Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
Starting a new job brings with it a whole raft of new challenges, not to mention new skills that need to de developed or old skills that need to be refreshed.
In this blog, I originally recalled some of the funny, challenging and downright bizarre experiences within the first #100days as #Deputy. The timed seemed to fly by so fast and before I knew it, I was nearing a year in post. I decided, therefore, to change the slant of this post to “a year in the role of…”.
I’ve tried to capture some of the aspects of the role that were either new to me or were just stand out moments. It’s not designed to teach you anything, it is a lighthearted reflection of my last year.
Here are my top 10.
Recruitment: As part of my previous role I completed my Safer Recruitment training but never used it. Within a few weeks of being a #Deputy, I’d interviewed for cleaners, midday supervisors and teachers. The process was really interesting and diverse – from the logistics of planning the interview process to running the actual day, it was insightful and having been on the other side of the table very recently, I had complete empathy with each of the candidates.
Just as I thought I’d cracked the recruitment process, a new spanner was thrown into the proverbial works: The Coronavirus and lockdown. But this new challenge excited me. Seven interviews via Zoom. How do you do it? Simple:
- Short Zoom meeting entitled “introduction to the panel” where the candidate is put at ease by meeting the panel. On a technical level, this allowed me to check it all worked!
- Send them away for 2 hours with an unseen task. Set up a delayed email to send out the task automatically.
- Longer Zoom meeting for the candidates to present their unseen task by sharing their screen and narrating their decisions. This then leads into the formal interview where the panel take it in turns to ask questions.
“But what about the teaching?” I hear you ask. I asked the candidates to record themselves teaching a lesson of their choice to a year group of their choice. Their video should capture them doing the main teacher input and addressing the main teaching points of the lesson. A lesson plan (in whatever format the candidate chooses) should accompany the video. This was actually a very interesting part of the process and something we should consider keeping when we return to our “new normal”.
Essentially, the recruitment process remained very much unchanged, it was the medium through which the interviews played out that was different.
Was it less effective? I don’t think so. Although there is nothing quite like seeing a teacher teaching in front of real, live children.
Ofsted: Yes, you’ve read that correctly. Within my first #100days, I’d experienced a full Section 5 Inspection. To be precise, we had the phone call on #Day21 and a team of three Inspectors (one HMI) arrived on #Day22. I planned to write another blog on this that would go into more detail. I never did really get round to it. Maybe I will over the summer break of 2020.
Finance: My experience with finance up to this point in my career had been minimal. I had an understanding of budgets and where funding came from and went to, but never had I had responsibility for spending (too much). Within my first #100Days, I was responsible for spending several tens of thousands of pounds to develop the resources within school. Some people would see this as a great “shopping” opportunity; I found it somewhat stressful – I felt a great amount of responsibility to get it right for the children. Furthermore, given the different situation we were in as a school in Summer 2 of 2019, I was allowed to “sign off” orders etc. Needless to say, I made a few mistakes! So my key learning around finance: ask questions, get three quotes for everything, ask more questions.
Being a Site Manager: I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and there was one week during the summer holidays where our Office Manager and Site Manager were on annual leave. And what with having contractors working on our outdoor environment, that left me in charge of opening up and locking up. Not only that, I learned how to maintain a Welfare Unit and diesel powered generator, work a sack trolley, a flat-bed trolley and a shopping trolley (!!), use several new power tools and work the lifts! You’ll probably laugh at some of these and think that at the age of 31, I should know how to do that anyway, but within a school context, things are always different!
Flood: Things always happen when the person you need isn’t around; things like a flood. A considerable flood that took around 25 buckets, bins, boxes and tubs to control, a flood where the rain outside was replicated inside! A flood that no roofing company seemed able to help with because “they can’t do much when it’s raining”. This probably tested my skills the most: finding the electricity isolation points, working out how to get onto the roof (not even thinking whether I was actually allowed on the roof – health and safety and all that) and then working out how to get to where the flood was located. Well, I’m pleased to say I was successful in all of the above! The culprit – an empty packet of salt and vinegar Squares crisps blocking the drain, which created a lake of water around 8″ deep across the area of the the flat roof!
Fire Alarm: So if water wasn’t enough, the next thing sent to test me was fire! Well, no, there wasn’t an actual fire, just a false alarm. Sat with the new headteacher, having a deep intellectual conversation about being a research engaged school and our thinking is disrupted by the two-tone wail of the alarm. Luckily, we knew where the Zone was and we knew we had contractors working in that area! After a quick sweep of the building, we knew some people hadn’t signed in and some had left without signing out! But, headcount done, we just needed to silence the alarm… cue the pressing of various buttons. Nothing. Then we noticed you need a key… which the Site Manager has. Not me. The Site Manager who is on holiday! In a panic, I remembered we have a Key Safe in the office… and, needless to say, the set of Fire Keys were on their little numbered hook. Key in, button pressed, alarm silenced, system reset. My only worry – things come in threes: we’ve had water and fire, so next… earth or wind?!
Traffic Warden: My school is not your standard primary school. It is located between a main “A” road and a train line. This in itself presents a whole set of challenges, but more on that another time. Given that my school is located where it is, we do not have an immediate “catchment” area: children come from up to a 15 miles radius of Derby city centre.
We run a school bus service, but this only attracts around 20 families. We also run 2 Walking Busses in the afternoon. But as I’m sure you can imagine, the morning drop off and afternoon pick up are interesting… on some days, frantic!
The mornings are not too bad: parents drive into the one-way system of the car park, drop their children off and drive off. I suppose you could describe it as a drive-thru drop off, where staff meet children and usher then into the playground. This works smoothly unless you have adverse weather or there is a build up of traffic in elsewhere in the city. Then it tends to get a little frisky! We operate a strict car park policy in the afternoon: cars can come into the car park until it is full then one in one out. Sounds straight forward. Yes. And actually, it normally works well.
I specifically remember being particularly challenged in February 2020 when the UK was overcome with snow. The car park was full, the main road on which my school is located was grid-locked and the snow was coming down in sheets. It’s funny how a slight change can cause such chaos. That day, I found myself outside in waterproof trousers and a hi-viz jacket, armed with nothing but a walkie-talkie and a smile. Not only did I find myself directing traffic coming into and going out of the carpark, but stopping traffic on the main road to facilitate this – most people were lovely (some were not!).
The standout moment had to be when two police cars drove past, wound down the front window and commended me on a great job and told me to “keep it up”. You simply couldn’t write it!
Inspiring Leaders Conference: As a new Deputy, working with a new Head, we welcomed any leadership development we could get. I had worked with Inspiring Leaders before and had been interviewed for their Leadership Soundbites which featured on their YouTube Channel. (Watch the interview here.) The opportunity to attend the Inspiring Leaders conference was one I had looked forward to for many years and it was well worth the wait – I was not disappointed.
Firstly, the opportunity to network with colleague from around the country was hugely beneficial. I’m sure many will say “but you get that at the meetings you attend,” – which is true, but here, I was fully in leader mode and could network with colleagues without the pressure of having to get back to school, or get to that next meeting or whatever was next on the list. This spanned a full two-days as well, providing the time and space for deep conversations.
The speakers were wide ranging in both esteem, experience and breadth of topics. Some were phenomenal, others were unmemorable. My favourite of the two days was by far James Kerr author of Legacy.
Legacy is subtitled “15 lessons in leadership from the All Blacks.” Kerr was fortunate to spend time with the New Zealand All Black rugby team, learning about their culture, their traditions and their timely changes to their leadership that led to their unrivalled successes as a team.
One thing that really resonated with me was the phrase “respect for the jersey”. No matter what the outcome of the game, no matter how frustrated or tired or injured a member of the team may have been, their rugby jersey would never touch the floor. It was always hung up, neatly, tidily, out of respect for what it stood for.
Just a few days before this, my Head presented every member of staff with a new “uniform” – a hoody, a coat, a tabard, Chef’s whites – all brandishing the school emblem and the words “The Zayteam”.
Why way this important? Because it brought us even more together. It unified us. It made us belong.
The keynote was fascinating from start to finish; I could have easily listened to Kerr speak all day. Equally, the book is a great read and so relatable to leadership in education.
A final one-liner: “Disagree then commit.” Harder than it sounds, but a good example to live by.
Challenge Partners: My school had never been involved in the Challenge Partners Quality Assurance Review process before. I had been involved in several Challenge Partners Reviews in years gone by – both as a school being reviewed (and being observed myself) to being a Challenge Partners Reviewer.
This review was different as I was not teaching, so my sole focus would be from the view point of a non-teaching Senior Leader. Strange!
For those who are not familiar with Challenge Partners and the work they do, here’s a brief overview of the Quality Assurance Review (taken from their website):
Challenge Partners’ quality assurance and assessment is built around the QA Review, a professionally-led peer review focused on teaching and learning. The review identifies areas for development, bringing key challenges to schools for the coming year and also provides Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for the visiting team members. It is a joint exercise between the review team and the school. All activities include a member of the school working alongside the reviewers. This approach enables honest and open conversations about where the school is and where it is going, to the benefit of all concerned.https://www.challengepartners.org/qa-review
Our Review took place between Monday 2nd March and Wednesday 4th March 2020.
This was important for our school, the staff and the wider community. It was the first form of external feedback we received since the Head and I took up post. It would also be a strong indicator of the progress we had made since our OFSTED in July 2019.
The Review comprises a variety of activities designed to evidence which category a school is estimated to fall in:
- Working towards effective
Challenge Partners are very keen to point out that they are no an OFSTED equivalent, nor should they be compared to OFSTED. In some respects this is quite clear – Challenge Partners do not “inspect” the same areas as OFSTED do and when it comes to the report, with Challenge Partners, Senior Leaders have some say in the content and wording, whereas with OFSTED, they do not.
The activities are pretty much the same – although the timetable can be developed to suit the school. Included in the Review are the following activities:
- Review of the school’s latest OFSTED report, data, SDP and SEF. This happens on the afternoon of the first day before any school based activities taken place. (The findings from this session for the basis of the Pre-Review Analysis Form, which then guides the Reviewers over the next day and a half.)
- Lesson observations or learning explorations
- Book looks
- Conversations with middle and senior leaders
- Conversations with SENDCo and Pupil Premium Champion
- Conversations with governors
- Conversations with Senior Leaders
For me, this was an opportunity to really celebrate the huge steps forward I had contributed to in just six months. Whereas others were anxious and slightly fearful of the process, I looked forward to showcasing my school and what I had achieved in such a short space of time.
The first “learning exploration” I did was an observation of a year 6 reading lesson. Alongside me was the Lead Reviewer (a former Headteacher and current HMI) and another Deputy Headteacher from a Junior School.
The premise of any learning exploration is that the leaders involved spend equal time providing quality feedback as they do engaged in the exploration itself. So for a 30 minute observation, the leaders would discuss it for 30 minutes. Now that sounds excessive – “What would I talk about for 30 minutes?” I hear you say. Actually, the time is valuable and goes quickly.
To summarise the thoughts of the Lead Reviewer after just one learning exploration: “Well that’s not a lesson of an RI school.”
This motivated me even more to showcase all the aspects of school that “weren’t RI.” The remainder of the next day-and-a-half continued in the same vein. Further learning explorations and conversations were similarly positive and provided leaders at all levels with the opportunity to both give and receive critical feedback, designed to move the school forward. At points, 30 minutes was not enough time and colleagues engaged in deep debate.
A further aspect of the Challenge Partners Review process is the opportunity to put forward an Area of Excellence:
An Area of Excellence (AoE) is an area of major or key strength in a school, for example a subject, phase, or initiative put forward for accreditation during a Quality Assurance Review. It should have a significant impact on pupils’ outcomes and should be shareable with other schools in the network. Please note it is not compulsory to put forward an Area of Excellence.
The criteria for being accredited with an Area of Excellence is clear, it must:
- Demonstrate sustained impact
- Be sharable to others in the Network
- Be sustainable for at least 3 years.
Given our uniqueness, it was clear to out forward an Area of Excellence linked to our values and ethos: Quranic and Islamic studies and the provision associated with it.
Now this is very niche so it was important to look at the broader implications of our QIS provision and the way our systems, procedures, protocols and provisions can be applied to others areas of school life. We came up with varied offer that would appeal to a broad spectrum of schools:
- Specific Islamic faith schools
- Schools of other religious denominations – looking at applying our ethos to other religions, including collective worship.
- School of no religious denomination – look at applying our community focussed approach to promote wider engagement.
After preparing the application, evidencing the impact of the provision and developing an offer, we were accredited as an Area of Excellence for three years.
In addition to this, during the final meeting, in which Review Estimates are arrived at, the Review Team indicated that the quality of provision was effective. This was huge. My school had never been effective (“good”) since it opened.
The full report is yet to be published. Needless to say, when it arrives, I will be shouting about it from the rooftops.
It just goes to show that a little progress each day adds up to big results.
COVID-19: This requires its own blog and I’m sure many people will be doing the same as a way of capturing their leadership development and reflecting on their response to the pandemic. Check back soon.
There will be other challenges, of that I am sure. Keep an eye on my blog for some more funny anecdotes of my life as a #Deputy.