Saturday 9 September 2023

One year down as a Deputy Head: teaching is a people business

In retrospect, I’m aware that I stopped blogging probably when I had the most important things to say. 

It was when I started working in an area of deeply entrenched disadvantage. I just couldn’t find the words to talk about people’s lives that were so different from my own. And to not talk about the people who were at the centre of everything we did as a school felt impossible. Dishonest, even.

I was ultimately conscious of telling what was other people’s stories to tell. I have always wanted to advocate but whenever I started to type I couldn’t find the words. At times, it felt like poverty porn.

More practically, I’ve also had every spare minute taken up by being a mum. Which, whilst wonderful, is time and soul-absorbing in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined when undergoing the fertility treatment that made me one.

It’s why I’ve always kept up the ‘Nurture’ blogs. It doesn’t matter what I say about myself. I don’t care if people think it’s trite or crappy. It’s only about me and what does that matter?

But then A-Quigs read my 23/24 blog and challenged me to share some of what I’ve learned as a new Deputy Head. And since then there’s been a nagging desire to get back to blogging in a way I haven’t felt since pre-Covid and pre-baby (two states intrinsically linked for me).

And so here I am on a Saturday night on the first evening since our second bout of sleep training with time to spare to consider what I might write in response to that challenge and all I can think is: to be a school leader you have to really like people.

My sister is the Director of a company with 10+ employees and she’s spoken of the pressure of realising you’re responsible for other people’s mortgages. Boy, does that now resonate. As Deputy Head leading staffing, I’ve felt keenly aware that I am now responsible for whole families, not just individual teachers. 

Whether it is approving leave to attend an event at a child’s primary or navigating the complexities of long term illness, the decisions I take have the power to reverberate through the walls of family life in homes I may never visit.

And yet, the decisions you take in this role won’t always be easy. You won’t always be able to say ‘yes’ to the things you’d very much like to say ‘yes’ to. You’ll be keenly aware that if budgets don’t balance then there won’t be a school to employ the people that work there. And that if students don’t have a qualified and consistent teacher in front of them then their life chances will be affected more quickly than others might possibly imagine.

Thankfully, I also now know the impact of getting it right. Having open and honest meetings about absence can establish trust and enable support to be put in place that as a school you simply didn’t know was needed. When I first wanted to lead in schools it was to secure the very best outcomes for young people. What I’ve now realised is that this has to start with securing the very best for the incredible adults that work with them day in day out.

To be in a position to directly create change where things need changing can also be dead exciting. Our school now routinely informs women about their ability to use Shared Parental Leave to get paid for school holidays. The next stage is to create a school policy that will be the gold standard for supporting the number one group to leave teaching: women aged 30-39. 

Undoubtedly, the link between school leadership and employment law was one I was naive about before becoming a Deputy Head. I didn’t envisage that I’d need to seek legal advice. I’d had no direct experience with the LADO. The idea of giving a solicitor a quick bell was alien even after having bought a house and navigated the life events that comes with pushing 40. But, if it wasn’t for just that - and a hotline to my Union rep - my first year could, at times, have gone quite differently. 

Despite these challenges, I’ve held firm to the belief that being yourself is the only way to navigate school leadership and stay sane. You have to be prepared to share yourself: swear (when appropriate), say sorry (frequently), and, vent (when it’s needed). I’m keenly aware that being a mum has become intrinsic to who I am - in much the same way being a fan of pro-wrestling has been for a good many years. If I don’t share that then you can’t know me. If you don’t know me then I reckon it’s harder to trust me. So apologies for singing the praises of Dr Ferber and Tony Khan in equal measure.

So, what have I learned after my first year? Teaching is a people business. Luckily, seeing the good in every person isn’t anywhere near as difficult as you might imagine. Learning to see the good in yourself each day, when you’re conscious you’re learning and balancing different identities, now that is somewhat harder.

Friday 11 August 2023

Nurture 2022/23

I wasn't going to blog this year. I wasn't going to blog again ever, to be honest. As I get closer to Headship the appeal of social media has waned in inverse proportion to my recognition of the vulnerability it brings. Sharing your soul with anonymous readers opens you up to misunderstanding and criticism that starts to make you wonder if it is, quite simply, worth it.

As Edu-Twitter falls, local networks have strengthened and grown which has also loosened Twitter's sway. I can gain from reading the blogs and ever-increasing Twitter threads without feeling the need to engage in the verbal sparring that comes with 'putting yourself out there'.

And yet, this blog has been birthed: its impetus a visit to a house we think we might want to buy. We weren't 'looking' to move (our house wasn't even on the market) but it jumped out at us from the pages of RightMove and has gotten us imagining a different future to the one that was unfolding before us. It therefore feels apposite to return to where I wanted to be a year ago and to set down intentions for the year ahead.

In my blog last year, I put metaphorical pen to paper to commit to my goal of becoming a Deputy Head. 7 weeks later, I'm proud to say I reached that goal. I had no idea that my aim would become reality so quickly - after a single application - but the stars truly aligned. My new school is where I undertook my PGCE Teaching Practice 16 years ago and so feels like a homecoming of sorts. It's also a school with 'good bones', centred on people, tradition, and community. Having started in September, it already feels like home and I know I will be happy there for many, many years to come.

In my last blog, written just a week after returning from maternity leave, my goal was to model happy, sustainable leadership. Starting at a new school and being keen to prove I'm 'up to the job' has undoubtedly challenged that commitment. But I'm proud to say I feel like I've stuck to it. I start early but pick up my daughter 4 days a week, leaving school by 4.30pm on all days bar one. It's not always easy, but my Head and fellow Deputy are understanding, empathetic, and hugely supportive. For that, I'm immensely grateful. It's also made easier knowing I want to do my daughter proud and teach her that, as a woman, career and family are absolutely compatible. After all, we no longer live in the 19-bloody-50s.

My final wish last year was for my brilliant husband to find his niche after moving away from his career in the music industry. Absolute legend that he is, he's followed his second passion of gaming, securing his dream job at his dream company. He's soon off to San Francisco with work and watching him thrive inspires me more than he knows. Most of all, he's a living reminder that life is far too short to not be happy. Be brave. Be persistent. Make those changes.

And so...

3 positives of 2022
1. My family
Even the most challenging day at school is no competition for 10 minutes with Matt and Hana. 15 years on as a couple, we're at our best when we spend more time together not less. Our daughter is a joy and Matt is a better dad than I could possibly have imagined when we first flirted in The Blessington Carriage. And husband, for that matter.

In a ten minute radius we also have my mum and dad, my in-laws, my sister, and Hana's cousins. Our wider family is spread round the globe and that only reinforces the precious nature of our core gang. Being able to jump in my car and go to see every person I love is far more valuable to me than anything any exotic location can offer.

2. My friends
I've got a mate with a matching tattoo with who I've also co-presented at ResearchEd. I've got mates with which I can discuss the passive aggressive discourse between Mummy and Daddy Pig before dancing to Hole's 'Live Through This'. I've also got mates I don't see anywhere enough of (Shirsten, I'm looking at you).  And I've got mates in Japan I miss more keenly every year older our daughters get.

There is nothing more restorative than time spent with people you can be 100% yourself - warts and all.

3. My career
I am immeasurably grateful to work in schools. There is absolute joy to be found working with young people. Teaching is also fascinating. An intellectual challenge. And something that, for most of the time, feels like an achievable challenge. That it also pays my bills I consider a serious blessing.

3 wishes for 2023

1. House
OK, so where we live wasn't our first choice. Or even our second. By the time we came to stand in front of the stained glass front door and look up at its red brick we were seriously burned by missing out on two other properties. The rose tinted specs helped us to overlook some pretty serious defects. It had been badly neglected for many years as a couple's long marriage crumbled in line with the overgrown conifers and peeling paint. It's left us - two horribly impractical and busy millenials - with too much work to do and to little money to do it. We've already attempted a move but I'm unsure how that'll pan out. My wish is that we do our current pad proud or pass it on to someone else who can.

2. Make Teaching and learning at my school exciting!
I've been biding my time this year. Listen. Listen. Learn. Wait. But the time will soon come when I can start to share some of the things that fire my soul - cog sci, ResearchEd, evidence-informed practice. I hope I can do justice to the 'why', provide clarity about the 'what', and maintain teacher autonomy around the 'how'.

3. Decide what my 40s are going to look like
With birthdays just a few days apart, Chloe and I have had an Ibiza trip planned for many years so the festivities themselvwa should be a doddle. What's clear is what I look like as a 40 year old. And I don't mean physically - to be clear, I'll settle for Naomi Watts in The Watcher or wrestling personality Renee Paquette - I mean, in terms of envisaging the next ten years as a school leader, mum, and whole woman. If vision is crucial for leadership then I reckon it's at least equally important for being happy in life. I don't yet have this older 'me' fully formed and it'd be nice to have some idea what it looks like.

So, once more into a new year we go. May yours be as full of potential and optimism as mine is shaping up to be.

Friday 31 December 2021

Nurture 2021/22

Nurture blogs and that odd in-between time sandwiched between Christmas and New Year make great companions. They’re a chance to take stock, remember what was important 12 months ago, and realign and adjust priorities for the year ahead. Now that I blog so little they’re one of the few posts that seem to still come easily.

2021, fall its flaws, will forever be known as the year I became a mum. As you might expect, my first wish of last year, whilst heavily pregnant, was that our daughter would arrive safely. And she did. She flew into the world with arms and legs stretched straight out – her WomenEd power pose already perfected. Since then we’ve spent every day (even the ones where everything seems covered in poo) pinching ourselves that we get to be parents to such a funny and beautiful egg. As I type this, she’s pulling wooden carrots out of a toy and chewing on them Bugs Bunny style. She’s a delight.

Having returned to school for 7 days before the Christmas break, I’m yet to fully grasp how being ‘mum’ will change the way I work as a teacher and leader. But I have an inkling. Whereas once I’d be reluctantly dragging myself away from the job pile, it’s no longer difficult to leave school early knowing I have Hana to get home to. I’ve set aside time each evening to work but it’s defined and it’s finite. If I was pretty good at prioritising pre-baby then I reckon I’m going to be laser sharp now. 

In terms of mumming, teaching has inevitably already affected the choices I’ve made. The brutal reality is that we’ve reached the ‘I can’t do this any more’ point of sleep training earlier, and are moving away from breastfeeding more quickly, than we might have done had I taken off the full year. However, I’m confident our daughter will have more to gain from seeing a happy and fulfilled working mother that a few extra weeks of 1am boob.

Last year, after IVF, and already witnessing the mammoth scale of the response to the pandemic, I was in awe of science. This year, I’m increasingly conscious that the vaccine roll out has been a triumph of science, yes, but also humanity. Humanity in the sense of people working together in a way that is systematic and purposeful. 

There is much to take from this back into schools in terms of collaboration for the greater good, precision implementation, and system leadership: driving change across boundaries. The latter is something I am especially passionate about and what keeps me returning to Twitter. The more we can connect expertise across institutions and sectors the greater chance we have to improve the life chances of all young people and, consequently, society at large. 

My second wish for 2021 was to be a more vocal advocate for pupils in areas of disadvantage and from disadvantaged groups. I think I envisaged more blogging - maybe even returning to writing a bit for TES – in order to bang the drum for evaluating and meeting the needs of all of our pupils, raising awareness about the Values-Actions gap, which might go some way to explain why our beliefs are not always borne out in the action of holding the highest expectation for every child. But this definitely hasn’t happened (besides one measly case study for the National Tutoring Programme website). 

What I have managed to do is set up regional DM groups to connect PP leads and spoken at a couple of webinars including one with the guru himself, @marcrowland73. Instead my attention has been devoured by the realities of being a senior leader this year, working with my brilliant colleagues to get out 300+ laptops to pupils who need them and set up a Saturday tutoring provision to support home learning. I’m indebted to my partner in crime, @AViewAskew, who has been a constant support and enthusiast. She has also been relentless in keeping the Spaldhouse vision alive whilst I’ve been on maternity leave. For that and a million other reasons, I love her.

Finally, I’m proud to say that with the support of my family both in terms of the practical (childcare and a hefty spot of proofreading) and emotional (accompanied by plenty of cups of coffee) I did indeed complete my NPQH. Whilst it feels good to have it under my belt, I’m not sad to see the legacy qualification go. The assessment itself was a tick box affair and there were swathes of the course that felt a bit pointless, if I’m brutally honest. Spending half days with excellent leaders like Alistair @SMSATeaching and @MrHuntingtonSAT on my school visits was at least equal professional development to the thousands of words I ended up churning out. Before I begin to sound bitter, time to acknowledge…

My positives for 2021
1. I was appointed as an Evidence Leader in Education. 
As yet, I’m unsure how the role will develop. My first commitment is to my own school and our pupils and, quite frankly, schools need their senior leaders in-house at the moment. However, it’s already afforded me the opportunity to be involved in co-facilitating the NPQLT: any reason to chat teaching and learning and I’m in. 

I’m excited by the possibilities of working beyond my school and of championing evidence-informed practice. Schools are knackering, underfunded, pressurised places and anything that gets us focusing more sharply on best bets to save time and energy has to be a good thing.

2. I realised that I am replaceable.
I once had the privilege of listening to @Mr_ShepherdHT critique his (highly successful) first Headship. He spoke about the need for leaders to build sustainable change so that school culture exists – persists – even when you are not there to champion it. I’ve been out of school for just over 8 months this year and my first realisation on my return was how colleagues had picked up the baton and not only run with it, but jumped over hurdles and set new PBs (literally and metaphorically in the case of @AViewAskew).

This, of course, is the hallmark of a school functioning effectively, one where capacity-building and succession planning is working. Which doesn’t make it any less of a dent to the ego. At the end of my first week I was left pondering where I will fit in to this further strengthened team.  

Now, with the benefit of a week of down time I can see this for what it is: an exciting chance to carve out new initiatives and responsibilities. When you can spin the plates of a familiar role with greater aplomb you’ve got an opportunity to pick up the hula hoop and hone a new skill.

3. I spent a decent whack of time with the people I love. 
In the midst of the pandemic I spent a blissful two weeks with my in-laws in an isolated villa in rural Spain. Through the freedoms and demands of maternity leave I’ve seen my parents almost daily. My husband has swapped a three hour daily commute with working from home. 

We have family and friends spread around the globe from New Zealand to Hong Kong to Japan who are missed terribly now travel restrictions mean we’re unsure when we’ll get to visit again. That my closest are a five minutes hop in the car is not something I will ever take for granted.

My wishes for 2022
1. To model happy, sustainable leadership 
I reckon secure, content people make better decisions and better decision-makers are better leaders. Therefore, if I want to be good at my job I need to make sure I’m good at home.

As I near 40, and with the pressures on school leaders ever more acute, I also think I have a responsibility to the next crop of aspiring leaders to show that you can do this job and be fulfilled and sane.  

Mate, school leader, and mum of 3, @KColburnHayes, gave a brilliant WomenEd speech about the importance for women especially saying what they need. I think this is brilliant: why make others guess then hand wring when they get it wrong? There is no reason a childfree colleague should know what it’s like to have been woken up multiple times by a teething baby. Or a male colleague should know what it’s like to have to rush home to breastfeed. It doesn’t mean oversharing but it does mean being upfront, clear, and confident about your preferred ways of working. It’s something I’m going to try to return to this year when needed.

2. To become a Deputy Headteacher
I’m confessing with one with a degree of trepidation. It makes me feel a bit vulnerable. However, I am certain I am ready for my next challenge and I think there’s value in putting pen to paper and stating clearly your ambitions.

To date, I’ve only ever applied for one Deputy post, two and a half years ago. I blogged about the experience here. If that was too early then I know now is exactly the right time as I return to work with experience under my belt, having had impact in my role, and with a renewed commitment to the profession I love.

3. For my husband to be happy
I am incredibly proud of my husband. He’s a truly excellent dad and my best mate (plus I fancy the pants of him). He’s the sort of man that buys me books instead of flowers. Anyway, he’s recently reached a transition point professionally and has shown courage in stepping away from an incredible 13+ years in the music industry. I’m excited to see what 2022 will bring for him. And us.

Happy New Year, all. May the next twelve months bring you happiness, whatever that may look like for you.

Sunday 27 December 2020

Nurture 20/21

I haven’t written a single blog this year so I’m fighting the gnawing feeling that to publish this one is more than a tad self-indulgent (particularly one that has somehow tipped over the 1500-word mark). But in so many ways it’s never felt quite so necessary to have a historical record of 12 months. So, it’s written and it’s here and I’m hoping that when I look back in a year’s time I’m struck by how significantly life has moved on. 

As always with a Nurture blog, it’s apposite to start by reviewing the blog of 2020. Last year’s first goal was to ‘stop the saw-tooth of results and sustain improvements’. What I couldn’t possibly have predicted was the impact of Covid-19, the cancelling of exams, and the process of CAGs. Or ‘CAGs+’ as it should be called (AKA ‘add a bit on for a few kids’ based on some indecipherable algorithm). I can at least hold my head up that at all levels our school conducted the process with integrity; the grades inputted by us were securely in line with our trend of improvement: -0.55 -0.33, -0.20. 

Of course, these are just numbers. Ones that don’t account for our whole cohort and are now not even externally verified ones. But three years in to leadership of Key Stage 4 to have that steady numerical trend – particularly in these most uncertain of times – roots me further to evidence-informed leadership. I find returning to research, reflection, rationale, and reason when the world is at its most chaotic wholly grounding.

One term in to 2020-21 we’re now sat on our best predictions yet for Year 11 and the energy and determination within the cohort is palpable. Predicting what will happen this summer is a fool’s game and I’ve not quite come to terms with not being in post to lead our community through it, but I have faith we have the right support and challenge in place for pupils, teachers, and leaders alike. And I’m by no means egotistical enough to think that my absence will significantly weaken the collective determination and sense of endeavour.

My second goal for 2020 was to help organise a cracking Team English National Conference. 
Clearly, TENC20 wasn’t the event we’d been expecting. However, the virtual conference it became was arguably bigger (not limited to a sports hall), better (with keynotes by Ofsted’s National Lead for English and Bennie Kara’s powerful keynote speech), and undoubtedly cheaper (at zero cost to teachers) than the one we had planned. Fingers, toes, and other bits crossed that TENC21 will see the English teaching community descend on Derby in a glorious union of nerdiness.

Lockdown did at least support my third goal of ‘growing loads and loads of vegetables’. I even nailed tomato growing thanks to the newly sunny positioning of my greenhouse. I’ve also tentatively started painting. These activities haven’t got quite got the buzz of a music festival or wrestling show, but for the most part I am at peace with the quieter, lighter pursuits we’ve had at our disposal this year.

Last year, I also wrote about the new places I’d been to, from Sintra to Seoul. Well, aside from a quick trip to the Jurassic coast of Dorset, lockdown and Tier 3 have ensured that the only new places we’ve discovered are within a 5-mile radius of our house. But what new places they have been. Over the months of spring and summer, we met the babies of the shaggy haired highland cattle one field over, witnessed blankets of bluebells and daisies, climbed the ruins of a hidden 14th century Norman castle, located a woodland fairy tree, and spied a shy fox in the bowels of a mighty fir tree. On the inside of my wedding ring is inscribed the word ‘Adventure’ and this year has been proof positive that memorable exploits don’t have to involve a 14-hour flight or temperatures in the 40s.

3 positives about 2020

1. Science
As I hit publish on this blog nearly 500k people in the UK have been vaccinated against Covid-19. That as a species we have the ability to identify, formulate, and mass produce biological responses to viruses in just a smattering of months boggles my tiny little mind. Almost as much so as the ability of doctors to make our daughter in a petri dish. 

That the scientists who create these phenomena were once pupils sat in classrooms like the ones we teach in day in day out, learning the building blocks on which their expertise is based, blows my mind. I don’t personally have a faith. This is my God and my magic.

2. Community
I think we all intuitively recognise that teachers are in the people business. Relationships are our bread and butter. What can be less easy to see are the invisible web-like strands that traverse our school buildings connecting them with those beyond our grounds: family homes, mosques, food banks, community centres, Sure Start centres, places of work. This year has thrown a light on these networks in a way that has made them shimmer and sparkle. 

Whether it’s been a smile and ‘Hello’ on a lockdown-sanctioned walk around the block or chatting on doorsteps during a laptop drop-off or the local community radio station taking in our pupils’ completed work packs, never have I felt more connected to the people around my home or our school.

3. Health
My in-laws have endured the nastiness of this virus and I know it’s not something to be taken lightly. But, for now, those that I love most are healthy. 

Being alive and having health enough to enjoy that fact is a fundamental pleasure I wish for all.

3 wishes for 2021

1. That our daughter arrives safe and healthy
As she wriggles away in my belly (no doubt trying to master her first solo Canadian Destroyer) I still find it hard to believe I’m on the final countdown to becoming a mum. 

Edu-Twitter can be a hotbed of hubris no doubt, but there are many brilliant people I’ve met through it. Some of these people have become friends who have seen me through the heartbreak, excitement and hormonal rollercoaster it’s taken to get to this point. Shout out to my DM family, Team Gin (@Xris32 @AviewAskew), and especially to @HeyMrsHallahan’s whose birthday it is and whose maternity jeans I am still wearing.

I’ve got more than a niggling suspicion that our lives are about to change in a million tiny ways that I cannot anticipate so I’m revelling in blissful ignorance and focusing on the celebratory gin after the labour.

2. To be a more vocal advocate for pupils in areas of disadvantage and from disadvantaged groups
I’ve always shied away from writing at length about the context of my school: this has undoubtedly been a significant factor in my blogging drying up. As I’ve said before, I find it hard to locate the words that will do my pupils and our community justice. It’s not my place to speak for other or to try to articulate experiences that are not my own. 

However, I’m increasingly of the belief that in my position of privilege I do have a duty as an advocate and to be effective as one I have to find a way to bring the realities of so many people in Britain to a wider audience. 

So this year, with the space (perhaps) of maternity leave, I’d like to find a way to put pen to paper and share the daily joys and persistent challenges of working in a school like mine.

3. To successfully complete my NPQH
18 months ago, optimistically starting out on the Ambition Institute Future Leaders course the world was undoubtedly a different place. Had I known what I know now would I have even started? 

I’m not going to lie, online residentials haven’t got quite the same appeal as real life ones with an evening in the bar at the end of them. And writing up projects and placements with pelvic girdle pain and a tiny foot kicking your bladder isn’t an entirely straightforward proposition. Add in conducting school placements in Tier 3 and managing projects that a year ago weren’t on the furthest reaches of your school improvement plan (Saturday school, anyone?) and it’s been testing to say the least.

So, would I have started it? I’d like to think so, yes. Ambition’s motto ‘Keep getting better’ still resonates even if the ways I expected to ‘get better’ haven’t been the ones I thought were my areas of greatest need: I’ve learned lessons in my own values, patience and tolerance, and persistent optimism as much as in finance or HR.

With two write-ups and a handful of sessions to go, the final certification would be validation that I’m continuing to inch forward on my journey to one day become a Headteacher. The longer term impact is perhaps yet to be seen and I suspect it’ll be more subtle in effect than direct application of any of the declarative knowledge embedded along the way. If I can keep returning to the two Dixons Academies questions introduced to us in our opening residential then I reckon it’ll have done its job:

What lasting impression do you want to leave on the world? 
Was I better today than yesterday?

Tuesday 31 December 2019

Nurture 19/20

I like the neat denouement a ‘Nurture’ post provides at the end of a year. I’m still unsure if anyone other than the writer gets much from it, but for me the catharsis warrants the writing and so here I am typing once more.

Looking back to my 2017/18 ‘Nurture’ post*, one of my reflections was that it felt like “time for me to be less brave, to pause and consolidate”. Right now that seems like a wholly na├»ve statement. Life doesn’t stop. You don’t get to hit pause. There’s only ever onwards, upwards, forwards. You don’t get to choose whether you’re going to need to be brave. You can only hope to be able to be when you need to be.

I’m delighted to say that the friend who was seriously ill at the end of 2017 is still here. In fact, we recently spent the day watching Edward Scissorhands and eating pizza. She’s the sort of mate you meet playing violin in an orchestra then quit to learn guitar and form your own punk band. Then travel around 32 states in America with. On a bus. She’s also living proof to me that (in the words of Alabama Worley) ‘sometimes it goes the other way too’. I deeply and sincerely wish her a 2020 that embodies that sentiment.

Still just a few months into my AHT post, at the end of 2017 I hoped to be a really good line manager. While I don’t think I have been a crap one, I do know I still have much to learn. I really like the saying ‘The best way to be trusted is to be trustworthy’ and I have tried my damndest to live up to that.

Since writing that blog I’ve gone from line managing one person to three, including our brilliant Learning Director for Maths and – as an English teacher - I’m now holding on to the premise that you grow subject experts then get the hell out of their way. I have happily appointed myself ‘Chief Road-block Remover’. I’m also trying to provide questions from my position as non-specialist that clarify thinking and shine a light on the blind spots we all have when leading amidst the maelstrom of school life.

My final reflection on that post from way back is that I think I can hold my head up high and say I’ve started to have the positive impact I hoped for. Since I picked up leadership of Key Stage 4, outcomes have improved – which fundamentally means more kids with more choices about what they can do when they leave school. What I didn’t foresee back then was the impact that individual pupils’ achievements would conversely have on me. Kristina, Anpumoli, James, Juraj, Muteeb… our kids make you feel utterly grateful to have met them and to have been even a small part of their journey. I’ve also come to appreciate more than ever before the vital component of pastoral care and I am in awe of those in my school that care for, protect, and – to a degree – parent our pupils.

This year I’m pleased that, when it has come down, to it I’ve put my school and my pupils first. I’ve done less writing for both my blog and for publications, and I’ve turned stuff down when I’ve not had time because I know that ultimately I want to just be really good at my job. This is, of course, partly selfish. Now more than ever I know I want to be a Headteacher which means a) continuing to learn my craft b) continuing to establish my impact and credibility as a school leader. I have zero desire to be a consultant, journalist, or write a book (although a doctorate at some point does appeal). The idea of leading my own school though is bloody exciting.

And so, as a decade closes its doors, it’s time to once again mark what has been and would could still be.

3 positives about 2019
1.    I’ve done things in my career that I am proud of
I spoke in front of 1700 teachers at a PiXL main meeting and to 500 teachers across a MAT in the Midlands. I got to take my husband to a Buckingham Palace garden party to say ta for my work at the DfE.

I’m chuffed to have made it on to Future Leaders and to have made it to the point in my career where I get to do training with ‘Headship’ in the title. I’m proud to sit alongside so many hardworking and dedicated people each time I go to a session.

2.    I walked 26 miles in a day
At the ripe old age of 35, I made a new best mate in Chloe (@AViewAskew). Whether dancing in night clubs in Portugal or pounding the school corridors she’s like a Duracell bunny. She also brings out the best in me – whether it’s casually walking a marathon or saying ‘Yes’ to speaking at conferences on the other side of the country. I’m ridiculously excited that she’s been appointed to a temporary AHT position leading KS3 and can’t wait to start joining the dots more closely between Years 7-11 at our school.

3.    I’ve had loads of fun
This year hasn’t turned out the way I’d planned in some ways but, you know what, it’s been a pretty exciting one. I’ve visited new places (Lisbon, Sintra, Kobe, Yokahama and Seoul). I’ve dyed my hair neon yellow. I’ve drunk too much. I’ve been on road trips and to music festivals and spa days. I’ve booked in another tattoo. I’ve laughed loads and watched my friends and family absolutely thrive.

Life is pretty good when you stop to think about it.

3 wishes for 2020
1.    I want to stop the saw-tooth of results and sustain improvements
I’ve got irons in the fire around raising pupils’ expectations of what they can achieve and what they need to do to get there. I’m excited to see where this leads.

2.    I want to do Rebecca, Fiona, and Becky proud by organising a cracking TENC20
We’ve got an ace team organising the Team English National Conference this year, but the standard these women have set will still be an almighty bar to reach.

3.    I want to grow loads and loads of vegetables
This year, I managed an impressive crop of potatoes, but my veg patch has lain woefully neglected for the most part and my corn ended up being fed to my sister’s weird chickens. Next year, I’d like to build in time to tend the cabbages, listen to the radio, and sit in my deckchair. Am I getting old? Probably. Do I care? Not one jot.

Happy New Year, all.

A big thanks to Becky Wood (@ShadyLady222) for writing her end of the decade reflective blog. It helped me realise that when you zoom out you get much needed perspective on the ups, downs, positives, and negatives of being alive. My last decade was cracking and the rubbish parts just bumps in the road. She helped me see that and to realise that 2019 was, in fact, a pretty successful twelve months after all.

*Last year, I didn’t post a ‘Nurture’ blog. Following an event that, if I’m really honest, I’m still feeling the aftershocks from, I wasn’t in the right space to be putting figurative pen to paper.