As a lower league football fan, the summer is always an exciting time. However bad the season before has been, August brings a fresh optimism and excitement.
Players always depart. This sometimes causes a huge outpouring of grief and “best bits” YouTube compilations appearing. Often this is short lived; fans quickly start looking to their replacements. Who will the new players be? A seasoned journeyman who seemingly moves from club to club doing a solid, but unspectacular job? Will it be a young starlet signed from one of the local non league clubs after scoring 47 goals last season? Could it be the ‘big name’ who played higher up but has been out injured for 14 months? Perhaps the ageing former international who is pals with your manager?
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 UKEd Magazine.
Schools share in some of this summertime blues, and excitement. At the end of the school year, it’s natural that some staff will leave, and others join. Results will come in, and then the planning for the new year begins. September is a busy, but positive time: a refreshed workforce, with new colleagues, looking at what they can do a little better for the coming year. We don’t get the glamour of the pre season friendly against Premiership opposition, or the overseas tour, but hopefully someone remembered to bring cake to INSET. Unlike in the world of football, most new staff are largely unknown (although someone always knows someone who is a mutual friend) – and perhaps thankfully no one can look up the new colleagues’ Optima stats for the last few years!
This summer, my move is from 5 years middle management in one school, into senior leadership into another school. After two years as Head of Year 10/11, alongside five years as assistant subject leader in Religious Studies, I take up role as Assistant Headteacher / Director of Religious Studies. This marks a significant change and step up for me.
I’ve read numerous autobiographies of lower league footballers, and there is often comedic tales of arriving at a new club. Aside from the fun of initiations, there are often the inevitable stories of missing the bus to away games, not finding the changing rooms at the training ground, getting a new ‘roomy’ (who no one else wanted to share with) and mistaking the gaffers wife for the Physio.
This will be me in September. How do I get things photocopied? Who sits where in the staffroom? Where am I supposed to be on duty? Who do I see about (insert pretty much anything)? These are all big concerns; you move from an environment where things are second nature, to one where you are genuinely clueless for a short while.
On top of this, starting a new school as SLT comes with certain expectations. Any leadership appointment comes with the presumption that you have done a job, to at least a good standard, and are now expected to step up to a new level. In footballing terms, you may have scored a load of goals in League 2, can you keep scoring in League 1? And, like football, you don’t have until Christmas to get used to things.`
Most non-SLT teachers have thought, and even said, “I could do that job better”. Over the last two years in particular, I have worked much more closely with the head and members of SLT. I’ve listened, watched and asked them questions – I’ve seen a lot more of what their job involves. As a former staff governor, and having carried out a demanding pastoral leadership role, I’ve realised there is a far bigger picture to school life than just me, teaching my lesson, in my classroom. I look forward to playing a key and active part in this bigger picture.
I think schools need good leaders; people recognise them, and they significantly improve the experience for both students and teachers. I did an MA in Catholic School Leadership at St Mary’s University to help prepare me for leading in schools, and particularly within the Catholic context. I have deliberately engaged with the world of Twitter, blogging, TeachMeets etc in order to learn more and improve both my knowledge, understanding and skills. I really hope I can be a good leader.
I know I need to be ready to do many more things outside of my classroom; some things that may not be particularly enjoyable, but are vital to the whole school community. Often these things need doing well. I realise I will have to make more decisions, defend decisions, and explain decisions. Indeed, I may not agree with every SLT decision, but I will be part of a team that needs to be united. It is important that I stay focused on the core jobs of teaching, learning and behaviour within the school.
I am clear that a title, and an office, mean very little. You still need to earn the respect of students and colleagues. From the start, you need to make your expectations clear, and enforce them. I’ve seen teachers new to SLT expecting an easy ride, but in reality the hard work is just beginning. You perhaps have to prove yourself to an even greater degree.
Crucially, I need to work out balance. My son is just 9 months old, and family life is one of the most important things in the world to me. I have a longer commute, and greater workload. How do I ensure I carry out my responsibilities to both the family and school? I have already started to reduce my involvement in some projects outside of school that I have been able to work on over the last few years – quite simply, you cannot do everything; you cannot say yes to everyone.
As I lead my new Religious Studies department team, I intend to spend as much time as I can listening and watching to start with. I need to get to know them, and work out their strengths and skills before deciding what we need to do next. Why would you want to enforce change before working out what is working well? Developing good relationships is absolutely vital in schools – that’s with students and new colleagues.
September, like the new season, is an exciting time. It is full of challenge, new things and new people. I am ready to expect the unexpected and be asked to do lots of new things. It is important to embrace the change and and be ready to “Build the Bridge As You Walk On It” (Robert Quinn as cited by Jill Berry). If people waited until they felt ready for SLT, they would probably never make the step up.
My team are Southend United and I very much hope for at least the playoffs this season. My new job will be as Assistant Headteacher / Director of RS from 1st September at a Catholic comprehensive school in the London Borough of Newham. Find my site at mrlewisre.co.uk and find me on Twitter at @iTeachRE.