“After winning the award the comments from staff, parents and particularly the students had a profound impact on me.”
Winner of the Award for the Most Creative Use Of ICT, 2003
Now CEO Smart Multi Academy Trust SE Cornwall
After winning the award the comments from staff, parents and particularly the students had a profound impact on me. Teaching is such a frantic profession and you don’t get chance to take a breath and reflect as much as you should. Having had the teaching awards do the reflection for me was excellent and made me realise the potential scope of the work I was doing.
The award resulted in opportunities to present my ideas to a wider audiences and the confidence to do so. I was never previously keen on public speaking but these opportunities to tell my story changed that and began to be asked to provide key notes at events. As a result I was ‘head hunted’ by a consultancy company.
I had been applying for Headship roles in larger schools but the offer from the consultancy company changed my direction and I did 8 years as a consultant, raising to the position of international director. I have now returned to working in schools and am CEO of a Multi Academy Trust.
THE JOB, CHANGES AND CHALLENGES
I was originally keen on a career in research but my partner (now wife) was doing a joint education degree and helped me see that my negative view of the education system could inspire a career of trying to improve it rather than turning my back on it.
I did my post graduate certificate of education at York University, qualified as a secondary school science teacher in 1989 and worked for two years at Spondon School in Derby followed by two years at Bedminster Down School in Bristol before moving to Broadlands School in Keynsham for promotion to Head of Science. I then got a job as Deputy Head in Eggbuckland School, in Plymouth, in 2000 and set up a school within a school based on peer teaching which was extremely successful and which I became the Headteacher of. It was at this point I received the teaching award.
I find my teaching style is always changing. It is about always experimenting and having a bigger toolkit of things to try. Realising that the skills underpinning learning are more critical to success than the content, was the big breakthrough for me and has allowed me to personalise education much more than when I first started out.
I have been fortunate to work in some schools with really high deprivation where the impact of your pastoral work on the life chances of children is easier to see but such support is always essential in any school.
Cuts to services generally have caused support services to be removed and there are now fewer safety nets for children and their families. The picture nationally is of more children feeling the strain. Teachers naturally step up to try and fill these gaps which is resulting in more stress for them.
As a school leader, a lot of effort is put into supporting staff so their work is not impacted negatively by the additional work required to absorb the pressures of society.
Social media has had a positive impact. Staff are better connected to ideas and each other with resources that are easier to create and use. ICT has also been largely positive for students, giving them better access to information and tools to use, as long as their teachers are proactive in treating cyber bullying and encourage open dialogue rather than giving the illusion that banning works. Schools can never sit back, they must actively protect children from the possible negative impacts of social media and excessive screen time.
The first student-led, student organised talent contest I did as Deputy Head. I had always been keen on trying out the idea but every previous school had been too risk averse. The event was rowdy and I was just beginning to doubt the wisdom of it when a year 7 girl got up to sing and was too nervous. The children completely owned the event and around 200 of them came together as a collective audience to encourage her. She started singing and you could hear the nerves fall away as people encouraged her. Then she really let rip and there was not a dry eye in the house.
When I was doing consultancy for rich clients in poorer countries I would add on the requirement that I did a sponsored day in a local government school. I am really proud of the impact this idea had and how the ideas we developed spread.
You need to work hard to develop good relationships with all pupils but with the professional distance that allows you to devote yourself fully to the next groups the following year. It is nice when you bump into former students and staff who had an impact on you and, you on them.
Look after yourself and always keep at least Friday night and one day at the weekend work-free and I wish someone had advised me as a newly qualified teacher not to take longer to plan a lesson than it takes to teach it!
THE TEACHING PROFESSION
I have been able to change the nature of my job every two or three years which has kept me learning and motivated. I do admire people who have worked as a full -time classroom teacher of the same subject for over ten years and are still inspiring children every day. I work with lots of them.
To inspire a new generation of teachers to stay in the profession we need to decide as a country that we have cut far enough and further cuts to funding will be counter-productive. We need to create the space for a better work-life balance so teachers can develop more pedagogies based on skills development and new ways to assess them to encourage teachers to innovate and experiment with confidence.
Despite the unfortunate pressure to ‘teach to the test’ and ‘evidence feedback’ there are still lots of teachers developing exciting ideas and resources with much more sharing of these through social media. There is also much more openness to skills training and personalisation which is a good thing. Email has made the pace faster, so remember to take time to value face to face sharing your ideas and your passion for education with colleagues.