Breathing Space…

Today I put my soul on the line. I work closely with two other Heads from local schools in what we have called (post ‘New Visions’) a Triad. Today was their turn to visit my school. Being ‘assessed’ by your peers is a very scary experience, especially when you have great respect for what they are doing in their own schools. Their brief was to interview a selection of children about their learning in maths and to ask them about their learning in the school in general.

I nervously told them what I thought they would find, where I thought the strengths and areas for development are. Then left them with the children…..

It was hard waiting to hear what they thought – I found myself pacing, rather like a pregnant father in those old fashioned films! This is not such a far-fetched analogy as the school feels like my ‘baby’ – something I put my life and soul into, nurture, argue with, get frustrated with and am completely passionate about. I have been to look at other schools in terms of jobs but they just haven’t ‘sung’ to me like this one does. We are dealing with people’s lives and we can made a positive, or negative difference. My responsibility is to ensure that the experience of the children flowing through has a positive impact on the rest of their lives. It’s easy to forget that as teachers we have such influence in the intensity of every day working. Today I had some time to think. I was still waiting nervously to find out what my colleagues had discovered. I was sure they were going to realise that I actually don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m just an imposter, pretending to lead the school.

There are times (frequently) when I am wracked with doubt. When a lesson observation is not good enough, when a child hasn’t made the progress expected, when an ‘idea’ hasn’t worked as I thought it would. I make mistakes, but I learn from them. I am a great believer that as a leader you don’t have to know everything, you just have to know who to ask.

Eventually my colleagues emerged to give me the feedback. It was much as I had expected – there were good bits and bits for improvement. Some things much improved since their previous visit in November but still some inconsistencies remaining. The best bits were what the children said about their learning. They ‘LOVE’ maths, they feel the teachers are ‘100% behind them’. One child said that school was like ‘home where they help you’. What was really pleasing was that the older children from upper KS2 saw how their primary schooling was preparing them for a lifetime of learning, that it was important to take advantage of the opportunities it offered. That is a seismic shift from when I started here.

It is a true pleasure working with colleagues in this way, even when some of the message is disappointing. It works because we take turns, so we all know what it feels like to be in the position of the ‘vulnerable one’. I think I learn much more from visiting them! They are both inspirational in their own way.

Being a typical teacher I didn’t really dwell on the positives but focused on the disappointing bits. That is a real fault of mine – if something is going well it tends to go out of my head as I don’t need to worry about it and I am constantly focused on what still needs to be done.

This afternoon another HT colleague of mine visited the school to look at how we introduce cursive script in nursery. I had been to her school previously and felt in awe of what she does. I showed her some of our reception writing and she was blown away! I felt really proud and I could see my reception teacher blushing with pride!

In and amongst all of this, as I had been walking up the corridor, I came across the child who is filling most of my thoughts most of the time at the moment. He is finding it so hard to relate to anyone. He was out of class again as he didn’t want to do any work. He is in our Support Group as he was so hard to manage in a mainstream class and this is our way of trying to avoid exclusion. He was sitting on the floor with his head on his knees and his arms around them. He wasn’t responding to the TA (who is BRILLIANT with children like this). I knew she was needed back in class so I said I would try and see if he would talk to me. He didn’t, but he did stand up and start walking. I didn’t know where he was going to go so I followed him, at a bit of a distance, as I didn’t want him to run off, which he does sometimes.

To my surprise he went into my office. I had asked the TA to bring his work and she arrived with it just as I got to the door. He had sat himself at the table in the room. I sat next to him with the work. It was a mental maths task and also his reading book. I picked up the book and started to ask him about the pictures, what did he think of this or that, in a very chit-chatty way. Eventually he started to answer. He said he would read if we took it in turns so we did. I then picked up the maths. His head went into his hands and he wouldn’t do it.

I have puppets and soft toys in my office and he had noticed one in particular. I asked him if he thought the puppet would like to do the maths. He lent over and picked it up, put one hand in the head to work the mouth and one hand in the arm and picked up the pencil with the puppet hand. We were able to work together, I talked to the puppet and the puppet answered…

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