Looking Back and Looking Forward by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This is a blog about my first half-term as a deputy headteacher in a new school. Here, I share what I’ve been working on and what lies ahead over the coming half-term. In this blog, you will read what I’ve been up to over the past half-term and what lies ahead.

Looking Back:

Quintin Kynaston QK for the air

Quintin Kynaston (old and new buildings) from the air.

Week 1:

In my first week, I blogged about A New Outlook and explained to regular readers what I had achieved in my first week. In essence, the first week was about meeting and greeting staff and students; walking the entire site with the premises staff, unlocking doors, looking in cupboards, walking the perimeter and the local streets. Over the first few days, at the gate each morning and evening, I met students, parents and the local community police. This has continued every single day all term. I am yet to take a ride on our school bus.

Inside school, the inevitable walking through school corridors, visiting classrooms speaking with staff and students; line management with colleagues and understanding the context of each department and the staff that work within them has developed at a rapid pace!

Week 2:

Throughout week 2, I meet my classes and settle in to my own subject area for the first time in three years! The department is refreshing and I am enjoying teaching even more than before. I Outside the classroom, I make it a priority to introduce myself to all that the administrative, IT, support and premises staff who work behind the scenes. Ensuring I understand their role as best I can; ranging from first aid procedures, to opening up and locking down the school. I start to take up the teaching and learning and staff development reigns and meet with curriculum leaders and individual colleagues who are engaged in continued professional development.

Gate duties, break duties and lunch duties are firmly established and I make my presence known at the front of the break and lunch queue, every single day. Senior leadership briefings, whole staff briefings, senior leadership meeting and deputy headteacher meetings kick in and my knowledge of the school improves further. Self-evaluations are the current conversation with heads of department in line-management meetings. I attend my first full governing body meeting.


Week 3:

By day 2 of this week, we receive the call from Ofsted! No matter how much I deny it, all my plans to understand school life and my role are placed on hold. For the next 60 hours, the only conversation is Ofsted. You can read my write-up the process here, where I, apart from supporting the school as best I could, spent the entire time Observing the Observer judge the overall quality of teaching and learning. From this point onward, I make A Shift from Teaching to Learning in my approach to settling into the school/role. If anything, I now have a clear action plan.

I attend my first governors committee meeting where I am leading on behalf of the school. Up for discussion is our Appraisal Policy, as well as our Performance Pay Policy and staffing. Behind the scenes, funding arrangements are agreed and reviewed as I develop a coherent and transparent system for supporting staff applying for further study.

I lead my first staff briefing which is incredibly well attended, compared to many other schools I have worked in. This is a real opportunity to not only share the weekly calendar, but a forum for staff to gather and share essential messages about students, as well as for staff e.g. weddings, maternity leave and staff well-being events. This is a vital part of the school day to embed whole-school ethos and vision.

Week 4:

Ofsted aside, the school settles into its stride and I kick off the first of our weekly CPD sessions with all staff. Let’s Talk About Teaching calls for all our staff to focus on little and often and from teaching to learning. I sow the seeds of progress over time and suggest that as a school, we need to decide on a best-foot forward for judging the quality of teaching and learning over time and not in one-off individual lessons for performance.

The open versus closed process is made clear and will be revisited next half-term. I start off by introducing a model of Typicality and Support Over Time for middle and senior leaders. After two-three weeks, heads of department take this to their faculty areas for discussion.

Dare-to-be-Different Typicality and Support Zebra

Mid-week, I stand up in front of 500-600 students and present We Are What We Do, my first assembly at the school. Staff feedback to me from a position of gratitude; ranging from student response, to purchasing a book or being moved to tears. Students feedback to me in their inimitable and endearing way as they queue up for lunch!

As our school development plan evolves, I gather a firm grip on my leadership responsibilities for the year ahead:

  • To raise standards of teaching and learning, which a shift of focus towards the latter and not the former.
  • To ensure assessment is accurate, consistent and robust. Developing a formative and summative model for all staff and students that informs and supports.
  • To encourage teachers to reduce unnecessary workload that impacts on their lesson planning, marking and teaching, empowering our staff to teach, plan and mark with a focus on learning and not on teaching.
  • Implementing, developing and evaluating a reflective lesson observation culture. This will include support from IRIS Connect, IPEVO, MINT class, Show My Homework, 4Matrix, SISRA, Blue Sky Education, The Teacher Development Trust and our Teaching Alliance to name a few …
  • To develop a culture where all staff, at all levels, are engaged with their own CPD.
  • To ensure that every aspect of CPD is linked to teaching and learning and school priorities.
  • To establish a culture of action research, facilitating pathways and funding schemes for staff to commence various qualifications.
  • To raise the profile of CPD for support staff, implementing new pathways and reviewing what works and what doesn’t.

Week 5:

Assessment and homework are on the agenda in my classroom and I enjoy putting in place classroom systems that are unknown to my students. Marking is made easier with (DIRT) Directed Improved Reflection Time and the expectation that every piece of work submitted is a first draft. During term 2, I aim to introduce TakeAwayHmk to my classes.

Student reading ages are on the agenda for week 5, as well as form tutors, open evening and open morning. Appraisal reviews are due for completion, so I begin the process for informing staff on 2013/14 processes to end the year, as well as implementing new systems on Blue Sky Education for the beginnings of appraisal for 2014/15. Threshold applications are also on the agenda and continue to do so for the remainder of the half-term. I sit in with three heads of department to meet with the headteacher to review 2013/14 standards. Every meeting is challenging and supportive.

As October commences, my role requires me to get to grips with human resources, addressing staffing needs, not only in my own faculty line-management meetings, but across the school. From interviews to question templates, DBS checks and proofreading CVs. It is a rewarding, yet confidential process; safeguarding, timing and privacy is paramount. This is probably one of the most interesting tasks I have discovered from stepping up to deputy headteacher.

I also start to get a handle on cover as my knowledge of departments, staff and job descriptions grow; evolving a gradual cover strategy to support the needs of the students that is in line with school (union) policy, as well as matched to the needs of whole-school teaching and learning priorities. This is also one of three large budgets I have to closely monitor too. At the end of the week, I lead my first senior detention. It goes according to plan, but as ever when encountering a new school and new school systems, the purpose of my role is to gauge what is working well and what could be improved. I pencil another suggestion onto the list.

Portrait of a  man talking into a megaphone


Week 6:

At the start of week 6, the vast majority of our students celebrate Eid, so the school day is not quite its usual self. Nonetheless, school life is back to normal the next day and I spend one morning in the week, visiting primary schools for my own son; I have a genuine CPD session for myself using SIMS, looking at the cover and staffing modules. I also have the honour of holding the dreaded megaphone in front of the entire school for a fire alarm practice! Thankfully, I do not need to use it.

During this week, we launch our CPD agenda for the year with a CPD session on Power to the People which puts professional development into the hands of every teacher! As visiting speaker David Weston said:  “Powerful professional development helps children succeed and teachers thrive.”

I ask our staff; what does Good CPD look like in schools? In this school? And what does Good CPD look like for you? And how do you know? Where is the evidence? Throughout the session I ask teachers to consider how any CPD will help their students and what follow up support is offered as a result of the CPD offered/attended? Fundamentally, I stress the importance of What/Why/How/When do we evaluate the impact on classroom practice?

We also launch MINT class and ask that every class has a seating plan. I attend my first Teaching Alliance meeting and enjoy meeting new colleagues. I’m still not used to the Westminster doorstep, stepping outside of the school gates alongside £5M properties, delicatessen and worldly landmarks. A far cry from the streets of Haringey and Brent.

Week 7:

In the penultimate week of half-term, my paper diary and digital diary is full! I am caught in-between new systems and have not quite yet figured out what is working best for me. I start a staff trial on an iPad so that I can have emails and SIMS access for staff timetables and students on the move. I use this remote access to register classes and communicate on our VLE. I feel I am starting to build strong relationships with students and the consistent approach to expectations is starting to get through. I am greeted with the usual mixture of smiles, grunts and poker faces at the school gate and canteen entrance four times a day by the vast majority.

It is almost 6 years since I last felt this good working in a school in my role. There are many reasons for this. The culture of the school and the values of those who work within it. If they are matched to your own educational values, then there is a good guarantee that you will enjoy turning up to work! Secondly, the staff are hard-working, receptive to change and keen to support the school leadership team drive the school forward into the the next era. And finally, the kids. Yes, the kids. Despite many hard battles, expressions and reactions I dare not like to put in writing, I am starting to see relationships flourish with the most challenging and hardest to reach.

Assessment is high on the agenda as we gather staff to review our own internal assessment procedures. After facilitating the programme, I take a step back on leading CPD and join my faculty for assessment discussions. Finally, on the Friday after school in week 7, I someone how got roped in to taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge and sat alongside my headteacher getting drenched. I will dig out photos, but you can see my summer contribution in video here. In many ways, doing this is an indication of how happy and settled I am (already) at work.

Our Ofsted report is published and it represents a fair picture of where we are and where we are going as a school. More to follow on this as I look to challenge Ofsted on one major adjustment to the School Inspections framework now that we are without lesson gradings …

Week 8:

Prior to half-term, I attend my second Full Governors Meeting of the term. I lead my second whole-staff briefing and as the temperature rises and tiredness overshoot our capacity, I ask that we all remember our pleases and thank-yous to each other and to all students. I do my best to curtail needless tasks, discussions and activities to ensure staff and student well being is retained until the end of the week. I finally get to meet with our start-up Shadow Senior Leadership Team and put them through their paces with an amalgamation of these senior leadership activities I have blogged about. I provide my 5 colleagues with homework and discuss their own CPD needs, as well as a whole-school project I can support them with leading.

My most recent blog shared the third CPD session I have led with all staff this half-term on Brilliant Behaviour; the key to successful students is to model positive behaviour and build relationships. This (relationship) is probably remained my greatest priority and achievement this half-term and has allowed me to build bridges between students, parents and many staff. The session was inspiring and a colleague and I received several messages from staff who were motivated and equipped for their classrooms the very next day. These simple messages are important to me as a deputy headteacher, as well as the small conversations you may have with any other member of staff. Never, ever forget to tell a colleague the impact of a resource, a conversation or a training session that impacts on you and your classroom practice. We all need feedback.

The end of the week finds me reviewing our entire provision for student support, gathering threshold applications and publishing our pending INSET programme. I tidy my desk, wash my coffee cup and leave my pile of marking on my desk for a mid-week half-term date together.

Looking Forward:

The second part of the blog is more about my plans, hopes and items of the forthcoming calendar. One pressing item is our move into the new building. Not just carrying my box of files, but looking at the strategic plans, such as the timetable, classroom re-rooming, numbering and timetabled areas as well as the IT network, to the small but important areas of school life, such as whole-school display, movement around the building and which way the students will line up for lunch!

This is a massive project for any leadership team and one I am looking forward to. So much of what we do needs to be right, but we understand that there will be a settling in period and a long-period of snagging.

Here is a video of our new build:


Term 2:

As for me, items that are on my agenda for the coming half-term are thus:

  • re-launching our whole-staff appraisal process for 2014/15.
  • developing our own monitoring, review and evaluation process; including an evidence base.
  • determining a way forward for teaching and learning over time.
  • introducing IRIS Connect.
  • establishing a reading and research culture amongst staff.
  • leading support staff with their own training needs.
  • planning for our first internal TeachMeet event.
  • and so much more …

Exciting times ahead for all.


One pipe-dream is planning for our first external TeachMeet in the Spring term. I will also be speaking at two public event this half-term. The first is Grow Excellence conference on 26th November 2014, where I hope to be quoted saying; “Great teaching isn’t complicated, it’s about getting the simple things right.” You can preview the conference here. The second event will be on 1st December 2014 at the National PiXL Conference. I was invited this time last year, so I must have done something right! You can preview the conference programme here.

You can count on me to report back on all of the above … and if you’d like to visit, here is our location.


6 thoughts on “Looking Back and Looking Forward by @TeacherToolkit

  1. Well done, Ross – and I hope the half term break gives you time for a good REST and time with the family too.

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