Monday, 25 November 2013

The Start Of Something Small But Special - SLTcamp

The doors slammed shut and Stephen and I sat bleary eyed and a little dishevelled in the front of the mini bus.  It was Sunday morning and the end of SLTcamp. We sat in silence for a moment and then I turned to Stephen and said "We only went and bloody did it!"  We both laughed, Stephen started up the engine and we set off on the muddy road out of Holmbury St Mary YHA.  We had done it. The weekend was a blur and it all seemed a little surreal to be honest. We were both exhausted but very happy that it had gone so well.  As the scenery wizzed by we chatted excitedly about the weekend through smiles and yawns in equal measure. We talked about what we liked and would we will improve for next time... And yes there will be a next time.

We arrived at Dorking station and I bundled out of the mini bus trailing behind me my suitcase and clutching my flowers from the campers in my arms.  I stood on the pavement and waved Stephen off as he tooted past and off home. I stood there dazed for a moment. It was over. Moments from the weekend swirling around my head and a smile crept across my face. The announcement for my train home snapped my focus back to the here and now.  The bubble of SLTcamp bust and off I skipped... back to reality.  

Later that evening I started to update the @SLTcamp twitter feed with all the larks of the weekend and I felt a real sense of pride at the quality of leaders we had spent the weekend alongside.  I felt proud of what we had all been a part of.  The exhaustion I had felt that afternoon had passed and a feeling of euphoria had taken over.  I didn't feel tired at all; I felt buoyed up form the whole experience. Both Stephen and I agreed there and then that it was such a special weekend full of innovative ideas, sharing of experiences, amazing people, great conversations and a supportive development that we would be mad not to let more leaders benefit from the experience we'd had.  Would we do some things differently? Yes without a doubt.  Next time will be even better, even more tailored!  I thought I would feel battered and bruised from the weekend away that week in school but I was wrong.  Actually, I felt rested, reinvigorated and inspired - not a touch of tiredness to be seen.

What a weekend.

It was jam packed with quality CPD experiences, workshops, talks and debates.  The teachmeet on the Friday was brilliant opener to a brilliant weekend. The breadth of topics and experiences that were shared and discussed was top notch. Personal highlights for me were Phil @joeybagstock, Tom @tomboulder, Stuart @stuartlock and Debbie @teachertweaks - all of whom gave passionate and useful presentations that made me think about my own practice. That being said, we were spoilt for choice with the presentations that evening - from pedagogy to behaviour,  whole school CPD to lesson observations approaches, educational research to developing leaders.  There really was outstanding leaders in our midst and the presentations showed this.  The difference with this teachmeet was that we had time to follow up those discussions once the talks were over - and boy did we. The atmosphere during the break and after the teachmeet was electric. Debate was deep and questions were flying around the tables until late into the evening.  

The Saturday sessions were kicked off my Mel and Debbie leading the team building warm up activities. Great fun and it really got everyone chatting to one another. The workshops covered teaching, learning, behaviour, pastoral issues and leadership topics. I was astounded at the passion and generosity of the sharing of experiences, resources, advice and ideas that flowed freely around the tables.  Ideas that had been touched upon in the teachmeet the night before were picked up again and debated with vigour.  Connections were made and tribes formed. People found others with similar interests or delved deeply into heated discussions around different views.  Notes were made in every session and reading over these as we publish them on the SLTcamp site have confirmed to me how useful and developmental these sessions truly were.  The evening was a feast of fiesta food and dancing and I very much enjoyed the impassioned chats had with Grahame Newell of IRIS Connect, Debbie and Mel, one of our Headteachers (who shall remain nameless ;-)) at the event and all the other wonderfully different senior leaders who took the time out of their weekend to better themselves and others. I take my hat off to you all. 

The Sunday morning reflection session was sprinkled with amazing virtual presentations from Ross Morrison McGill @teachertoolkit Rachel Orr @rachelorr  Jill Berry @jillberry and Heath Monk @heath_monk. During this time we had space, quiet and focus to digest all that we had been a part of over the weekend. We focused on what we were taking away with us, what conversations we wanted to continue and what the next steps were for us individually. Committing to our next steps following the weekend. Then, as had been the case all weekend, the attendees teamed together and cleared the place up in the space of a few short minutes. We said our good byes, warm hugs and smiles all round, and locked up what had been our home for the weekend.  

And then there were two...

This is such a crazy and outlandish job we do that we need a little touch of something different - this was that.  To quote one of our campers Ashley @BMS_MrHarrold "I don't know what you two have started this weekend but I know I like it." It was the start of something, something organic that is yet to be defined.  Watch this space.  I am looking forward the next one where we can make the event even more useful and give even more senior leaders the space to develop themselves and others. 

Register your interest for #SLTcamp14 below and be a part of something special if you dare.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Digital Debates - Issue 8 - Literacy

This is the latest edition of Digital Debates e-magazine. A round up of blog posts and articles from the web. This issue looks at pieces discussing and debating approaches to literacy. The pieces included are presented in no particular order.

The purpose of this e-magazine is to spark discussion around key teaching and learning topics, not dictate a particular approach. Thank you to all the dedicated writers and teachers that have taken the time and trouble to write these pieces and help us all become better teachers.

Edited by Sarah Findlater

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Leadership - When Opportunity Knocks

One rainy evening I sat at my desk surrounded (as usual) by exercise books, sheets of stickers, sticky back plastic, scissors, glue sticks and a selection of red pens.  My classroom was very much like my second home. I had organised the furniture and decorated just how I liked it. I was on the third floor and my window looked out into two huge beautiful trees that were the oldest on the school site.  In the summer they were full and all the shades of green you can imagine; you felt as if you were in the midst of the jungle.  When the wind was strong, the rustling leaves sounded like the sea.  In the winter the branches were bare and maze-like.  From the right angle you could see all the way to the Gherkin - a glimpse of the 'real world'.   I loved that room and was really sad when I had to leave it behind as they knocked the old down to replace it with the new a couple of years later. The cold winter air blew in to my always overheated classroom, making me feel feverishly freezing and clammy all at once.  My mind drifted as I tried to focus on the pile of marking before me, letting the echoes of the day's classes filled the room.  Suddenly, a knock at the door startled me. That knock changed it all. 

As a young teacher I was so focused on surviving and keeping my head above the water that I never really thought about leadership.  My concerns were very much directed towards getting through the day and keeping up with the rigorous routines, planning and marking systems that were a no-questions-asked requirement in my school. I loved those kids but boy, they were no joke let me tell you! The routines and systems needed to be tight and that meant ALL of us doing our bit - and we did.  Lesson plans were expected to be printed off and available for every lesson taught. Books needed to be marked on time and as specified as there were weekly extensive random book checks that were taken along to SLT meetings and poured over in great detail. The school was no walk in the park but the best training I could have had to become the best I could be. I am grateful to them but I felt the strain as a new teacher.  I was not perfect by any means but cared a lot about what I did.  I tried my best to take any advice and instruction given to me in those early years. I was, and still am, good to line manage. I want to please my line manager and show my worth. I don't always get that right but I keep going until I do. So leadership was the last thing on my mind until that knock.  I was asked to apply for a junior leadership post in my school - "No guarantees. Interviews have to be held but you would be great. Why don't you apply?"  It took me completely by surprise.

I sat silently, in shock, for quite some time after my boss dropped that bomb shell of a suggestion on me.  I would never have dreamed that they would WANT me to step up to a position of responsibility.  I am a perfectionist.  I was very demanding of myself as a young teacher and did not see the potential that my boss clearly did.  (note to self - I have never been perfect at anything and that is ok.  I need to get over that.) I was really unsure about whether I should go for the post. I was scared I might not be successful and have to live with the shame of failure; everyone knowing that I was no good and silly to have thought I might ever have been.  My lovely boyfriend, now husband, talked me out of that very abruptly once I got home.  He had seen how much hard work I had put in over the few years I had been a teacher.  He had witnessed the tears at the end of holidays in my first year, weekends and nights spent planning and marking, whole holidays spent working tirelessly, the countless mornings waking up having had another dream I was in school and all the rest of the rubbish.  He had to remind me of the the slow progression towards gaining my personal time back by keeping most of my work in school, the ever-increasing evening stories full of laughter and smiles about how much I had enjoyed this lesson or that, the growing confidence I had in dealing with challenging children and the passion I clearly had for the job.  Truth be told,  I was my own worst enemy - I didn't think I was good enough.  He basically told me not to be stupid and go for it. He was right... so I did.

I spent the following week slavishly preparing for the interview. My evenings were spent researching interview questions, putting together work I was proud of, quizzing people in similar roles about their jobs and practising possible questions. That week a number of well-meaning colleagues said things like "what are you worrying about? You are confident and you work hard. You will be fine."  I am confident, but I am also a very nervous person - full of contradictions me. These nerves always kick in full force when I really care about something.  Their comments drifted around me but nothing sunk in.  The week was a haze. I kept myself very busy freaking out about the fact that those pesky nerves might be my downfall in the interview. So I practised the possible interview questions over and over in my head and attempted to sleep a few times in the lead up to the interview. You can practise all you want but when the door closes and you are on one side of the table and they are on the other all bets are off - it is anyone's game.

I was well prepared but very nervous in the interview. I remember the sun shining through the window blinding me but making me feel alive at the same time. I remember them asking me questions and me answering but not want was actually said. I remember showing the portfolio of projects I had worked on but not their reaction. I remember thanking them for their time but not whether their response was positive or negative. I remember sitting in my empty classroom after the interview feeling exciting and exhausted but not which I felt more of. I remember answering the the phone and being told they were very happy to let me know that I had been selected to be KS3 Coordinator of English.  I remember them saying that they had chosen me because "I was the best person for the job." I remember the floor falling away from beneath me, the room spinning and a voice that sounded like mine saying "WHAT? ME? REALLY? Thank you so much! I won't let you down, I promise!" And I meant it from the bottom of my heart.  

Truth be told, I didn't think I was good enough. 

Guess what... I was wrong.