Sunday, 6 April 2014

Muddling through the middle!

Well, I set up this blog many months ago with the sole intention of documenting my first year in middle leadership however, it is clear by my lack of posts that this year has been a busy one and it's only just half way through! It is my intention, now that I have a bit more time, to write the many post titles I have had stored in my head over the last few months which may be of interest to some and will be a great release for my full mind! So here I start, with 'Muddling through the middle' - blog title and post title, because I have been exactly doing that!

Early days
So let's start at the beginning - September 2013 where I began my new role as a Year 4 leader of a three form entry Junior School. I had been at my previous school for six years, and time had come for me to stop hitting my head on the glass ceiling in to leadership and venture, scarily, into the unknown - a new school. It became apparent very quickly, that starting a new school again, be it as a leader or not, was going to be challenging. I suddenly felt, very much so, like an NQT again. Not in regards to the teaching and classroom management, you can apply this anywhere to a degree, it was the structures, organisation and routines of a completely different school. Over the years, I had completely taken lots of things for granted, like knowing assembly routines; where you had to be and when and who people were. I was part of this amazing special bubble of people - parents, governors, children and staff; where everyone knew me and I knew them. I knew the school inside out and I always felt that I was a leader with out the name badge! In this new school - I needed one just so I could learn new names and faces. That was my first mission, to get to know my Year 4 team initially, the children and then the rest of the staff. My year team, particularly my teaching assistants, were to be my saving grace in the first few weeks. They helped me get to grips with the time table, where you and the children had to be and when (this may sound ridiculous, but trust me when your classroom is the furthest away from the school hall and you can't hear the bell ring, you need the assistance of others!) By week two, I was still struggling to keep up with the new routines and different ways of doing things, however I am a fast learner and the children were great at helping me out.

A breakthrough!
Week three was my break through week as I managed to get myself, and the children, to all the right places and all the right times. It seems like such a crazy achievement to be proud of, but I was. You really are not prepared for how hard it is to move schools especially when you were so established in your old one. However, I moved for the challenge and I was definitely getting that. The one thing I struggled with the most, was how I could possible lead four members of staff on things that I was still myself getting to grips with. So I was honest. I said this was all new to me, as a leader,  and if I did or said anything there were worried or unsure about, then they must not hesitate to let me know, they had to be honest with me too. If I made mistakes, which I am sure I would, they needed to let me know. I honestly believe, you are only as strong as the team around you, and I wanted to nurture a strong team which has the children, in our year group, at the heart of it. Investing time in getting to know your colleagues is such a valuable resource for any leader. Knowing who they are and their motivations and goals for the school and it's children is key in developing a positive work life ethic. I wanted everyone to feel included and valued, so team meetings, daily catch ups and even sociable drinks at the end of the day all add to this vision, cupcakes help too! I had to set my authority too as a leader, that although I wanted to be friendly and approachable, I was also in charge. This is probably the hardest part of leadership, and I am not sure how I am going with that - perhaps I should ask my team! However, the respect me and my decisions so I must be doing something right! :-) The feedback I have received from my Headteacher has been overwhelmingly positive, which when I received this really did put my mind at rest that I was on the right track.

Leadership responsibilities - not as bad as I thought!
My leadership responsibilities have actually been easier to take on then I first thought. Many of them, I was doing already in my previous school such as rigorous pupil progress meetings. Looking at data, monitoring progress and setting up interventions is something I am not new too, and I actually enjoy number crunching. So doing this for 83 children is not too daunting at all, the hard part is that I do not teach them all so you need to have great faith in your teaching team, ensuring all children's needs are met whether you teach them or not.

In the past, I have completed observations before however not learning walks and book sampling, so these have been two new areas of leadership I have taken on. My first book scrutiny, I really had no idea what I was doing. I followed the lead questions and wrote it up to the best of my ability having not seen an example of one. It wasn't until the Head completed a book scrutiny of my books when I realised what I had to do, so my second scrutiny was more thorough and specific. Again, muddling through but getting there in the end. The Head was really pleased with my recent feedback and it is great to see your colleagues improving their practise as a result of your feedback as well as the impact it has on the children they teach. I am really looking forward to developing this further into classroom observations again.

The bringer of change
Being new to a school, you want to bring new ideas and suggestions, and although I was itching to do these I was very aware of not over doing it and becoming that annoying eager person. I often felt I had to hold my tongue from saying 'In my old school' especially as sometimes things that would have worked in my old school might not necessarily be appropriate or useful in my new school. So I decided on a drip by drip approach, make small changes to my year group, with the headteachers backing. So I did and it soon became apparent that my changes were not always welcomed.  This is one thing I really have found hard, being the enthusiastic new girl who embraces change and brings in a creative approach to teaching to an old regime still stuck in QCA units of work. I knew it was going to be hard, the Head warned me of this, but I don't think I realised how hard it was going to be. Some people find change difficult and I totally understand that, but when change is for the good of the children then it is needed. I think the school realised how different I was when I turned the whole of Year 4 into the Polar Express and children came in dressed in Pyjamas, the school had never really done dressing up before. The children loved it, my teaching assistants cried (tears of joy) and the learning was amazing. The children loved coming to school because we were doing things differently. I had come from a school where being creative in the way you teach and the children learn was the norm and was encouraged as long as there was real learning and progress. For example, to hook children into learning about the Tudors, we re-enacted the battle of Bosworth on the school field. Every child had a real part and name and the quality of historical knowledge that they learnt was outstanding. This then led to detailed and inspired pieces of writing. Awe and wonder moments, something my new school was crying out for and I was slowly bringing this in, along with a few others. However, this approach is hard work - it involves extra time and resources, but it is so worthwhile. This is, I am sure, what puts off many teachers and I don't blame them in an age when we have data and progress pressures to contend with, the fun side of teaching gets squished out. So I can see why many of my new colleagues might begrudge the things I was doing, and although they never said anything, you can tell: the quiet staffrooms, the small conversation. It was confirmed to me on a night out with my year team, when one of them said 'You are hated but it is because they are intimidated of you'. I laughed it off, but it does hurt. My friend said that part of being a leader is there will always be people that don't agree with you and dislike your decisions, which I understand. However, to be disliked by my approach to teaching is tough, but I smile and thicken my skin and keep doing what I am doing. After all it is all about the children and I have a happy cohort of children, who are excited and eager to come to school to learn. My headteacher is supportive of the changes I have made and we both look forward to a new curriculum where further changes across the whole school can be evolved. I know now that I am not the only one in the school and the acceptance to change is really now beginning to radiate across all. The good thing for me is I feel less disliked! Change is coming, whether people like it or not and people can love me or hate me for embracing it!

This only touches the surface of my first two terms as a middle leader and there is so much more I could write about and share, and I will at some point. I have enjoyed my new role and the new things I have learnt along the way. I do wish someone had written a guide book to support me in my role but I have learnt from my mistakes which have only made my practice stronger. I will continue to muddle through the middle, although I now definitely feel less muddled and more in control - long may it continue!

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