I’ve worked with children and families for my entire working life.
I’ve worked in a pre-school nursery; a child care setting; as a youth worker with teenagers; as a supervisor in a contact centre; as a class teacher; and as a PPA teacher. I’ve worked in 9 schools including an infant school, a junior school and several primary schools; I’ve had 4 deputy headships and I’m currently in my second headship. I’ve been a trustee of a children’s home and I’ve sat on the Isle of Man’s fostering panel.
In all of these roles and experiences, I’ve met and worked alongside some incredible people who have had a significant influence on my life, my philosophy and my work in education.
In this blog, I pay tribute to those who have had the greatest influence and helped shape my thinking and make me the person I am today. I say “thank you” to all of them.
Mr Taggart was my headmaster when I was a boy. He was always in school, a real presence and very inspirational. He left the school in the same year that I graduated from Y6. I assumed a well earned retirement awaited – but our paths have crossed many times since. As an excited and eager NQT, I couldn’t wait to get my own classroom and put my stamp on it. I moved in and set to work on the stock cupboard. As I cleared through decades worth of stuff, I came across a photograph of a young Mr Taggart with his class – at some time in the dim and distant, this too had been his classroom. A lovely connection.
In more recent years, through his work in the Rotary Club, Mr Taggart has been a visitor to the schools I lead, and has presented awards at our Leavers Assembly.
I’ve also enjoyed learning from him that he was a founding member – instrumental in fact – in forming the Isle of Man Branch of NAHT. I’m proud to now be the President of the branch.
It’s safe to say that Mr Taggart is an educational hero.
Mr Evans was a young newly qualified teacher when he was assigned to my class. I would have been a child in Y4 at the time.
I remember his eccentricities with real fondness and replicated some of his class management strategies when I first became a teacher.
Mr Evans had an interest in the countries which formed the Eastern European Block. Where other teachers called their groups “red table” or “the circles” we were placed in “Bulgaria” and “Hungary.” I remember being on the “Czechoslovakia” table – and the national flag of each country hung above where we sat.
Children who misbehaved were moved to the “East Germany” table. We were regularly tested on the capital cities of these countries.
I also remember his appreciation of the classic Ben Hur film which we would be allowed to watch as a class treat from time to time.
In print, some of this sounds peculiar- but I remember feeling engaged and interested at all times, and Mr Evans obvious passion for what he taught – whether it was the laws of cricket or novel methods for multiplication – really inspired me to become a teacher. Of all the teachers I had, Mr Evans remains the one I remember the best.
The Three Vals
Three hugely influential women in my career have all had the name Val! When I worked at the Isle of Man Children’s Centre, Val was my boss. She showed tremendous faith in me as I was made a team leader aged just 19. If it hadn’t been for Val, and the opportunities she opened up for me as a teenager, it is probable that I wouldn’t have pursued a career in teaching or in working with young people and families. Val had very high standards, and I recall getting a sharp telling off (in front of the young people I was looking after) for wearing a baseball cap indoors. But this, and other similar experiences helped me to learn about good role-modelling, the importance of presentation and the need for relentlessly high expectations and standards to which we should hold ourselves.
Val Kosh was my art tutor at University and she helped me to find the connection between my passion for art and my passion for teaching. I remember a full day workshop she organised for the children at a primary school in Cheshire – we had a big “rehearsal” day with all of the trainee teachers, getting everything organised, prepped and planned, before descending en-masse and delivering a fantastic day of art to the pupils. “Catch A Falling Star” is still something I turn to from time to time to inspire and enthuse my pupils.
My Final “Val” was the headteacher of Manley Village School when I completed my final teaching practice. Val allowed me to work with tremendous latitude, and this belief in me really helped boost my confidence and my skills in the classroom. She encouraged me to hone my skills and helped me to focus on details which she said were key to helping children learn effectively. The school was the beating heart of the community, and she had fostered a real “family feel” – it had a long lasting impression on me and has been a source of inspriration for the kind of culture I’ve tried to generate in my own schools.
Mr Jones was the headteacher who promoted me into a school leadership role. I was given a middle management responsibility for assessment across the school. I learnt so much from Mr Jones.
The school had had undergone a challenging time and Mr Jones had been appointed to turn around its fortunes. He did this by employing a largely new staff, including a new DHT, a raft of new teaching staff, and myself. It was an exciting time and there was a real buzz in the school.
Mr Jones was on a mission and accepted nothing but the highest of standards. An eye for detail, uncompromising in his beliefs and ruthless in his approach. The whole school community really benefited from this style of leadership – and the school improved rapidly.
I learned about the need for consistent messaging, the need for high expectations, the value of walking the walk as well as talking the talk (Mr Jones would regularly teach ‘model lessons’ for teachers to observe as part of their CPD), the importance of high visibility for school leaders and the art of communication.
I owe much of how I lead a school to Mr Jones – his preference for bullet points and policies of no more than one side of A4 – live on in how I work today. And I’m pleased that over the course of time we became good friends too. Thanks Simon.
Mrs Green had a formidable reputation for being a highly effective headteacher with a strong focus on exceptionally high expectations. High expectations from her staff, for her parents and on behalf of the pupils. Serving as a Deputy Headteacher under her leadership was very hard work – as it should be – and I can’t overstate how much I learned from her which really helped me secure a headship of my own.
If you have ever watched Columbo, you will be aware that he presses and presses away, uncovering every last detail and ensuring crystal clarity. Just when you think he’s finished, the line comes “oh… just one more thing…!”
I mean the comparison to be entirely complimentary, but ultimately, Columbo’s relentlessness was no match for that of Mrs Green’s. She taught me the need to be organised, the importance of being on top of all the detail, the power of building a strong reputation for the school, and the need for clear and timely communication. Mrs Green turned round the fortunes of the school I was working in, and did so through sheer hard work. I always remember that and try to live to those standards in my own schools.
Shaun came to the Isle of Man in 2017 to support schools and school leaders in re-examining their inclusion offers. Shaun’s work has had a profound influence on me personally. He brought into sharp focus the difficulties many people face and framed it with a deeply moving personal story. But more than that, Shaun had a plan that offered a route for schools and school leaders to follow. Shaun has made me a kinder person, a stronger person and added even more fuel to the fire that is my passion and belief in inclusion for all.
John was the CEO at the Isle of Man Children’s Centre at a time when I served on the board as a non-executive director. Under his leadership, the Children’s Centre expanded to become a crucial part of the third sector offer in the Isle of Man for families and children. He introduced new thinking and helped modernise our approach to business, income generation and partnerships. All of this was done with charisma, people skills and engagement. John led by example and stood with his workforce, not in front of them nor distant from them. If there is one word to sum up what I learned most from him, it would be “commitment.” He was totally committed to the project, and at times appeared to live and breathe the Children’s Centre. He took people with him, and demonstrated the importance of having a vision and communicating it to others so as to bring them with you. John was there first person I worked with who helped me make the distinction between leadership and management – and whilst both are important – leadership is a very special quality which John had in bucket loads.
Howard was a school improvement advisor when I first met him and part of his responsibilities extended to NQT induction work. He led some CPD courses, mandatory for NQTs, and was charged to visiting NQTs in their schools and observing them teach.
I remember being very nervous about Howard’s visit to observe me teach, but he immediately put me at ease. His feedback was honest and pragmatic. I always remember his advice to me – “God gave us one mouth and two ears.” The point being, as an NQT, you should listen and learn rather than opine too much on things you weren’t all that experienced in.
Later, Howard recruited me as a tutor on the ITT programme in the Isle of Man, a programme that Howard set up and led on very successfully for a number of years. His legacy for education in the Isle of Man is not the children he has taught, but also the adults he has trained as teachers. He has also been hugely influential internationally in charity work in Nepal. But for me, his advice and influence has made me more diplomatic, tactful person, and a better listener.
All in all….
In summary, the key influences on me have been people who have shown traits and qualities in leadership and dedication; and people who have high standards and expectations of themselves and others. Communication: vital. Commitment: unquestionable. Visionary, inclusive, and kind.
I’m not sure how far I can live up to all of these ideals, but I’m fortunate to have worked with some greats who I can continue to aspire and look up to. Thank you for showing me the way.