A year in the life of a school Comment Leadership and Management

2022: Reflections on a Year of Collaboration and Connection

As another year comes to a close, it's a great opportunity to reflect on the key events and developments that took place over the past 12 months. In this review, author Max Kelly looks back at the wonderful opportunities that were afforded to his schools in terms of the visitors they hosted and the visits they made to other schools and conferences. Whether you're an educator, a parent, or just interested in the world of education in the Isle of Man, we hope this review will provide some insights and inspiration as you look forward to the new year.

As another year draws to a close I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on some of the wonderful opportunities that have been afforded to me and to my schools this year in terms of the visitors we have had to the Laxey/Dhoon Federation and the visits we have made to other schools and conferences.

Welcome to Dhoon School and Laxey School 2022!

2022 has been the first calendar year since 2019 that has not involved a school closure or lockdown scenario for my schools, and we have been able to reach out again to invite people in, and to visit others.

Part of being an outward facing leader working in schools that are keen to share experiences is an understanding that school improvement, development and forward momentum only comes from a commitment to collaboration, research, networking and exploration. It is a visit to another school that re-motivates, inspires, challenges and excites. Visitors to your own school see things with fresh eyes and help you refocus and re-energise. 2022 has seen positive steps back in this direction, and for that I’m thankful. 

2023 brings a new challenge for me: I will be taking on the leadership of a third school, Willaston School, which will join Dhoon School and Laxey School in partnership. This expanded role certainly comes at an exciting time and I hope it will enable me to continue to build connections with other people and organisations.


The year started with an invite from @KateParkerTes to write a piece for @TES. “Should headteachers have taught in every key stage?” My argument was presented as the “yes” to @thatteacherguy_’s “no.” Obviously in reality the arguments for and against are much more nuanced and probably fall into an area between the binary “yes” / “no” options  and centre more on making sure that HTs have the right kind of experience to lead educational organisations, but it was a fun article to engage with and Ben is someone I have enormous respect for – his views are always passionate and well-put. 

Towards the end of the month Dhoon and Laxey Federation welcomed it’s first external trainer of the year in the form of @sue_smits from @Morrellshand to deliver handwriting training to my staff team from both schools. Sue also led a parents’ workshop and worked with some of our children too. 


In February I was able to visit a local school in the south of the Isle of Man. Rushen School is a wealth of good practice and its always good to catch up with the headteacher there @suze2504. We had a discussion around school improvement and are keen to collaborate on school development initiatives. I had the good fortune of visiting Rushen School pre-Covid as part of a pilot Peer Review Programme and it was lovely to go back a year or two later and see first-hand the very visible progress that has been made.

A tweet I sent after visiting Rushen School in February.

We agreed to keep open lines of communication, and bounce some exciting ideas around connected to our shared adoption of work by Mark Burns. It was an afternoon of brilliant CPD – getting out and visiting other schools is such an important thing to do and it stops HTs from becoming too insular and too narrow in their thinking. Importantly, the visit led to further collaboration and off the back of it all we have booked @learnimperative to visit the Isle of Man early next year to undertake some CPD and training with our respective staff teams. 


In an exciting development for Laxey School and Dhoon School, we have engaged with @HeyPobble to help us improve our approach to writing moderation. In early March I held my first meeting with @SimonPobble to discuss the platform and start to explore how we could make effective use of it in my federation. The hardest part of the meeting was realizing that Simon is a massive Middlesbrough supporter and only the night before they had smashed my team, Tottenham, knocking them out of the FA Cup. 

Dhoon and Laxey School signed up to the Pobble Platform in March.

Dhoon School welcomed @FCIsleOfMan into our Girls’ Football Club and they ran a training session before inviting the girls down to a match at The Bowl where they could come onto the pitch at half-teim and take penalities. A great experience all round. 

FC Isle of Man visiting Dhoon School to deliver a training session for our Girls’ Football Club.

March also saw @NAHT_IsleOfMan hold its AGM. It was certainly an eventful meeting: it was scheduled to be held at Ballacottier School, but I remember arriving to a car park full of fire engines, police vans and flashing lights. It transpired that a ceiling has collapsed, caused by water leakage, and the pupils had to be moved out. The good news was that everyone was safe and the school dealt with everything brilliantly… but we had to quickly find an alternative venue for the AGM! One of our committee members volunteered their school as a venue, and after a call to our regional organiser @CllrLauraFlyn members were informed of the change in venue via an email drop.  The AGM also saw me retire as Branch Secretary. It has been a privilege to serve NAHT Isle of Man in recent years as Branch President, and latterly Branch Secretary. It’s important to share out the different roles and experiences to build capacity and expertise across a number of people – but I was delighted to be elected back on to the Committee and asked to represent our Edge member’s interests.


In April, Graham Kinrade, the CEO of @iomdesc, visited Laxey / Dhoon to speak to staff and outline his vision and the direction for the Government Department.

Graham Kinrade, CEO of Government Department DESC, visits Laxey School.

April also saw the first visit of the year from Steve Draper from Rahmqvist call in. I buy some wonderful balance bikes that transform into scooters for EYFS. It’s also a good chance to catch up and talk all things education, Isle of Man, and football. 

I also attended the NAHT National Conference in Telford in the UK in April. It was really good to catch up with some great colleagues like @simonkidwell @clemcoady and @robkelsall. The values of the conference – compassion, humanity and solidarity- were evident everywhere.

A motion about lobbying for investment in childrens services resonated and I spoke in support. Opportunities to network, discuss and debate are always useful and this conference facilitated this. Meeting with colleagues from fellow crown dependencies Jersey and Guernsey were particularly useful.

Speaking in support of a motion at the NAHT National Conference.


It is important to me that I continue to grow and develop as a leader – I don’t want to stand still, become complacent or find myself unchallenged and left with outdated thinking. To that end I began working with leadership coach @drewpovey in May with regular coaching sessions that have helped enormously as I reflect on the successes and areas of development in my leadership of my schools. Drew’s work has been really beneficial and I’m delighted that I have been able to access such high-quality support. 

Nationally, 9th – 13th May marked “Mental Health Awareness Week.” In my federation of schools we wanted to mark mental health week, but we also wanted to stretch into areas of the human condition. As such, we planned a special week to highlight and support children’s mental health, well-being, emotional resilience; and to recognise and celebrate our differences, diversity and special unique qualities. “This Is Me” Week saw the return of @rockkidzuk, workshops with comedic poet @blandpoet, a virtual visit from @grandadwheels and special assemblies led by mental health charity Isle Listen.

We also unveiled our new cycle shelter and Laxey School with Kerry Sharpe MLC and @timgloverash our guests of honour to officially open it. 

Laxey School was the first Primary School in the Isle of Man to have a cycle shelter installed. Kerry Sharpe MLC and Tim Glover MHK were on hand to open the new facility.


A new curriculum is something that Laxey and Dhoon School have been working on for some time, and this involved visiting other schools, researching marketed curriculums and discussing the merits of writing of our own. By June we had settled on @cornerstonesedu and met with the team online to discuss our plans for rolling it out across our two schools. 

The new Cornerstones Maestro Curriculum in Laxey School and Dhoon School.

The @birminghamcg22 Queen’s Baton visited the Isle of Man in June and children from Laxey and Dhoon join in with the relay. This picks up the federation’s first television coverage of the year and my schools feature on BBC NorthWest @BBCNWT

Dhoon School and Laxey School featuring on BBC North West Tonight.

My schools also look into our safeguarding arrangements and how we audit ourselves in this important area. I’m eternally grateful to safeguarding expert @LSafeguarding who provides some excellent advice via email. 

One of the highlights of the NAHT National Conference in May was meeting new colleagues. Sharon Wyatt and Kelly Jobber – Head and Deputy at @HMillSchool in Cheshire – were great colleagues to meet and June concluded with them paying a visit to the Isle of Man to look around my two schools. Opportunities to network and collaborate with colleagues across the UK, and particularly the North West region are very valuable and great moments from which to learn from one another.

Welcoming colleagues Sharon Wyatt and Kelly Jobber to the Isle of Man.


In July I had the privilege of visiting @edgehill with my Year 6s from both schools on an “aspiration trip.” @Sarah__Hallam does amazing work there and the trip was sensational. What a great showcase of what University life has to offer and it gives my pupils an insight into one possible future pathway after secondary education.

As the academic year drew to a close we held leavers’ assemblies on each site for our departing Y6s – its always a sad occasion but also an immensely proud moment as headteacher to see the people our pupils have grown to become. This year my schools had a new Chair of Governors – @CGMaverickMaker – and she was our guest of honour at both events to hand out prizes and gifts.

With Laxey School and Dhoon School’s new Chair of Governors Carol Glover.


August provided a well-deserved rest for the teaching profession: I enjoyed two holidays – one in Blackpool (and a few days in Chester) followed by one in Majorca. What a great way to relax, unwind and switch off for a couple of weeks – and it gave me a fantastic opportunity to reflect on a couple of educational musings which I put together in a summer blog called “Jess Glynne is right: We’re ready for this. Teachers, summer holidays and a new school year with BIG challenges ahead!


A new school year and a fresh start. We kick started the new term in style with a visit to both schools from @tanziitv

TanziiTv worked with both Laxey School and Dhoon in September.

It was also fantastic to reconnect with @gdmorewood for some consultations in connection to a child on our roll; conversations also touched on bringing Gareth over to the Island in the new year and we need to finalize arrangements for this soon.


October is really all about Rock Kidz! @RockKidzCam @RockKidzSi and @RockKidzJ visited the Isle of Man and spent a very special 3 weeks here visiting loads and loads of schools and bringing a smile to everyone they met. 

Of course that included a day at Laxey and Dhoon Schools with a some special concerts for the mums and dads, but a real highlight was their impromptu “money” at the Laxey School Mhelliah. What a brilliant night that was. 

Rock Kidz impromptu performance at the Laxey Mhelliah: a crazy mix of staff, parents, Rock Kidz and booze.


In November I welcomed Douglas North MHK @dashford77 to Laxey School to introduce myself ahead of taking on the headship at @WillastonIOM which is in his constituency. 

I also found myself in Nottingham in November for the NAHT Officials Conference which also celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the union. 

Stood with delegates at the birthplace of NAHT in Nottingham on the 125th Anniversary of the Union.

A meeting with the team at @LetsLocalise helped establish some ideas for improving our income generation and fundraising streams. 

But the real highlight of November was seeing @DhoonSchool and @LaxeySchool Choirs perform on the national broadcast of Children In Need. It was a real honour for the federation to be invited to contribute to this year’s Children’s Choir song – a rendition of “Somewhere Only You Know” – two of only eight schools nationally to be involved. My pupils represented themselves, my schools, and the Isle of Man really really well, and it was a proud moment to see them on TV, prime time BBC1, doing such an excellent job. A huge “thank you” to @carollowe98 for inviting us to participate.

Dhoon School and Laxey School representing the Isle of Man on BBC Children In Need. The children featured at the end of BBC North West Tonight and later again in the main broadcast at 8pm.

Both of my schools were happy to raise money to and donated over £2k in total to @BBCCiN 


By December thoughts always turn to the festive season, which is fun filled and turbo charged in schools. In amongst all the festivities I still found time to meet with Nat from @WALKTHRUs_5 to get up to speed with Walkthrus and start to discuss how we can roll this out across my federation – looks like great professional growth and CPD for my team. My thanks also to @MissSDoherty for helping me get the ball rolling with this.

After receiving a Gold Members Award at their presentation in November, Dhoon School welcomed Ellie Seed from @IiC_rights to a Pupil Council meeting in December to show her what they get up to in their meetings.

Our Pupil Council working on a road safety campaign at Dhoon School with Breeshey Harkin from Active Travel IOM and Ellie Seed from Investing In Children.

As December draws to a close, I’m sure, also, that #EduTwitter will continue to bring strong connections, big inspiration and quality discussion in 2023. I’ve always found it to be a hugely positive experience. Some of the hashtag communities I’ve enjoyed dipping in and out of this year include #TinyVoiceTalks #FFBWednesday  #FYFlamingoF  #PrimaryRocks and  #ShareStuffSunday

Talking of 2023, it is already shaping up to be another year of fantastic collaboration and learning. I’m delighted that @learnimperative has agreed to visit my schools to work with my staff and  @RockKidzUK have agreed to travel over in May to continue their excellent works with our pupils. We also have our first off-island residential for several years – halted because of COVID – with our Y6s dues to visit Shropshire and @ManorAdventure in the Summer Term. 

And don’t forget, #SharingIsCaring, so if there is anything that you feel you could get out of a visit to either – or both – of my schools, then please do feel free to get in touch with me and arrange to come over. You will be very welcome!

Whenever I write something that name checks a lot of people I am always concerned that I will have forgotten to give a mention to absolutely everyone who deserves one. So please do not be offended if I’ve omitted your name by mistake – as you can see, 2022 has been a very busy year of CPD and learning, but rest assured, if our paths crossed, you certainly added to the rich melting pot of ideas and inspiration that helps shape my thinking and my schools.

See you next year!

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