New Headship: First 100 Days

The Last Push Before Half-Term: Weeks 5 and 6 In A Headteacher’s Journey at Willaston School

In the weeks leading up to the half-term break, I have reached Day 30 at Willaston School. More widely across the partnership the three school’s have been a hive of activity. From CPD sessions for our dedicated staff to Valentine's discos for our enthusiastic students, we've been committed to providing a well-rounded educational experience for all. As Headteacher, I was delighted to welcome our EAS partnership visit and showcase the excellent work we've been doing. It's also been a bittersweet time as we say goodbye to some of our retiring staff members who have been an integral part of our school community for many years. Read on for a closer look at the highlights of the past few weeks…

Monday, February 6th (Day 21)

I kicked off the week at Willaston School. This half-term is racing by, but I feel like I’m starting to recognise the rhyme and rhythm of the school. As I’ve become accustomed to doing, I start the day with the lollypop man, Mr Michael, welcoming children and families as they arrive.

I spend the morning visiting classes and then catching up on some paperwork and admin. At lunchtime I have a call scheduled with Dave Stott from IQM about an upcoming IQM Live Webinar where I’ve agreed to appear as a guest talking about Element 4 from two perspectives: a school leader who has recently led his schools through the process; and as an assessor who visits schools and looks for evidence of inclusive practice.

Join me speaking with Dave Stott on IQM on Wednesday 1st March.

I catch up with my Head of School at Dhoon to find out how our IT day worked out. We had booked Alex Townsend, IT guru, to run Apple based IT lessons across the school and it sounds as though the impact has been high.

Tuesday, February 7th (Day 22)

Laxey and Willaston Schools have both entered teams into this morning’s Tag Rugby Festival at the National Sports Centre. Some unexpected circumstances at Willaston mean my Head of School has to step in as coach at the last moment, but by all accounts the morning is a great success and the children have a great time.

My morning is spent with leadership coach Drew Povey who is continuing to coach me through my professional development framework. It’s great to have some objective perspective and expert advice – school leadership can be tough as those who do it know. It’s important to have a professional space to reflect, grow and learn – Drew’s sessions certainly provide this for me.

Later I’m in Willaston School. The full staff meeting is focusing on challenging behaviours and stress regulation strategies and is led by the island’s Education Support Centre. Its a very positive session and it’s always fab to get expert delivery of key messages which the staff seem to really appreciate.

Great CPD at the Willaston School staff meeting: Challenging Behaviours and Stress Regulation Strategies.

Wednesday, February 8th (Day 23)

Recently Laxey School and Dhoon School introduced the Cornerstones Curriculum. Today I met with the leadership team from these two schools to review its implementation. We checked planned coverage and progression, looked for gaps, looked for duplication, and continued to explore how to use the e-platform for maximum benefit.

We also looked at the Isle of Man’s new QA framework to check our curriculum development was in line with Manx expectations. Our next challenge is to involve Willaston School in this process. Willaston had adopted the Cornerstone’s Curriculum shortly before my appointment, but I’m aware I need to explore how this has/is being implemented and to consider how to align it to the other two schools so that we have a consistent approach across the partnership.

I’ve arranged for UK expert writing moderator Laura Bailey to lead our staff meeting today. Laura dials in from the UAE to lead a session on effective writing moderating – great CPD and the staff are now in a position to undertake some cross-school moderation. We’ll be using the Pobble platform to help with this .

Developing Effective Moderation Processes – great CPD for my staff team.

My evening involves attending the Governors meeting. I present my usual report, but the main agenda item centres on the car-park barrier at Laxey School.

My day finishes late, but it has been productive! I allow myself a glass of wine when I get home.

Thursday, February 9th (Day 24)

The Isle of Man Government has commissioned an independent review into its response to the Covid 19 pandemic. The review will look at all aspects of the Manx Government’s response, including education. To that end, I have been asked to speak to the review team in a focus group with 6 other headteachers about the period between March 2020 and April 2022. That meeting takes place this morning and lasts the full morning.

My afternoon is spent at Dhoon School undertaking interim PDF reviews with my team. PDFs (Professional Development Framework) replaced the appraisal system in the IOM recently and this is our first cycle through the new process. It appears to be working very well and staff are very engaged.

Friday, February 10th (Day 25)

We celebrate the power and value of pupil voice in all three of my schools; at Dhoon this has been recognised by our ongoing Investing in Children Status. Today, Laxey School is ready to apply for this status too and we are visited by the external assessor… we think it well and now await the publication of the report!

As has become typical this half-term, I make sure I visit all three schools on a Friday, dropping in to Celebration Assemblies and making sure I see children in classrooms.

I top and tail the day at Willaston School – our caretaker, Ms Kirkham, retires today. I have only known her for five weeks, but she has been involved with Willaston for decades and will be sorely missed. The children line up at the end of the day to give her a Guard of Honour which is a lovely moment. We’ll invite her back next week to receive some gifts in our final Celebration Assembly of the half term.

A Guard of Honour for retiring Caretaker Ms Kirkham.

From Willaston, I head straight to the airport to meet my family. We are jetting off to London for a weekend break. The London Eye, London Dungeons, a trip to see West End show Frozen, and some sight seeing are all on the menu.

Team photo at the Gherkin in London.

Monday, February 13th (Day 26)

EAS partner K Riordan visits Laxey School this morning for a DESC partnership focus on Laxey. This includes a visit to classrooms to see teaching and learning in action.

Just after lunch Tim Crouch of Nexus is booked in to see me and I acquire some great educational resources to support out T&L in Dhoon and Laxey. My Head of School at Willaston will meet him separately later this week having already booked him prior to me being appointed to Willaston.

Tuesday, February 14th (Day 27)

The huge stack of valentines post makes it a challenge to open my door and leave the house, but when I do, I head into Willaston where I start the day outside welcoming in children and parents.

Last week, IT guru Mr Townsend visited Dhoon School to deliver IT lessons across the school. This morning is the turn of Laxey School and I take the opportunity to sit in in one of his lessons to see the impact for myself. The teachers and children get so much out of this, and I know my next step is to book these sessions in for Willaston.

I finish my day back at Willaston School. Our staff meeting is focused on environment. We have a skip which staff are filling and I’ve asked everyone to think about the communal spaces and how best we can use them. I also host a visit from another headteacher – Suzanne Owens from Rushen School – we have collaborated together on CPD for our schools which is scheduled for tomorrow and we touch base to finalise plans…

Wednesday, February 15th (Day 28)

I have long been influenced by the work of Mark Burns. When I first became a headteacher nearly 10 years ago, Mark’s ‘Teaching Backwards‘ philosophy helped me define and establish myself in post. His focus on learning, and clarity, really strikes a chord with me and his latest ‘cathedral building’ messages build further on this. Today Mark is in the Isle of Man to meet with my senior team. We use him to help us review our approach to T&L, curriculum and implementation. He challenges us to consider “what beautiful looks like” and provides us with some tools to help focus our thinking and get further clarity.

My senior team and I met with Mark Burns on Wednesday to review Teaching and Learning, Curriculum and learner engagement.

Late afternoon and Mark and I travel to the Comis Hotel where he is leading a Twilight INSET Session for Laxey and Dhoon Schools, and Rushen School too where Suzanne Owens in HT. This was all set up prior to my appointment at Willaston School and my next challenge is to weave Willaston into this way of working.

The CPD session is a huge success – staff are buzzing and its been great to bring 50+ educators together to hear these messages, from HTs to teachers; from support staff to governors. I go home tired, head a bit mashed, but feeling very positive about education and my schools.

World class CPD for my teachers in their Twilight training session, led by Mark Burns.

Thursday, February 16th (Day 29)

I spend the day at Willaston School. I thank the team for welcoming me so warmly and for a great half-term at the morning briefing. I actually can’t believe it’s almost half-term! The time has flown by!

I spend the morning visiting classrooms and seeing the great teaching and learning going on across the school. It’s great to see.

So much fantastic teaching and learning going on across Willaston School.

The highlight of the day is the Valentines Disco. The children have a fab time, but more impressive is my first real glimpse into the togetherness of the Willsaton School community from staff, to parents, to helpers. They all come together to give the children a wonderful experience and it’s lovely to be a small part of it.

The Willaston School Valentine’s Disco was a great success. My personal thanks go to everyone who made this happen – there was so much work going on behind the scenes and it was lovely to see such team spirit and togetherness.

Friday, February 17th (Day 30)

Dress As An Animal Day launches across all three schools as we support the great work that goes on at the MSPCA.

At Willaston, our morning Celebration Assembly is also an opportunity to give a formal farewell to Ms Kirkham who retired last week.

With it being Friday, I make sure that I visit all three schools today. The celebration assemblies are an obvious highlight.

What a half-term! It’s passed so quickly!

As I reflect on my first 30 days at Willaston School, I am feeling more secure about what I want to do there. We’ve made a great start on environment and begun updating how we look when we communicate with parents – new newsletter, website and use of social media. But next steps remain in terms of really getting under the skin of T&L, policies and practices. At Laxey and Dhoon we’ve managed to continue our work on curriculum and QA. It’s been a lot harder than I’d imagined working across three schools, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely and the positives and gains are keenly felt. Ready for half term and a beer though!

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