My first term as Head, by @HeadGuruTeacher Tom Sherrington


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This post answers the 5th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks. You can see my other top-Thunks here.

Thunk 5: My first term as Headteacher, by Tom Sherrington (@HeadGuruTeacher).

Arriving as Head of a school is daunting.  In my case, the school was already Outstanding, had just had great results and all my mates were kindly telling me that the only way was down! They were also saying, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.  But I had ideas and I hadn’t been appointed to put my feet up. It was important to get off to a good start.

This is a rough guide to my first term:

I wanted to meet every employee – but there are too many to see individually in a short time.  So I had a series of team lunches in my office: each subject department, the admin team, the site time, the kitchen staff and so on.  By the end of term I’d met everyone face-to-face and had a reasonably intimate conversation.

I arranged to observe all the teachers for a full lesson within the first term.  There were no judgements, but a feedback discussion where we talked about teaching, their experience of the school and any issues they had.  This was one of the greatest privileges of my career; I summed it up in a presentation to staff at the end of term.  Seeing everyone in action early on set me up for all the subsequent discussions about teaching and learning.

“I got the ball rolling with our geese-influenced SLT dynamics”, says @HeadGuruTeacher

I got the ball rolling with our geese-influenced SLT dynamics.  We had a free-flowing ‘values’ session within the SLT just before term started.  This showed we had a lot in common, chiefly that we valued a rounded education over exam-factory success.  We rotated the Chair for our meetings from the start and I spent a lot of time with my Deputies talking about vision, strategy and ethos.  Crucially, we worked out how I, as an atheist, would contribute to assemblies that previously had always had hymns and prayers.  We introduced a rotation; Mondays for me to give my message, my way; Fridays for a multi-faith assembly featuring hymns and prayers to maintain traditions.  It still works well.

We launched a school-wide ‘vision building’ exercise.  This started with a whole-staff session on an INSET day in the first term.  All staff, teachers and support staff together for the first time in mixed groups, big tables, lots of sugar paper.  The questions were simple: what do you love about KEGS that you want to stay the same?  What things would you like to change? This was repeated with students, parents and Governors, who digested, debated and shaped into a four-page document: A Vision for KEGS in 2015.  We are still working towards it now.

I got involved with everything:  went to all the concerts, Saturday rugby, lunchtime debates, all the extra-curricular activities, the KS3 disco, the parents’ association meetings, the local Heads’ meetings – everything.  I had lunch with students in the canteen several times a week, talking about what they were interested in, getting to know them and letting them get to know me.  Here, there, everywhere.

I had a quick win with uniform.  Shirts were hanging out, ties all over the place – scruffy. Teachers were wasting a lot of energy nagging.  I introduced a no-warning, automatic sanction for any uniform deviation.  It was an instant success and students have looked smart ever since.  I did a get letter (from a student trying to fake parental style) congratulating me on being the most unpopular Head of all time!  But they got over it… and grew to appreciate it.

Another quick win was introducing universal staff email.  It wasn’t completely popular at first but I was amazed that the pigeon-hole/notice-board culture was so strong.  The only way to get a message to everyone was to put a note in everyone’s pigeon hole… that had to go quickly! And it did… (now we have online systems for everything from registers to reports and dinner money… but it felt like going back in time when I first started).

I insisted on being Headteacher and not Headmaster.  I’m the first one in the school’s history but it had to be done. Amazingly I’m only the 31st Head in the school’s 460-year history.  I’ve got to do 15 years just to keep up the average!

I set up an exploration group to investigate the merits of introducing the IB.  We ended up sticking with A levels (for reasons that deserve a blog of their own.) But it was good to involve people in a big strategic decision early on.

I paid for a member of staff to visit a rural school in Kenya to establish whether they would be able to benefit from regular trips from our students and staff.  It was a big success and we’ve been going back every year since; the decision to spend the money was a good one, leading to a strongly embedded partnership.

There were some early hurdles; a newly appointed teacher committed suicide in the summer; this was tragic and sadly was the very first thing I ever said to my staff.  However, we moved on quickly simply because people hadn’t had time to get to know him.  Then there was the realisation that that summer’s results, originally reported as ‘the best in the country’ were not as good as reported.  A data entry error on the newspaper websites had propelled us to the very top of the league tables.  I couldn’t make the figures add up… so I quietly re-drafted the press release and confessed to my local colleagues… Oops!   Still, it meant that, for me, there wasn’t quite so far to fall so I was secretly delighted!

My greatest joy that term was teaching a Year 10 Physics class and Y7s for RE.  It was a revelation to find what teaching could be like in this environment; much more demanding than I’d anticipated and it’s kept me on my toes ever since.

Each school has its idiosyncrasies – and at mine it is gowns… In another post I will write about ‘GownGate’…. or ‘How Shezza Messed With History’… and lost!

Still, looking back, the first term was manic but massively productive and really set us on the path we’ve followed since – to be a ‘21st Century Grammar School’.

Written by @HeadGuruteacher and posted by @TeacherToolkit.

Note, Tom is now in his 5th year as a Headteacher… Read more about Tom Sherrington on his website and take a look at his school here.

Headteacher, @HeadGuruTeacher answers TTKitThunks Q5


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