Looking back at five and a half years @PrioryGeography

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It’s been quiet on here for a while as I’ve been taking a break to enjoy time with family and to mark the transition between Priory Geography and Patcham.  For those unaware, I start as an Assistant Headteacher in a couple of weeks (eek!).  This post mainly serves as a personal marker and a public thank you, but may be of interest to others.  At the end, I try to offer some learning / leadership type reflections ahead of the new adventure.

Thank you and reflection

In January 2008 I started as Curriculum Leader for Geography at Priory School.  Priory Geography was born and the rest is, as they say, history.  I’ve been reflecting on five and a half years of a challenging and difficult journey, one that had few easy, calm stretches.  Needless to say, I loved it.  Having said that, my time juggling the demands of subject leadership and having one foot in SLT told me that it was time for a new adventure.  More importantly, it was time to say goodbye.   

‘The primary role of leadership is to ensure successive generations of leaders.’

I won’t go over here the adventures, this blog details the mission.  Needless to say it started with 21 out of 250 students choosing GCSE Geography; an Ofsted Subject inspection (after 4 weeks in post) agreeing with my judgment that the department was ‘inadequate’; GCSE results almost 30% below the school average and a pants curriculum.  Well, it didn’t exist.  Priory Geography is in a different place now, but there’s still work to do and Jo Debens will go on to improve the department further.  In June 2008, I interviewed a group of candidates.  I will never forget that Jo said yes, even after I told her that there would be at least three years of brutal hard work ahead building the department. I always had faith that she would help me mould the department, and she did.  A truly awesome individual and a counterpoint to my untidy, sometimes uncaring and lack-of-grey thinking.  I may have set the course and manned the tiller, but Jo raised the sails.  You’ll be running a school one day. Thank you.

I remember with fondness Mo too.  Sadly, she passed away three years ago, and I would have loved for her to have been at the end of my Priory Journey.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to Lisa who stepped into the breach and must have had a truly awful NQT year.  You saved us without a doubt and I am so pleased that you went on to get the job of your dreams.

Sam Atkins is one of the most single minded, determined and talented teachers I have ever had the pleasure to work with.  Together with myself and Jo, he has allowed the department to have a relatively smooth ride for the past two years meaning that I have been able to enjoy the hard work put in. I have every confidence that Sam will end up leading a school one day and I’m looking forward to following his whole school leadership project with interest over the next year or so.

A huge thank you also to Jonathan Parrott.  I truly hope that I get to work with him again one day.

Thank you also to Alec Weaver, who may have department under less than brilliant circumstances, but you helped improve those results and were always willing to muck in and go way beyond your job description.

The final lines of my leaving speech (delivered via video as I was off on a course…):

I am a teacher of children whose only job is to subvert the curriculum, school plans, budgets to make sure that learning is as good as it can be. Blaming Ofsted, BSF, Voodoo, Gove is just an excuse for bad teaching and poor decision making. They aren’t in my classroom and they certainly aren’t the most important people in any school.

Create Trouble. 

Advice to those staying: JFDI

Looking back on an eventful five and a bit years, I can’t help thinking that I haven’t done too bad for a reluctant extrovert , habitual underachiever, unorganised, messy muppet who is rubbish at deadlines and lesson plans at the last minute.

I would also highlight to those who leave a school that you’ll never know the impact you’ve made.  Sure, you can track achievement and attainment; compare to baseline KEELE survey results; get mentioned in an Ofsted report, but the impact on staff and students does go deeper.  If you’re leaving a place, take time to say goodbye. Thank you to Jo for putting this together.  You don’t have to watch it, it’s mainly here so that I can find it again!

What have I learned?

I look back on the last five years and think it’s been CV Gold dust.  But that would be callous. I look back and have difficulty keeping track of what we got up to.  That’s a very good thing. I am both excited and more than a little scared at taking the next  step.

Here are some reflections and lessons learned about various stuff:

  • Leadership is about valuing and investing in the adults in school.  They are the people who make the change happen. I think it’s dangerous to start with the young people, or what the young people want (and I say this as an advocate of authentic pupil voice.)
  • Never forget to have fun.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Nothing is impossible.  Talk to the right people.
  • Figure out the situation before making changes.  It may surprise some, but I don’t know all of the answers and there certainly isn’t THE answer.  Indeed, many books and articles often reference each other. Teaching is all about using a diverse toolkit and if you subscribe to one set of values / beliefs / way of teaching then you will always end up excluding someone.
  • Staff and students are mixed ability learners.
  • No one goes to school to do a rubbish job.
  • Take risks. Make most of these calculated.
  • Keep and open mind – young people can surprise you in all sorts of ways.

Time to start the next adventure.

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