Decision, decisions, decisions.

They can be very hard to make. Having come to the conclusion before the summer break that I was ready to take the next step in my career and spent time over the summer doing some reading and personal development to support this, I started the new school year in September ready and raring to go.

Until I hit a rather unexpected bump in the road. I went to visit a school that was advertising for a Headteacher. A great school that was perfect for me – a bit closer to home (but not too close) so a shorter journey, a familiar demographic with a similar level of challenge to my (then) current school and some areas where I felt I could make a genuine difference. I gathered myself and sat down to  complete the application form. And I couldn’t do it. I left it for a day. And then two. I had a sleepless night. Or three. Then I talked at great length with my supportive other half (what on earth was stopping me??) and he reminded me of a conversation we had had with friends while visiting them in France during August.

These friends had packed up from their busy lives, moved half way round the world with three children, bought a beautiful but run down barn in the French countryside and were in the process of doing it up and creating a new life for themselves. We had talked at length about their reasons for doing this and I had been inspired by their desire for a simpler life, free of the hold of a PAYE job and busy lives and with more time to spend with small children. But on the long car journey back to the UK my thoughts had turned back to work and my career ambitions and, as the school year started, I had set my foot firmly back on the road it had been on for many years.

However, faced with my inability to complete an application for what seemed like a perfect job, my other half gently reminded me of the way I had been captured by the idea of a simpler, less hurried life and the opportunity to spend time with our young sons before they morph into smelly, troglodyte teenagers. We talked at (considerable) length, indulged our shared Excel obsession in modelling a possible budget and eventually, after the best* night’s sleep I’d had in a week, I woke up convinced that now was the time to put my busy career on hold and make some life changing decisions.

*or as good as it gets with a sleep-thief 2 year old!

The final decisions we have made have been complex and motivated by a whole range of personal circumstances and opportunities but in the end (and after quite a bit of angst about the details), we have bought a house in the Midlands, found a school place for my oldest and I have left my job as a Deputy Head as of the end of the Spring term. We move house next week and a new chapter of our lives will begin.

The plan is to take some time (6 months? 2 years? who knows – my colleagues are taking bets) away from full time employment in schools. What will come of it professionally I don’t yet know. Offers of consultancy work that arrived not long after my resignation became public have been put on hold until next school year at least; who knows if they will still be there then. What I do know is that I will get to spend some precious time with my two boys during their fleeting childhoods. I will also have some time to regroup both personally and professionally, find time to take better care of myself, my family and friends and explore the options available to me in the rapidly-changing education landscape. While I empathise greatly with many of those leaving the profession (https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/i-am-part-teaching-crisis-these-are-reasons-why-i-feel-i-have-no ) I’m not planning to be a permanent statistic in the ‘teachers leaving the profession’ graphs and reports but I do know that this pause is probably a necessary step in preventing that from happening.

As I said here, this year will be about living in the moment, maintaining balance, and spending truly quality time with the people I love.





If you don’t look after yourself, who will?

Resilience is often described as a personal quality that predisposes individuals to bounce back in the face of loss or challenge. Resilient leaders, however, do more than bounce back—they bounce forward. Resilient people take actions that respond to new and ever-changing realities, even as they maintain the essential operations of the organisations they lead (Reeves & Allison, 2009, 2010; Reeves, 2011).

The notion that teachers need to extend their sphere of influence beyond the classroom and into school-wide leadership activities without giving up teaching is, in the rarefied world of those who tell schools what to do, a relatively recent phenomenon; however, those of us who serve or have served at the chalk-face (or touchscreen-face for those most recent recruits) know that teachers are, and always have been, leaders. First and foremost, they lead learning their classroom. They may also lead a subject, a year group, a phase, a department or a team – and not just on the old-fashioned administrative sense of the word – but in the inspirational, influential, creative and visionary sense of the word. Teachers are leaders of their peers, whether or not this is reflected in their official job title or qualification, both in the workplace and in the wider educational community, including that of social media.

It is widely held that happy teachers = happy students = happy outcomes. But how, in the face of the current educational climate of economic challenge, loss of resources and continuous change imposed from above (all of which are pretty much guaranteed to challenge the resilience of individuals, teams and organisations), do we keep teachers happy?

As a senior leader in a school, I can tell a colleague to go home at 4pm once a week until I am blue in the face, I can facilitate their attendance at their child’s assembly or graduation and I can provide any amount of good wellbeing advice and opportunity but although, to coin a hackneyed phrase, I can lead a horse to water, I can’t make it drink.

Of course, good and resilient leadership is key, but practitioners must also take responsibility for playing a part in maintaining their own wellbeing.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that, while I have greatly improved at nurturing my own wellbeing over time (particularly since the advent of the #teacher5aday, thanks to @MartynReah and supported by many others to numerous to name check here) I do not always manage to walk the walk – something on which I continue to work.

As a result (I assume, Martyn?) of my participation via Twitter in #teacher5aday, I was invited to take part in Pedagoo Hampshire on 26.9.15 and, while I do not profess to be an expert in the field of resilience and wellbeing (unlike some of my fellow presenters who have actual qualifications in the field!), it is something to which I am strongly committed as a school leader and felt is an area to which I wanted to contribute. I have been lucky enough to have participated in some excellent Resilient Leadership CPD in my local authority and have started the process in my own school – drip feeding ideas and facilitating sessions with inspirational speakers – so my learning conversation is drawn from these experiences.

As part of my topic, “Resilience & wellbeing for teachers: where can you find it?”, the plan is (at the moment) to explore not only where our resilience might come from but also how we can use that knowledge to support our wellbeing. I am fortunate to be sharing the session with Heather Lucas @HLucas8 (one of those clever people with a specialism in this area and qualification in Psychology) and I hope that you will be able to take away some useful ideas from our shared conversations.

As ever the teacher, if you are coming along to our session it would be useful if you could have completed, or at least given some thought to, a life chapters exercise. You can find a template at http://www.crowe-associates.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/1562_Life-Chapters-Exercise.pdf)

Next, consider the following questions:

  • What impact have your childhood / parents or carers / early life had on you? On your career decisions?
  • What were / are the expectations placed on you as a child / young person / adult?
  • What effects have marriage / relationships / family had on your life and the decisions you have made?
  • How did you make your career choices? What helped you decide to move on from earlier jobs?
  • What key themes and patterns do you see emerging from the story as you have told it?

These things are personal and private to you, but a useful starting point in exploring where your wellbeing and resilience comes from and how you can nurture and grow it into the future.

I hope to see many of you on 26th September!

(PS. Get your tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pedagoohampshire-tickets-17552608324?ref=enivtefor001&invite=ODExMzU5NS9tcmVhaEBlZ2dhcnMuaGFudHMuc2NoLnVrLzA%3D&utm_source=eb_email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=inviteformalv2&ref=enivtefor001&utm_term=attend)

How it all went #summer10

A field in the Dordogne

The field in front of our gite

So back at the end of July, I wrote a blog post about my #summer10 (read it here) – the top ten things I hoped to achieve over the summer – and undertook to come back and review how it all went.

So here it is…

1. Spend quality time with my family. This was a resounding success. We had lots of slow, hazy summer days. We slept in, we rode a steam train, we went to the zoo, we visited the park with friends, we cooked, we snuggled on the sofa and watched lots of movies. Rather than rushing around trying to fit in a year’s worth of stuff, the slower pace of life we chose was what we all needed to recharge our batteries and connect properly.

2. Start and maintain a blog. Check! ‘Nuff said.

3. Read some books purely for pleasure. This was not such a success. I did lots of reading, but the reality of life with a 2 year old and a 6 year old is that most of the reading was books like The Gruffalo, That’s not my train, How to Catch a Star and others of a similar ilk – plus Horrid Henry. All lovely, enjoyable books in their own right (and each was accompanied with a precious little boy cuddle), but not what I originally had in mind. I have now left a novel by my bed and plan to read a little each night before falling asleep (or being summoned by the smallest person!)

4. Research. I have chosen a topic for my dissertation (well, have narrowed it down to two related options), done some reading and should be ready to submit the initial introduction by the deadline in the middle of September.

5. Exercise. This is a work in progress – I have been going to an outdoor fitness class on Saturday mornings and started running with friends on Hampstead Heath as regularly as possible. The aim now is to get back to running 5kms and then 10kms comfortably and to fit back into my pre-toddler wardrobe.

6. Planning for work. This is done – I met with my Headteacher in August and we know where we are, what we need to do and actions are in motion.

7. Plan for career and leadership development. A ongoing process, but I am happy with the thinking, reflecting, connecting and professional reading that I have done in the last 6 weeks. I am clearer than ever on my own strengths and what I need to develop – onwards and upwards!

8. Catch up with friends. We did lots of this both close to home and in France and it was refreshing to have lots of non-work related conversations with grown ups and to go out for a drink on a school night that wasn’t actually a school night!

9. Prepare for #PedagooHampshire. Well, the map app on my phone has shown me how to get there, I’ve connected with my learning conversation partner and have a fair idea of what I hope to achieve and how…watch this space for more information.

10. Travel. Well and truly achieved – My oldest son and I had a lovely three days in York and all four of us had a brilliant break in the south of France – we saw the Bayeux tapestry, swam in a lake, ate ice creams and wandered through markets. And yes, there was plenty of sunshine, cheese and wine.

All that aside, I think the most important thing is that both this #summer10 process and #teacher5aday more generally have helped me to take a step back, reassess what I am doing and examine how all the cogs on the wheel fit together, both for me as an individual and for my family as a whole. Regardless of what initiatives are handed down from on high, what the latest pronouncements from Ofsted are, what my next career move will be or what daily challenges present themselves at work, my family takes priority. This year will be about living in the moment, maintaining balance, and spending truly quality time with the people I love.


My view from a French steam train

My #summer10

Inspired by @rachelj blogging about her #summer10, the 10 things she would like to achieve over the summer, I sat down to have a think about what my top ten would be. I do start each summer with an idea of the various things I plan to achieve, both personally and professionally, but don’t commit these thoughts to paper. I also find that the start of the new year tramples roughshod over any chance to reflect on my successes (or otherwise). As a relatively new tweacher, I have become involved in #teacher5aday through @martynreah which, along with a challenging 18months personally, has inspired me to take more time to look after my own resilience and wellbeing. The #summer10 seemed like a good place to continue what I have started and to come back and reflect on it at the end of the summer.

So here they are…

1. Spend quality time with my family – going to the park, visiting the zoo, riding on a train, playing in the back garden, picking fruit and vegetables, watching a movie, baking a cake, writing a song – whatever that my two small boys (and one much larger one) fancy. During term time our lives are hectic and, while we do spend time as a family, much of the time we are bound by the clock, bedtime, work schedules, swimming lessons and so on. The time afforded by the holidays to really slow down and enjoy some freedom is precious.

2. Start and maintain a blog (I hope that’s not cheating!) including coming back to reflect on how I’ve done with this list. A blog is something I’ve considered doing a number of times and always bottled out – no more!

3. Read some books purely for pleasure. Growing up, I was a bookworm, but most of the reading I do these days is work related in some way. I want to lose myself in some great stories again.

4. Research – I will be completing my M.Ed in the next academic year and need to finalise my topic / research question, do some reading and get an initial introduction and outline ready to submit in early September.

5. Exercise – I have tentatively dipped my toe back into the water with running (despite being ridiculously unfit) and need to up the ante on this so I get back to running regularly again.

6. Plan (this is my work related one) – we are due (ssshhhh) an inspection in 2016 so I need to make sure I have my strategic ducks all lined up in a row ready for the start of the school year.

7. Plan (again!), well continue to plan, the next steps in my career and continue to develop my thinking around Leadership (with a capital L).

8. Catch up with friends. Those people who live outside the world of education and keep me grounded but who I often don’t see for months at a time as our schedules just don’t match.

9. Prepare for #PedagooHampshire. I was surprised and flattered to be asked to present but now I have to get myself organised, and figure out how to get there!

10. Travel. I am taking my train-mad oldest son away for a few days next week, just the two of us, to visit the National Railway Museum in York. All four of us have a 12 days  booked in France towards the end of the summer – relaxing in the sun and recharging the batteries. Plus wine and cheese, of course.

It’s shaping up to be a fabulous summer – what have you got planned?