As the new year, term or week begins there will be challenges a plenty. Whether you lead in the classroom or the staff room, new beginnings always bring that little bit of trepidation; that Sunday evening feeling in the pit of your stomach; even more so when starting a new job.
As much as we do to be ready for a first day you can arguably never be fully prepared. The summer before I took up headship I read volumes of information about the school. I got to the point where I just had to stop; information overload and a realisation that I just needed to get going and work somethings out along the way. I was ready but not fully prepared for everything I would encounter.
Working successfully with people and understanding the complexity of teaching and leading is enhanced by experience. The biggest part of any job is getting right the everyday lived experience of the people you teach or lead; these are not in a book or a volume of information about the school or class. You can be ready and yet nowhere near prepared.
Readiness is simply a launch pad into the yet unknown classroom and staff room experiences that lie ahead. Having the detail is a start but without the ability, partly gained through experience, to connect this detail problems can abound. At a class room level, it leads to a tick box mentality of a must do one of these, a couple and those and end with a whatever. At a policy or system level it can create workload issues where people are jumping through hoops simply because the hoops have been put there by well-intentioned but ultimately flawed thining.
In the classroom, I always urge teachers to focus on the learning flow or progression; what’s the key concept, idea or great piece of work this series of lessons is about? What do the pupils already know and what prior learning needs securing. With the start and end of the learning journey known; how can I most effectively move pupils, from A to B, becomes the primary focus? What should I teach, in what order and how best to deliver each element?
At a policy level the hoops need sorting into wheat and chaff; be aware of personal bias and preferences. What is absolutely critical and what could be ditched; nice to have but in reality unnecessary. As you move beyond the detail and see the connections than a greater wisdom becomes integrated into your decision making. The whole must always be greater than the sum of the parts; it’s how you know that your policy is more about impact then compliance. I sometimes wonder if all schools threw out a whole series of policies and told people to use their best judgement and common sense, alongside a few guiding principles, would schools be better or worse places to be and learn in? Maybe one day we’ll trust enough and be brave enough to actually try it!
Alongside really understanding the complexity of the work we do is the network of relationships in which our work is brought to fruition. People are a lot more complex than the work we do; spend more time thinking about how best to work with and alongside others. A new classroom of pupils or the same ones after a six week summer holiday need to be known and feel loved again. Same goes for teachers and other leaders. A disappointing set of results or looming inspection can make people feel vulnerable; doubly so if both are in play. They will need reassurance in the weeks ahead.
Whether in the classroom or in the staff room people need to feel safe and develop a sense of belonging. This is part of building trust between people. You will also need to act with integrity and a high level of consistency; don’t underestimate this challenge.
Whilst I hope you have a great first day don’t be surprised if you come back shell shocked or feeling there is so much more to learn, there always is; there always will be. It’s why we need learning leaders and teachers, good luck.
I know that a school needs robust systems and processes but they come with a warning and I agree that there needs to be a rally cry for confidence in and use if professional judgment if we are to really change lives.