what I had to do, but doing it within the word-count was tough!

Finally, if the projects pass, there is a face-to-face assessment. I went to mine already having secured a Headship following a three-day interview, and then having a two-day Ofsted inspection the week before the final assessment. It couldn’t be anything like as tough as those experiences…could it? Simple answer – yes. A panel of three properly grilled me for over an hour following a fifteen-minute presentation. It was every bit as rigorous, thorough and searching as my Headship interview and Ofsted had been. And quite right too; although I did things a bit back-to-front, securing a Headship before completing NPQH, there is no doubt that the final assessment interview would be a good preparation for anyone going on to Headship interviews after completing the course.

header-logo-nationalcollege

Was it worth it?

In a word – yes. The longer answer: I know I don’t need NPQH to be a Headteacher. But sixteen months working on the course has forced me to be more reflective about my leadership, to think about why, how and what I do in my job, in a way that I wouldn’t have done in the normal run of things. The online learning, whilst onerous, was useful. The opportunity to meet and work with colleagues outside my school, beyond my phase, with different experiences and approaches, was invaluable and enriching. And the fact that the assessment, both at the start and end of the course, was so rigorous, gives me faith that the standards of leadership expected of Headteachers are reassuringly high. I have gained NPQH and secured a Headship; now I have to ensure that I live up to those standards in the future.

A Letter to my NQT self

Dear Chris,

It’s 1997, and you’re about to start your teaching career. In May, as you were completing your PGCE, Tony Blair led the Labour Party out of 18 years of opposition to win the General Election on a ticket of “education, education, education”; that night and the day after, anything felt possible. It’s the summer holidays now; you’ll be reading a newly published book for children called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to see if it will make a good class reader. It will for a year – but then everyone will have read it. The day before you start at school, Princess Diana will die in a car crash in Paris and her death will dominate the country in your first nervous weeks in the classroom.

I am writing to you now from sixteen years  later. A lot has changed; but much is still the same. Children are still children. They still need help to handle the challenges thrown at them, be they academic, social, personal, or political. Your help. As you go through your career, try to remember:

Do what you know is right

LOGO_NAT_STRAT

There will be a lot of fads and fashions in teaching. You will be in the vanguard of the National Literacy Strategy in a pilot school. You will have training on philosophy for children. There will be timetabled lessons for Building Learning Power. You will be encouraged to do Brain Gym to wake up your learners’ minds. You will be given a folder containing nine Thinking Maps to use, forsaking all others. Some of this stuff is good. Some of it is hogwash. Instinctively, you will know which is which. Trust your instinct.

Make your own patchwork 

patchwork

You will work with brilliant – and I mean really brilliant – teachers. You will see them teach and envy the ease with which they command respect, obtain silence, and achieve astonishing results. You will try to copy them in your own classroom. Don’t. You can’t teach like them, you can only teach like you. But borrow this from that colleague, that from another. That was a really good way of dealing with a confrontation, so use that. That was a great way of explaining that idea – borrow it. Magpie ideas and techniques from everyone, everywhere, and stitch them all together into a style which works for you.

Keep moving

Don’t stand still. You need to keep developing, keep pace, keep learning. Each class is different, so you’ll have to re-plan every time you teach, even if it’s the same unit as last year. This is worth the effort! You’ll feel really happy in each school you work in, but the same will be true of the next one too, if you choose wisely. You’ll know when the time is right to move on, and the experience of working in different contexts with different structures will make you a better teacher.

Get involved

Schools are communities. What makes them is not the lessons, but what goes on beyond and between. Get involved. Play staff football, badminton, squash. Join the bands. Help out with – even direct – the school productions. Go on the trips to Alton Towers. Walk in the hills. Supervise the queues. Eat in the dining hall. Start a creative writing magazine. These are the things that will make it worth while.

Surround yourself with radiators

radiators

John Tomsett talks about ‘sunshine’: “people who like children and have the deep-rooted commitment to doing all they can to provide them with the best education possible. You know, radiators rather than drains.” These people will enrich your career, your teaching, and your life. You will meet some drains too, of course, but don’t get sucked in. And avoid torturing metaphors, if you can.

Keep up

twitter-bird-blue-on-white (1)

Technology will change faster than you can, but try to keep up. Don’t jump on every bandwagon, though: trollies of laptops are not a good investment. Twitter is good though. It won’t make any sense to you yet, but it will. It will. Where technology can make a difference in your classroom, embrace it with open arms. Where it’s more complicated and the technology seems to be the end in itself, rather than the means, don’t bother. 

Every child matters

ecm

That phrase will become meaningless through repetition after 2003, but try to take it to heart every day. Every class is mixed ability. You’ll be thrilled by those at the top end whose work soars and whose enthusiasm is incendiary. You’ll work hard to meet the needs of those at the bottom end so that they can access your lessons and achieve. But remember that every child in that room needs and deserves your attention equally. Every child is exceptional. Plan for it.

Keep your priorities straight

Teaching is the best job in the world. You will continue to love it throughout your career. But it is only part of your world, so make time for the rest and don’t let school take over.

Collaborate, don’t compete

together2

External influences will try to force you to compete. Come exam results time you will be asked to check your residuals against your colleagues, your department against others, and your school’s results against your neighbours. You will compete for applications from primaries and into the sixth form, and for staff. Please don’t forget that this is counter-productive. This isn’t a race judged by who crosses the line first, but by how well everybody gets there. Share freely, willingly and widely. Give your time to others. Ask for advice, and give it when asked. Work together with colleagues within and beyond your school. 

It’s worth it

beckettfail

Teaching is hard. Really hard. You’ll have plenty of times – you’ll lose count – where you will survey a paper-strewn classroom after a disaster of a lesson with your plan in tatters and your tolerance at zero. In these moments, more than ever, you will value your colleagues who will pick you up and dust you down – go and find them. Tell them all about it. They’ve been there too. Children have short memories, and every lesson is a chance to start again. Keep at it. It’s worth it.

There’s so much more I could say. I’m jealous of the journey you have ahead of you, the experiences you are going to have. But I am also excited at what the future holds for me in the next sixteen years and beyond.

Good luck!

Chris