UKEdMag: Who am I, and what is my Leadership role? by @GeoDebs

Leadership considerations

My name is Jo Debens and I am currently Head of Humanities at an outstanding comprehensive in Hampshire. Previously I was Head of Geography at an inner city comprehensive in Portsmouth where I had taught since my NQT year in 2008. I have loved leading and teaching Geography, as well as being involved in whole school commitments such as numeracy and e-learning, but in January I make the move to senior leadership and relocating to become an Assistant Headteacher at Aylesford Sports College in Kent.

This article was originally published in the January 2016 Edition of our UKEdMagazine

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What are my hopes?

I am hopeful that I will be a force for good. I love being a teacher, and whole-heartedly believe that it is our responsibility to improve the lives of young people. When I applied for the AHT job I was drawn to the school because it has challenges, and because I want to make a difference. I am hopeful that I can make that happen, but I am well aware that this will be a huge learning curve.

When I was a child I was found by my mother up on the gabled roof of my grandfather’s house (with him) helping to fix some felt on…and when questioned with ‘what on earth do you think you’re doing young lady?’ replied that I was ‘here to help, not to watch’. I am hopeful that I will keep this desire inside me. That I will be observant and perceptive enough to see what help students and staff around me need, and that I will not fail to provide this help.

I am hopeful that I will be able to build strong positive work relationships quickly, and to be able to identify how to support those I line manage directly as well as all staff.

Lastly since I am going to be line managing Maths, Social Sciences, and being Head of Year 7 I hope I will pick things up quickly! This is a job that is too important to do badly, so I hope they hired the right person!

What do I expect from the role?

This is difficult as sometimes there is a hidden ‘world within a world’ in schools where you don’t necessarily see what SLT are up to! I’ve been part of a leadership group this last year, and have various friends in SLT but there are so many unknowns about what crops up on a daily basis that it is hard to know what to expect! But I do expect challenges! I know there will be a lot to learn, even just school protocols and procedures let alone the nitty-gritty of a Maths team and curriculum needs. But I will expect a lot from those around me as well. It is my job to support, advise, shoulder burdens, and be the umbrella that shields them…but I also expect them to do their part and do their job well. From what I have seen so far, I am impressed. I expect to be held to account and supported myself by those above me, and the senior team were so professional and helpful when I spent time there one day. So I expect that we will change lives.

What will I find most challenging?

Learning new names of staff and students! Learning the new procedures. Trying to not run before I can walk. I like being part of a team and having good working relationships, but I am aware this will be different as a member of the senior team and it will be challenging to strike the balance between approachable, supportive, but holding to account. I will also find it a challenge to balance work with home life as my father is terminally ill. But I have an amazing family, great friends, and the ability to consume a lot of cake so who knows…by the end of 2016 I might even be ok at the job!

Why did I make the move?

I love being a Geographer and teaching kids. I love seeing progress and light-bulb moments and kids getting excited about learning. I love seeing them get the results they deserve. What I don’t like, is injustice. Kids being served poorly. Kids not getting a good experience in every lesson every day. I made the move because I felt it wasn’t enough that I was just providing for children in the small world of Geography and Humanities. Much as I love my subject, it is not the only thing needed in life and it is down the pecking order when kids are not getting their maths and English. I can teach and Geography now with my eyes closed, and can enjoy it, and can lead change and turn results around…but that’s not really important in the grand scheme of things.

So I made the change because I wanted to be part of something bigger, and to have the challenge of making a real difference to those that need it. My new school has needs, but I loved how the Head talked about it at interview: “it may look like a school in crisis, but I want us to make this the best school in the world”. In staff briefing we heard about two children who had supported a ticket officer who had been violently assaulted outside the station, and then about another child who overhead their parent saying they would rather not have them anymore…these are real kids not ‘key marginals’ and not numbers on a page, experiencing real hard situations, and needing a real education that sets them up for a great future. This is why I do the job.

“In any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a ‘minus one’: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a ‘zero’: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance either way. Or you’ll be seen as a ‘plus one’: someone who actively adds value. Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course….but sweat the small stuff, without letting anyone see you sweat…no one is destined to be an astronaut, you have to turn yourself into one…” (Chris Hadfield)

Jo Debens is a newly appointed Assistant Headteacher at Aylesford Sports College in Kent. A Cambridge graduate and award winning teacher, Jo completed her PGCE in 2008 at the University of Brighton and has since enjoyed seven years teaching and leading Geography. She tweets from @GeoDebs and writes at

Featured image source: By Roger Meyer on Flickr under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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