Luck – a self indulgent blog
It has been a while since I last blogged and to be honest lots of other people seem to blog much more effectively on Government Policy! So, I have decided to go for a rebrand and jot down my thoughts on the process of becoming a Headteacher, the massively long lead in time to starting the position and, well, anything else that jumps into my mind.
So how do you become a Headteacher?
Well I am a great believer in luck. Ed Smith wrote a great book on the subject, but crucially he wrote that we tend to think that practice and hard work brings good luck, but bad luck is just random. Simply put, which I agree with, that luck plays a major role, good and bad, in someone’s career. For example, the school that he went to produced a number of cricketers that represented England. Yes they worked hard, but he had the right coach, the right practice facilities and outstanding resources, which created the environment for his school’s students to disproportionally get representative honours.
So my story.
Firstly, I came into teaching late, starting my PGCE at 29 in 1999. I loved it from the moment I walked into a classroom. The dullness of life outside of education is something I will never forget. POET’s day, watching the clock, shuffling paper around a desk, desperate for the clock to move to 5pm. I had some fun, becoming a DJ, setting up my own record label and a promotion company, but in the main my working life up to 1999 was dull. I have worked hard for most 😉 of my teaching career that started in 2000. However, I was extremely lucky that my school at the time created a post that was whole school, but a low management level. I applied for his role and started it in the final term of my second year in teaching. This Work Related Curriculum coordinator was the school link for all the students that went to colleges for vocational courses. The school had created an innovative timetable so the students could opt for these courses and not lose time in school. The local borough had created a management group that included FE colleges, Schools and training providers that met on a regular basis and I was the only non DHT to attend. So I gained huge insight into creative curricula, personalised learning and working collaboratively.
With this knowledge and with a baby expected in September 2005, I felt that should attempt to leap-frog the next level of middle leadership and apply for Assistant Head posts. Again, one came up at a new academy that specialised in Business (my subject) and I decided to apply. Guess what I get lucky! With one obviously strong candidate and two internals I think I have no chance, relax, and enjoy the day and GET THE JOB (with the strong candidate) because they decide to take two rather than one. Oh those heady days of the early academies, when money wasn’t such an issue!!!!
My role is to raise student attainment, have a very supportive Head and amazing staff. We make some really simple changes and we start to make rapid improvements. Then through a restructure my role is promoted to Vice Principal Innovation and I get the opportunity work on personalising the curriculum. The changes we make put us into the most improved schools list of 100 schools showing sustained improvement. I would add this was done without wholesale conscription of a year group onto a BTEC!
So how did luck play its part? I was lucky to get the job. Lucky to have such an innovative Head in a school that needed lots of changes. Lucky that it was a school that was flush with money and so I could go and investigate proven methods of intervention or personalised curriculum. Lucky because we part of London Challenge and so easily gained support from DfE and other leaders. Lucky because the staff at BAB were incredible and wholeheartedly embraced change. Lucky that they decided to support me through my NPQH, which is still the most enjoyable and useful course that I have ‘studied’…well studied is wrong really because it was so vocational.
However, here my ‘luck changes. The supportive Head moves on. The new Head is controlling and suspicious. They announced another look at the management structure and a possible restructure and now with two children I decided that it was time to look outside for my next role. 11 applications 3 interviews later I felt that I had finally run out of good fortune. We then spot a school in NE London or West Essex (depending on your viewpoint), that advertises for a Deputy Headteacher T&L, which is a major gap in my whole school experience. The school is a Performing Arts school, so some of my past life experience is picked up on by the Chair of Governors and as part of the shortlisting panel puts me through. I get an interview. Again, luck helps in the selection when they decide to have paired interviews with two candidates in each interview. I get paired with someone who wouldn’t stop talking, which forced me into tight, concise answers. The school ‘feels’ right. I warm to the staff and students that I meet. I get the job! Roding Valley High School has been brilliant an experience. I have been extremely lucky to work a brilliant Headteacher and fellow Deputy. We have worked closely as a team and have tackled things together with great humour and teamwork. I have also worked with an innovative T&L AHT who challenged my thinking and strategies and secondly with an AHT with fantastic potential in student intervention. So much so that I now have a mantra of “WWSD?” (what would Sam do) when I am faced with any student issue. I may get a t-shirt printed…
This brings me to the application to Headship. Luck? Well a colleague of my wife lives in the village where Uplands is and hears that the Head is retiring. She tells me all about what a great school it is and my wife and I decide that I should apply. Both Duncan, from BAB and Paul from Roding are supportive and take the time to help with the application form. The three days of interviews are as intense as I have ever experienced, but I take the view that as this is my first application to Headship I should use it as experience, as I ‘obviously’ won’t get the job. I am therefore relaxed and take all the advice that I have been given. Which put simply is, at this level this won’t be completely about what you know, as no role below headship can fully prepare you for it. Just ensure that you have nailed what your philosophy and vision are, after that you can actually do no more.
Also, by this time I have enough contacts via twitter that I can ask questions, discuss ideas and avoid stupid mistakes!
What does this all mean or what can you learn from my experience. Well grab your chances with both hands. Take on things that you are given or areas that you can see need looking at. Persevere with projects and learn from their outcomes, good and bad. But, never forget that luck plays an enormous part.
If you are an education professional I would highly recommend getting yourself on twitter. If you take that step you will do yourself a huge favour by following these people…I was lucky!
PS there is a much longer list of amazing professionals on twitter, this group particularly helped me with my interviews and application!