Lionesses- leadership lessons

Since the start of the Euro Championship, the Lionesses have made us so proud, bringing women’s football to the mainstream where it should be.

Many have watched their matches as football newbies, swept along by a mixture of pride and a delight that our team played so well.

As someone who was brought up with football being a male sport and being g taught the more ‘appropriate’ sport of netball it has really emphasised to me how far we have come towards equality- no where near where we need to be but on our way for sure.

Reflecting on the success of the lionesses I think there are some lessons we can learn about leadership in general- 

Power of community –

The final in particular brought the country together- families watching g the match including many who would not normally watch- young girls in particular have been inspired and this has been magical to watch.

We should never forget as leaders the impact we can have especially on the young- we have the power to inspire others to achieve more than they thought possible.

Stay positive-

Leaders need to remember they set the climate- positivity and self belief shouldn’t be underestimated. Look at the Lionesses and how they walked onto the pitch for the final knowing g the other team had won 8 previous finals. Germany were a team who had won all previous meetings with England- Chloe Kelly’s goal in the 110th minute giving us the win must have felt against the odds as they started the match. Sarina’s faith in her team must have played a massive part in their victory.

Don’t make change for sake of it-

How often do leaders change what doesn’t need changing? If it’s not broken- leave it be and just enhance. Sabrina was the first coach in Euro history to have the same starting lineup in every match- naming an unchanged XI in all 6 of their games. 

Stick to your guns-

As leaders we need to have the courage to stick to our guns if we believe we have made the right decision- look at how Sarina put Rachel Daly in defence although her trade had been as a forward- a decision questioned by many after the match with Spain didn’t go well for her. Sarina stuck to her guns and the semi- final showed the merit of her decision- others finally got it!

Not popularity-

The best leaders understand that it’s not about popularity- sometimes the best decisions we make are the ones that are not popular. These decisions are hard to make but necessary if we believe they are right- look at how Sarina was steadfast in the unpopular choice to name Leah Williamson as captain and didn’t pick Steph Houghton- some said this was wrong and that she deserved to go after serving her country so well for so long. Sarina disagreed and who can argue with the outcome.

Know your staff and support them to be their best

As leaders we have to take time to know our staff- to understand their strengths and how best to use these well for the benefit of our pupils and community. Sarina used her substitutions perfectly, introducing the right players at the right time. 

Her team talks were centred about keeping smiling whatever, reminding players at half time to keep their calm despite unfair yellow cards- her trust in Ellen White and Georgia Stanway in keeping them on despite their being booked was great leadership.

Finally- time is no obstacle if the right leader is in place- to support the Lionesses to win the championship and show the world the amazing talent they have  in less than 9 months is testament to that. 

Reflections I want to remember- Lessons in leadership from our Lionesses. 

Pandemic Positives

Pandemic Positives

Firstly, I want to make it clear that I am in no way saying that the pandemic has been a positive in my life! For many people it has been the very worst of times and many have lost loved ones- truly awful for many. My mental health suffered at various times during the pandemic along with many and my panic attacks came back with a force after a period of about 15 years with very few if any. It was a minefield and we had to dig deep to get through it- however, amidst all the stress and loss there have been some positives that I have held on to in difficult times.

I have a reputation for trying to see the positives in situations and some of you will know that my twitter feed is full of positive quotes. People often ask me why I do this every day and the honest answer is that it helps ME stay positive, even when I am going through difficult times. The fact that it seems to help others is a bonus to me and an opportunity I am grateful to have.

The pandemic has hit us all hard and in the very beginning many of us were in a state of shock and disbelief. I for one in the very first days was struggling to find a way to keep motivated as a leader as we all were. I had literally joined twitter the week prior to lockdown and I honestly think it was one of the key things that helped to get me through. On my feed were all these people I had never even met saying they felt as worried as I was- we found a kind of unity and support in each other in those first few weeks.

For me there have been other positives that perhaps may not have come about had I not been leading through this pandemic. I got to know my staff better than ever before and found in them strengths and talents that had otherwise been hidden in many cases. We were apart for much of the time especially during the first lockdown but strangely it brought us closer as a team. It taught me to look at staff in different ways and not assume a person’s character just because they do not always show it- something I will always remember moving forward.

Another positive for me was the way we stuck together both as a staff team and also in the wider context of educators- we supported each other, we shared and we reached out to those needing help. I’m not sure we would have done this to the same degree had it not been for the pandemic.

I also think as a result of the pandemic I have become way more resilient both as a leader and as a person. Whatever life throws at me I have this inner voice telling me that if I got through a global pandemic then I can probable cope with it. There is a confidence you grow from having no clue what you are doing but supporting your staff and pupils anyway and doing it well!

I definitely think that I am more inclined to say ‘why not’ than ‘why’ these days- the pandemic brought about a massive shift in my thinking about life in general- it’s short so it is to be lived to the full- EVERYDAY- not just during the holidays. There is so much life out there to find and enjoy and I make a real effort now to do things that make me smile much more often! Writing this as we drive to the seaside to stay overnight in our pop up roof- knowing I will get little sleep but a lot of smiles from my daughter!

The biggest positive for me was reaffirming my relationships with my family and friends- they had always been important to me but I think I had taken them for granted so much before the pandemic- never again.  They are my reason for being and the rock that keeps me grounded and whole.

I hope that as the years go by and the pandemic becomes an awful memory rather than an experience we are living, that I remember all of this. You have my permission to remind me if I need it!

Make more money!

In the last few years it has been a constant struggle to ensure I have enough pupils on roll to match our PAN and therefore our staffing structure. I often get asked why I spend time marketing my school and the answer boils down to bums on seats! It sometimes feels like one of the most important roles I need to undertake is that of marketer and school promoter!

I have often battled with this concept and wondered whether it was right to spend time and potentially money on marketing but when you think that the majority of your income comes from pupils choosing your school to attend, it really is a no brainer in my eyes.

As leaders we cannot decide NOT to market and promote our schools and we need to see it as an essential part of our role.

In my previous school we ‘owed’ around £50 K to the local authority and had pupil numbers well below PAN with less than 80 on roll. Over three years we managed to increase this to over 150 pupils and obviously this improved both opportunities and standard of education for all and transformed our budget.

Year on year we face a similar problem with fluctuating birth rates and competition in our local area generally caused by OFSTED gradings and changes to housing. With around £3000 for every child, losing pupils has a massive impact.

So how can you attract more pupils? How DO you change perceptions and increase your number on roll? How do you market your school effectively?

I don’t have all the answers but I do have a few ideas which may help:

  • Work out what your unique selling point is as a school – what makes you different to other schools (note that I say different and not better, there is a fine line in promoting your school and being negative about others). Make sure your website reflects this.
  • Create some brochures so that you can give them to prospective parents and staff- the more professional the better. I got a student to create ours and then we had them printed cheaply- less than £300 for 250 leaflets.
  • Get a virtual tour done for your school- parents like to see inside a school but don’t always have the time to come to an open day-again you can do these yourself very cheaply and use free QR code makers for parents to download.
  • Get yourself in the local papers as often as you can! I find that writing my own article with photos and sending it to them works really well- I make it as easy as possible for them to put in a good news story. NEVER be too busy to answer the phone when it’s a local news story as they can do so much for your school if you get them on side.
  • Celebrate and advertise all the great things you do on social media- make sure you choose the right platform and ensure it is regularly updated- we use twitter, Instagram and facebook to make sure we appeal to different groups. It helps that we have different people who are responsible for each different platform.
  • Go over PAN in those classes where you feel you can- my staff are very clear that having a couple more children in their class is manageable given the funding that this brings. This may be controversial but given that we inevitably end up doing this anyway due to appeals I have found it is a really good strategy where you have the capacity. (obviously only in Key Stage 2)
  • Open your doors as often as you can- not something we could do during COVID but we found that increasing the number of opportunities for parents to attend events or open days really increased our numbers- word soon spreads if you are holding community and family events. We tend to work with local charities and have a member of staff who does this- our community leader -and we give her time to do this.
  • Spend time writing bids and grants- not only will you get free advertising if you are successful, you can add money to your budget to do things you would not otherwise be able to afford. This in turn attracts more pupils, but don’t make the mistake of asking someone to do it as an addition to their already busy life. You need to give dedicated time for this.

So … whilst making money doesn’t seem to be on any job descritpino for a headteacher it is becoming a key part of our role and one that I think we need to give time to , without feeling we are not doing what we should be doing.

We SHOULD be ensuring we have enough money to do the things we want to do for our children and securing extra pupils means we are one step closer to this.

When do you know?

When is the right time to apply for a headship?

I often get asked for advice about this and although there isn’t ONE answer, there are a few things that I think help you know if it is the right time-

  1. Have you started to question how things are being ‘done’?

This doesn’t have to mean necessarily disagreeing with how things are currently being done in your current school but more of a reflection or a realisation that there may be other ways of working. When you start thinking about different ways of approaching a situation or a problem then it often means you are starting to think more strategically.

  • Have you started thinking about how you would do things in your ‘own’ school?

In my experience as soon as I started thinking about leading my ‘own’ school it was the start of my journey towards headship. I think once you start thinking like this you are half way there!

  • Have you started being less ‘fulfilled’ in your current role or less ‘challenged’?

If like me you thrive on a challenge or an issue to overcome/ solve then when you start feeling less challenged in your day to day role then it may indicate that it is time to take that next step. This is often a good time to talk to your current head and ask for an opportunity to lead on an area of school improvement and perhaps take on part of the head’s role to gain experience

  • Have you done what you set out to do?

In many leadership roles in education there comes a point when you feel you have done what you set out to do. Not finished, as I don’t think we ever finish anything in education as there’s always something that can be improved, but you get to the point where you feel you have left a lasting legacy.

Many of my middle and SLT leaders over the years have struggled with finding right time to move on as there seems to be this sense of letting your current school down. My answer to this has always been to not only think about the legacy you leave but also to think about spreading good practice further. Rather than think of the negatives of leaving your current children, think of how many more children’s lives you could have a positive impact on. This is definitely the case in terms of your first headship- it’s an opportunity to use all the lessons you have learnt and to put them into practice and to change more children’s lives!

So, is it time?

If you answered yes to one of the above then it’s possibly time to start looking for your first headship! To be honest though, you are NEVER ready for your first headship and if you wait until you think you are, you will quite possibly wait forever! Whatever the training and development route you take, there is not a programme in the land which prepares you completely for headship and I would go as far as saying that the majority of the role you just have to learn on the job.

Let’s not forget as well that there are other roles within education and that not everyone even aspires to be a head. I have met many deputies and assistant heads who are very happy in that role and would not want to be a head if it was offered on a plate!

What I would say is that it is for me genuinely the best job in the world and even the horrors of COVID have not changed that view. We need more great leaders in education, so if you feel ready then my advice is – go for it!

The 3 R’s- refrain, refuse and resist!

The best thing I can do as a leader!

Lockdown has taught us so much and stretched our leadership skills to the limit at times but there is much we should cling on to regardless of whether COVID remains or not.

In some areas there have been so many positives but I worry that many will find themselves tempted to slowly go back to ‘the way things were’.

So my advice to myself is to refrain, refuse and resist!

REFRAIN:

  • Refrain from being led by the narrative of catch-up, make the decisions YOU know are right for YOUR community and pupils- our role isn’t about leading through catch-up, it’s about leading towards the future.
  • Refrain from thinking that academic attainment is the most important measure of how well a child is doing and ensure you continue the focus on well-being moving forward- this needs to be regardless of COVID. For some this has been a new focus- don’t let it disappear.
  • Refrain from making knee jerk decisions when under pressure – its easy to make decisions based on what we think others want us to do, but we know our communities better than anyone.

REFUSE:

  • Refuse to lose new learning and efficiencies in terms of technology- we have developed so much over this last year and we are now in a place where digital technologies should be used to enhance teaching and learning regardless of whether we are in school or at home.
  • Refuse to allow national narrative to influence your decisions at school level or be side tacked by initiatives or Government focus
  • Refuse to allow your COVID school story to be one of negativity or failure or lost learning- make your own story
  • Refuse to allow those fantastic relationships you have built with your staff and community to lessen as we move back to normality

RESIST:

  • Resist the temptation to fire fight and react to short term issues – we need to be starting to look longer term despite the short- term problems we are all currently facing
  • Resist the urge to bring back those reports that you got rid of or didn’t need during lockdown- do you really need them now or is it just habit?
  • Resist using the term’ due to COVID we couldn’t…….’ you make your own limitations

So, I hope I can hold onto this advice and I hope others do too- refuse to go back to how we always did things, we have made such great progress in many areas and we need to hold onto this despite pressure to return from some parties.

I have truly learned so much about myself, my community and the people I world with throughout the pandemic and I won’t have all that become ‘lost learning’!

NQT? I’m coping better than anyone!

Why NQTs might be coping with remote education better than anyone else.

I look at my daughter and how she has adapted to remote education with awe. She has, over the course of the last few weeks, transformed her teaching from traditional class based to a blend of live, recorded and class- based teaching and she has made it look seamless.

Every week it seems she is trialling new technology, new apps and new ways of engaging her children, new ways to assess their progress and knowledge and doing it with a smile on her face!

As someone who is keen to embrace new ways of working but has also struggled at times I have wondered why she seems more able to cope with all the change than myself with all my experience and I have realised it is down to three main reasons:

  1. She is not experienced and has not yet learned her ‘go to’ teaching style. She hasn’t yet ‘decided’ or become ‘stuck’ on a certain way of teaching as she is still in the exploration stage of her career. There is no right way to teach for her as she is still trialling new ideas- remote education is another strand of this.
  2. She has grown up in a world where technology has been a big part of her life and it is just accepted that it is the way we do things- the barrier of using technology does not exist in her generation as much as it does in mine!
  3. She has already had a bubble collapse and has learnt lessons from teaching at home. She has reflected on what worked and what didn’t work and has adapted her current teaching accordingly.

 I have seen many articles about how we need to support our NQTs during this pandemic and I totally agree- but some of the rhetoric around why they need support needs to change. Every one of my NQTs has shown me they are resilient, adaptable and I have been quite literally blown away by their whole approach to the pandemic and the challenges it has brought.

For me the key to supporting them is about wellbeing support- the loneliness of how we are teaching currently is the bit that NQTs are finding the hardest. So how can we support?

  • Regular check ins- these need to happen more often possibly than for other members of staff as they may not yet have developed the confidence to speak up- this takes time and being together, so nurture them.
  • Being part of the team- it can be hard for NQTs coming into established teams to feel part of the bigger picture or to feel that their place in the team is valued- relationships are built over time and leaders need to be mindful of this
  • Allow NQTs to contribute and ensure their ideas are valued- experience means nothing currently as none of us have taught in this way and my NQTs have had amazing ideas!

So for me NQTs need emotional and wellbeing support as much as anyone but they also need to be recognised for their expertise and willingness to adapt and perhaps lead the way for other staff. They may be new to teaching but they are often the experts in some aspects!

Guest Blog: Sumaiyah Shaikh NQT

Teaching through a pandemic as an NQT.

As the whole country battles through the pandemic, we have all realised how vulnerable our elders are. Although it is imperative that we keep them in mind, we still need to remind ourselves that our future will be determined by our children. Overlooking them could ruin a whole generation. We are always hearing stories of how hard parents are finding it to cope with children at home whilst working. However, we also need to be thinking about the children. Children normally ask difficult questions about our society and find some ‘normal’ practices hard to fathom. Imagine how hard it is to explain these most bizarre circumstances. How will we explain, guide, and inspire them to create a better future?

That’s one of many questions which I ponder on every night before eventually being woken up by my alarm. I don’t even remember sleeping! Every morning, whilst brewing my coffee, I think, will any child be away today? Will I get an email saying a person in my bubble has tested positive? Then I set up my computer, check if the camera is working, look through emails, make sure everyone has the correct zoom link. Just as everything is in place, the first child comes dancing through the door, ‘Hello Miss!’

As soon as that happens my day suddenly speeds up, no more time to ponder. The constant battles with technology, guiding children how to access work and then uploading it, telling them to mute/unmute.  All whilst also trying to provide the best for the children in school. Teaching over zoom is challenging enough, having to do that with children present in class has pushed me to boundaries I never knew existed.

It has been difficult. Some days I have had a wobble and felt like I’ve failed. However, I believe this has made me grow stronger. Every day is another chance to try again. I just pick myself up and think of the positive impact I am having on them. If I am down, who will cheer up the sad child who hasn’t been able to talk to her/his parents as they have been too busy trying to bring food to the table?

I have embraced the challenges and it has definitely been a valuable experience. It has taught me to adapt swiftly when technology fails and the computer decides to crash mid lesson. It has allowed me to ponder on what learning from home may be like in a pandemic from the children’s perspective. Like suddenly losing the normal school routine and the difficulty of not seeing teachers and peers. This has enabled me to use different ways of engaging the children at home/in school and keep the connection.

The positives- that blurry picture that gets sent from an enthusiastic child who is bubbling with excitement to show me, the sound of ‘Good morning Miss’ every day from the children who seem so far away. Teaching through the pandemic has been more than exhausting but the children and support from school has kept me going.

So I keep smiling and I embrace the challenge.

Guest BLOG: Edie Sykes NQT

No more white tops!

Since starting my teacher career in September 2020, I have had the craziest (due to being in the middle of a worldwide pandemic!) but best few months. To say it has been an experience would be an understatement!

Due to COVID, my experience teaching has been completely different to what I would have experienced in ‘normal’ times, with lots of added challenges .e.g. social distancing, PPE and no mixing of bubbles. However, I am proud that I have shown I am willing and able to adapt to these changes. It has been comforting too (although I wouldn’t wish pandemic teaching on anyone) to know that it hasn’t just been me feeling like this, and that everyone- even the most experienced members of school staff- is in the same boat…a boat which honestly sometimes feels like it is sinking, but I know we will all get through this together, and if anything it has brought the school community closer together.

After Christmas, my role switched from working in KS2 to KS1- now this really did make me feel nervous! Anyone who knows me knows I have always defined myself as a KS2 teacher, and the thought of working in KS1 was once something which honestly terrified me. I soon realised though that actually, I didn’t have any need to be nervous at all due to the amazing children and the strong support from staff. Turns out I love doing silly dancing and singing to maths counting songs more than I originally thought (although I have now learnt that I can no longer wear my best white tops or nice shiny shoes in KS1…thanks bright pink paint and muddy outdoor play!).

This time round though, there has been the added challenge of the UK lockdown…which means remote teaching and the dreaded Zoom. Teaching children in school, whilst simultaneously teaching children at home over Zoom, has definitely been a challenge- a challenge which has involved a lot of ‘miss I can’t hear you’ and desperate pleas for learners at home to stay on mute. However, it has also had its positives. Yes it has been disheartening to know that there are children at home who miss being in school and seeing their friends and teachers (and we also miss them), but I have also tried to look at this as an opportunity to properly connect with those few children who are still attending school as more of my time and attention can be given towards them…an opportunity which in normal times may not have been entirely possible.

So overall yes, this year has posed many challenges (thanks COVID…), but it has also had many positives and I really believe that these experiences, including the challenging ones, have helped me become a stronger NQT and person in general. And thanks to the continued support from school and its staff, I believe I will grow even stronger.

Guest Blog: Phoebe Ayling NQT

Anyone who has worked with me in the past term and a half will know I am my biggest critic. Teaching in a pandemic has been so much more difficult than I anticipated but the thing I have found most challenging is dealing with the voice of my own criticisms, the constant imposter syndrome and the feeling I am not doing as well as I should be, not in terms of my own personal success but the success of the children in my class. I constantly tell myself I am not doing enough to ensure these children make progress, blaming myself for the learning they are missing, when in fact I am doing the best I can. Home learning means I have little control over how well children are engaging at home and the progress they are making – I have had numerous pieces of work handed in which are either done by an adult or an undiscovered child genius! Despite this feeling of helplessness and failure, it is comforting to know that I am not the only one struggling, NQTs and veteran teachers alike are in the same boat, trialling lessons they have never done before using technology we would never use in a ‘normal’ year, all whilst battling anxieties around their own health and well-being.

Working in the Early Years during a pandemic is not easy. We are asking children as young as three to sit and stay focus on a computer screen for up to an hour, then completing tasks at home with either not enough help or too much! However, I am grateful to be able to have a small chunk of my class in school with me and be able to see the rest through a computer screen twice a day. With the children being so young, they have little understanding of the pandemic and that is one of the best things about being in Nursery and Reception. Every day I get the opportunity to see the world through their eyes and the experience if full of positivity, love and laughter. As cliché as it sounds, when the children come to school (or come on Zoom) their beaming smiles and brilliant personalities let you forget how scary and uncertain the outside world is. It’s easy to forget the impact the pandemic is having on the children themselves but when I am reminded, I could not be prouder of the amazing progress each child has made during these difficult times, and to be a facilitator of the progress is the best feeling. I am absolutely my biggest enemy, but at moments I see glimmers of the incredible progress these children have made and to know I have played a part in that washes away the self-critique and the voices of my inner saboteur. Although I am anxious about what the future brings, I am reminded of the good I am doing now. My children are happy in school and are making great progress, and those at home have shown incredible resilience and positivity in a time of uncertainty and change.

“I am doing my best and that is enough.”

Guest Blog- Cameron Richardson NQT

‘Expect the unexpected’ a saying that can undoubtedly explain the teaching profession. However, I don’t think that teaching through a pandemic was on anyone’s list of unexpected – definitely not mine anyway!

So what’s it like teaching during a pandemic?

It’s confusing. One day we are welcoming our children back to school and the next they are being sent home. One day our classrooms are full of children ready to play and learn and the next our computer screens are now our classrooms.

It’s exhausting. Yes, I said exhausting. Most people think teachers are having a rest at home or having an easy time in school with reduced numbers of children in classrooms – after this experience I can 100% assure you that this is not correct! Lockdown learning is exhausting. We are multi -tasking all day long trying to give children both in school and at home the best learning experience we can whilst also battling the problems technology throws at us (aka – ‘’Miss I can’t hear you’’ x 30).

It’s worrying. I think sometimes people outside of the teaching profession forget that we teachers are also human. We have families we go home to every night, families we want to keep safe and protect from this nasty virus yet we risk this daily. Then, on top of that, there is the worry of your bubble closing and the worry that those vulnerable children in your class that you know view school as their safe place now must stay home.

It’s lonely. A bubble closure means two weeks at home. Two weeks in isolation. Two weeks at home might sound like a dream to some people, but for me two weeks at home left me feeling completely disconnected from the job I love. After all, you don’t get into teaching for any other reason other than the joy you get when you are in the classroom.

So yes, teaching through a pandemic is hard and my teaching experience so far has been all of the above. It’s been confusing, it’s been exhausting, it’s been worrying and at times it has been lonely, but it has also been full of discovery and extremely valuable.

Regardless of my young age, me and technology have never been best friends and I have always shied away from attempting to use innovative technology – mainly because it was always more than likely going to be exactly that – an attempt rather than a success! However, the pandemic has forced me to embrace technology. I have used microsoft forms, padlet, jamboard and other exciting and engaging tools that have supported and improved my teaching and learning and they are tools that I will continue to use when this pandemic is finally over (if it’s ever over!).

Asking for advice or admitting I am struggling has not always been my strong point, however this pandemic has taught me that asking for support is not a weakness. I am lucky to have such an amazing support team that have made being an NQT through a pandemic possible. They are invaluable and have taught me the importance of support – both being unafraid to ask for support and being available to give support.

So as horrible as this pandemic has been, it has pushed me out of my comfort zone, improved my teaching and learning and provided me with an irreplaceable support team. If I can get through this then I can get through anything!