One of the things that enables me to carry on doing the job that I do without completely burning out are the little oases that I get out of school every now and then. I seem to have been out more than usual lately but that is a testament to my SLT who don’t need me to be there!
Today I went to visit a colleague at Tower Hill Community Primary School in Witney, Oxfordshire. It is a school not totally dissimilar from mine, with a high percentage of children entitled to Free School Meals and a school that serves a large council housing estate.
The Head Teacher has only been in the school for a year and in that time she has managed to completely turn it around. Last year’s SATs results were among the lowest in the country and this year’s are above the national average. She has done in a year what it is taking me a much longer time to achieve.
The school has adopted Values Education as the basis of its ethos and it was clear that the Head Teacher’s vision permeated all aspects of school life. The school was calm and purposeful. Teachers and staff were welcoming and friendly. I was impressed with the way that the children have taken on the idea of Values and have really made them meaningful to themselves.
Lunchtime was especially lovely. The children sit in ‘family groups’ and serve each other, are polite, chat, laugh and wait until everyone has finished before they leave the table. This is so important for children who do not get this at home. That opportunity to sit and eat together is such an crucial one. What makes this really special is that the staff join the children for lunch and are role models for them. This also helps with relationships in general as it is a time for the staff to chat to the children and get to know them in a different context. This then impacts positively on the relationships back in the classroom.
When I see such good practice I feel re-energised and inspired. I return to my school with a buzz and some new ideas. It also helps me to continue to see my school in a fresh light, it is so easy to get bogged down with the difficulties and challenges that I can forget to look at all the good things happening. Talking with someone who is facing the same challenges that I face is invaluable. It is wonderful sharing experiences and ideas, successes and failures with someone who understands because it happens to them too.
Thinking time is something that is essential for me. In school, I don’t get enough of it. As it was long drive there and back I was able to mull things over, sometimes this can be a painful process as I reflect on things that I haven’t achieved or mistakes that I have made. Seeing the difference the Head has made at Tower Hill made me reflect on my own practice and think about what I can learn from her. It is absolutely fundamental that you hold on to your vision and implement it with passion, so that the children, parents and staff buy into it with you. Sometimes, I allow myself to think that I may have done some things right…