This blog has been reproduced with the kind permission of (interim) Deputy Headteacher Stephen Mitchell. To read more of Stephen’s blogs please visit his Blog.
I’ve tried numerous times to get into blogging, but never too much success. Life takes over, something important comes up and it leaves little time to process thoughts let alone write them down into something vaguely coherent. I’ve not used my wordpress page for some time and did have a little chuckle reading some of my thinking from 2015.
However, it is half term and for the first time in 4 years I have not booked to go home (I come from Scotland); or work at a holiday club; or tutor and therefore, I have found a pocket of time while sitting in Pret in Borough Market.
This blog needs a context, I have not been teaching for the greatest amount of time, and I’m incredibly aware of that. I have a degree in Theatre from Surrey University and completed School’s Direct in 2013. As an aside, I think School’s Direct has a bad reputation amongst those who trained through longer university-led routes. I absolutely loved it – for me, at that particular time, it was the only way I could have afforded to train and it had the right mix of school-based practical lessons and university, tutor-led, lectures. That makes it sound easy… it wasn’t. It was a very trying year, but I had two great school-based mentors who worked with me the entire time to make sure I was ready to take my own class the following year.
I’m entering my fifth year of teaching in a state school and have the privilege of taking on an interim deputy headship. Through a series of circumstances, the school required the substantive deputy to step up to become acting headteacher and an internal advert was placed for her replacement.
I’ve been a member of the SLT for two years as the Upper KS2 Phase Leader and latterly as the Y3,4 and 5 Phase Leader. I knew it was an ambitious application to make, but I really did feel like I could step up to the challenge. I applied, was lucky enough to get it and I now find myself at the end of a busy and immensely rewarding half term.
It has taken me a little while to reflect on the important lessons I’ve learned in my new role and I have been sure not to shy away from recognising that. Life as a deputy head has been fast-paced and often you focus so much on moving forward with ideas, policy and strategy that you forget to look back on the key lessons you have learned. Here are my three musings on the biggest lessons I’ve looked back and reflected on during the half term…
You better like your headteacher!
This half term I have been in school 7am – 5:45pm on most days, I then get home and do a few hours at home. The absence mobile phone starts going off any time from 6am, so it can be an early start too. On top of this is the constant thinking, digesting of complex information and planning which takes places almost always – I have my best ideas at 11pm apparently. It can be pretty intense…
This isn’t any different to any other leader in any other school, I’m sure. But it did make me realise – I spend more time with my headteacher than I do my own partner. The phrase ‘work wife’ has never been more relevant!
I cannot imagine working with a headteacher I did not see eye to eye with. In my current position, the headteacher and I spent a long time working on the vision for the year and the changes we were going to make together from around Easter time. This is of course easier as we are both new to our positions and therefore we have had the opportunity to make changes which we both agree on. We were also lucky to have time to do this before summer – a luxury, I know! To improve the situation further, we have and still do have the support of the previous acting headteacher and current substantive headteacher (who is currently on a partial secondment).
It did however make me realise the importance of this relationship when looking towards the future. Any school which gets the investment of your time at any level needs to be a place which breathes the ethos and vision you believe in – this half term would have been considerably more challenging if I didn’t believe in the direction my head was taking the school. Thankfully, she is excellent and I trust and believe in her fully; I really enjoy working with her.
You can’t always please people…
This was a tough one. As an individual, I do like to try and please people – it’s an annoying quality I’ve become more aware of in the past few years. I’m sure a therapist would enjoy picking that apart, but I’m happy in the knowledge of not knowing where that comes from!
Schools are incredibly complex organisations and there is categorically no way that all decisions made by the senior leadership team will be positively viewed by all staff members. It is important in these times to remember why you work in a school: we are here for children and because we want them to have the best possible start in life. If I’ve been part of making a decision that ensures a child is safer or a decision that empowers a child to achieve more – then I need not think about it twice, it is the right decision. I think transparency is key here. Not all staff are privy to the full picture and knowledge is power when it comes to decision making.
You need to find time to have a laugh.
This is possibly the most important lesson. Senior Leadership in a school can sometimes be stressful, it can sometimes be difficult and it is often exhausting. You can find yourself at the other end of problems, complaints and concerns for a full day. This is part of the job and it is vitally important that you make time to hear concerns from others as they arise.
It can be hard to find ‘me time’ amongst all of this… you do need to make time to get into the staff room and eat. You do need to make time to have a drink with staff at break time and you do need to find a time to share the funny stories others have. It is so important for your own wellbeing to find the time to do this! You need to make sure that you are in a position to give off the energy and attitude you expect of your staff – if you don’t set the tone, who will?
As I say – I’m sure I’ve learned many more lessons than this and I know I’ve got many more to learn too. Here’s to the next half term.
This blog has been reproduced with the kind permission of Stephen Mitchell. To read more of Stehen’s blogs please visit his Blog.