If days were equal to test runs (it’s 11,180 days since I started teaching), I’d be second in the English all-time run scorers list behind Alastair Cook. On a purely headship/CEO days count I’d be 12th (7,062 days); nestled between Andrew Strauss and Wally Hammond. Today is my last working day as a teacher, headteacher and latterly CEO.
At my retirement Mass on Thursday, sat on the front row; the sound of the staff singing, with one voice, from the first line of the opening hymn was deeply emotional. As leaders, the reality, we lead with the permission and support of those around us hit home. In the familiar surroundings of the school’s Chapel with a pupil choir, the staff from our three schools and the Directors I gave thanks for a career which has been truly blessed by the people I’ve worked with over the years.
The text of my leaving speech to staff is below. I offer it you as a reflection at the end of a long term.
“The madness of the last few weeks and in particular the last few days has a certain poignancy.
At the end of my twenty years of stewardship, we are making up more food hampers for our families than ever before, organising vouchers for heating, lighting & cooking and for the first time ever opening up our schools, over Christmas and the New Year, to the families in our communities who we are called to serve. It’s possibly not quite what I imagined leading a school would be like all those years ago.
Yet clearing out the office I found, on a set of Overhead Projector transparencies, the talk I did when being interviewed for the headteacher post. One transparency talked of a distinctive school and my notes read “collaboration with other schools” and “a place for the poor/a contribution beyond league tables”. Maybe I did have a sense of where I was being called to do but simply hadn’t yet experienced the daily lived reality of Blackpool. It’s an experience that brings knowledge beyond theory; praxis –theory plus action – brings that much deeper understanding all of you have.
I know I owe you all a debt of thanks I can’t possibly repay and probably not even articulate, in this moment. In choosing to work in one of the most disadvantaged communities in England, you don’t simply walk the extra mile; you regularly sprint the marathon. Your professionalism and sense of vocation; commitment to your pupils and their families; willingness to make a contribution as governors & directors, teachers in the classroom, pastoral staff, chaplains, support staff, administrators, technicians, premises staff and leaders sets you apart. To me you are simply the best. You show each day what it means to bring forth the best that our shared humanity has to offer.
As I speak today, for the last time as one of the leaders of this community, I turn full circle. When clearing out I also found my first talk to staff in September 2000. I used the words of the Boston Headteacher, a victim of the concentration camp, whose “eyes saw what no-one should witness”. She asked her staff to:
“Help your students become more human.
Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human”
That is what we are called to do; that is what you do.
No-one promised me leading a school would be easy; they were right not to. There are days and sometimes weeks when it felt beyond my capability. Despite this, I still feel and believe that I have had a blessed career, through the opportunities afforded me and the people I have worked with.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to build a school; I literally got the opportunity to contribute to the building of two and a parish church for good measure. Whilst the buildings are wonderful in their own ways – I remember what we had before – they are just an outward sign of the unity and greater vision that is the deep powerful collaboration between the schools and teachers within our Trust.
You all help contribute and build that vision every day; a faith community that came together to work for the common good of the people it serves. For your contributions over the years, thank you, I am no longer the last link of the chain; the baton passed, the journey continues. Goodbye and good luck in all you do.”