When you move to a new school, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have, you don’t have experience of that particular school. This can be both a blessing and a curse. And it’s this that has comforted me, haunted me, driven me, frustrated me and encouraged me throughout my first 6 months in post as Principal Teacher of Expressive Arts. To be the best for the school, I need to know the context of the school. And that takes time.
Surface level change is obvious. But deeper impact, is cultivated and built over time and cannot be rushed.
On the surface, I’ve achieved a fair bit. I already feel fairly settled. I have built the foundations of a strong team. I’ve made good relationships with pupils. I’ve started scratching the surface of attainment. I’ve lead by example. I’ve initiated and led staff in a number of wider school projects such as the exhibitions and performances for our royal visit , our virtual art gallery and our online Christmas concert. I’ve begun to make links with the local community. And, most importantly I’ve learned lots. But it’s a slow process and perhaps that allows for plenty of opportunity to pause and reflect. So what have 6 months in post taught me?
Making impact takes time
It’s such a fine balancing act. Enough change to feel we’re moving forward together, yet not too much to disorientate. I’ve consciously given myself time. Rushing into a new post, full of ideas and ‘new’ ways of doing things can be hugely detrimental and shows a complete lack of understanding of the school and dept context. I’m sure we all know something who arrived in a new post and didn’t nothing but mention, ‘in my last school we did…’ I’ve therefore tried to really get to grips and understand where we are right now. What our biggest challenges are and where the strengths are we can build on. What motivates and inspires each team member, and consequently what causes them anxiety. Only then can change really be meaningful as it directly links to us as a team, is created by the collective and addresses our own particular needs.
Human first, professional second.
I’d say that this has always been a priority, but throughout the pandemic it has been magnified. I’ve been fortunate to have learned this first hand from others and feel privileged that I’ve been able to model the same empathy, compassion and care which has been shown to me. I don’t think we can underestimate how tough the last two years have been on individuals and as leaders, starting from a point of compassion is the least we can do when we are unaware each individuals circumstances. The way we talk to colleagues, the attempts we make to understand situations, the way we ask others to do things for us.
Always believe in your ideas and do what’s right, not what’s easy
Seek other perspectives, Listen and learn from the experience of others, but learn to trust your instincts when it comes to something you are passionate about. You need to be able to defend your actions so it’s important to go with you gut. If you truly believe you made the best choice, it’s far easier to live with that decision even if it turns out not to be the right one.
People will always work harder when they feel appreciated.
If someone is doing a good job, I tell them. Like with pupils, I often seek out individuals to congratulate their success in a football match or competition. I try to make the same fuss over staff. Genuine, specific praise goes a long way in encouraging and building staff up.
Do less, but better
When starting in a new post, it’s extremely easy to say yes to everything which comes your way. In fact sometimes it feels like you are obliged to. Every opportunity, every request for help, every experience available. You are excited and full of energy. You want to be seen to be keen, and want to get involved with the life of the school. And this isn’t all bad. It helps build a sense of belonging, introduces you to other colleagues and allows you to contribute to the wider life of the school. However, sometimes the effect of doing everything is often that instead of seeing the best of you, what colleagues see is a thinly spread version of your best self and not your true potential. I’ve definitely been guilty of this and so in the next 6 months, before committing to anything extra, I’ll be asking these questions:
⁃ will it positively impact the learning and teaching and curriculum experience of our young people?
⁃ Will it impact workload of staff?
⁃ What are the well-being benefits to those involved?
If it ticks these boxes then there’s a good chance it has a worthwhile place. If it’s purely to get a photo on Twitter, or in the local news, then we’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Yes there are hugely positive experiences for young people to be gained from community working, outdoor learning and linking with industry but these need to be coherent and well-planned within the context of the curriculum.
It’s not always easier to ‘do it yourself’
This has been a huge learning curve for me. At home, I’m often of the opinion that if you want something done, it’s better to do it yourself. But in leadership, this isn’t always the case. I’ve needed to use those around me. It has required me to lean into the expertise of others and give up some of the control. Admittedly I’ve found this hard, but it has most definitely rewarding to empower others. The collective responsibility has allowed others to share the collective success. Quite simply, in a middle leadership role this vast (three very different creative subject specifics all with huge extra curricular input) I couldn’t possibly have done it on my own. Building the capacity and confidence of others has been so worthwhile, both for me and my team.
The past 6 months had not always been easy,(Possibly more to do with moving to a new area, having no central heating and all the challenges of the global pandemic!) but it’s definitely been worth it. I’ve loved the opportunities I’ve had to support a bigger team and I’m excited about the months ahead.