New Headship: First 100 Days

Snow Days and School Daze: Weeks 7 and 8 In A Headteacher’s Journey at Willaston School

Max Kelly continues to chart his daily adventures as a headteacher in this ongoing blog which captures his first 100 days in post at Willaston School. From deep-cleaning the school after the half-term break to introducing new changes in the lunchtime service, this blog takes you through the ups and downs of school life. With a focus on improving the learning environment, a challenge to staff to transform the main corridor into a wonderful thematic display and the arrival of spring with Daffodil Days and World Book Day, author Max Kelly also faces unexpected staff news, technical difficulties and two snow days…

As the half-term break came to an end, I was more than ready to get back to work. While it’s always nice to have a break from the daily routine, this one had been far from relaxing. On a personal level, some upsetting news had come into my life, leaving me feeling sad and emotionally exhausted. And on a work perspective, I had been busy with several visits to Willaston School to check on a deep clean, meet with my Head of School to discuss school-related matters, and sit down with my Chair of Governors. With Weeks 7 and 8 drawing close, I was looking forward to returning to work and finding some sense of normalcy. With my focus finally starting to balance out between my new school, Willaston, and my existing schools, Laxey and Dhoon, I was eager to dive back into my work and reconnect with my pupils and staff.

Monday, February 27th (Day 31)

First day back at work after the half-term break. Straight into Willaston School. The school had been deep-cleaned over half-term and it was great to see (and smell!) the difference. 

Big change introduced today – the plastic “prison-style” trays that children are served lunch on were replaced with proper china plates and bowls. This brings Willaston in line with the lunchtime service at Laxey School and Dhoon School and was very popular with our pupils today. 

Social post from first day back after half-term including introducing “real” plates at lunchtimes in Willaston School.

Spent the afternoon at Laxey School. Good to catch up on some admin and paperwork and visit classrooms to see the children. 

Tuesday, February 28th (Day 32)

A day spent largely at Willaston School. The mobile classrooms have been getting cleared out, and I went to look at progress on this. Some new furniture for our entrance area arrived – for now its been put into storage until the paintwork, flooring and wallpapering can be done. In the afternoon I led the staff meeting – renewing our focus on improving the learning environment. Some of this involves continuing to tidy, throw out, and reorganise; but the main thrust of my message today was a challenge to the staff to use this half-term to transform the main corridor into a wonderful thematic display. Ideas were exchanged, and staff seemed enthusiastic about picking this piece of work up. 

Wednesday, March 1st (Day 33)

Two of my teachers from the original Laxey/Dhoon Federation were visiting a school in Liverpool today for our IQM Cluster meeting focusing on inclusion. Coincidentally, I was further involved with IQM today having been invited to contribute as a guest on the IQM Live Stream which was looking at Element 4. Host Dave Stott did a tremendous job in setting everything up, but there were gremlins in the system and we couldn’t get the Teams connection to work no matter how hard we tried. Despite the technical difficulties we did manage to bring me in eventually (although the sound was far from perfect) and the video recording can be seen below. 

IQM Live – Session 6 – Focused on Element 4   – Teaching and Learning – Learning Environment, Planning Resources and Pedagogy. It features Assessor Max Kelly the Executive Headteacher of Dhoon and Laxey Primary Schools in the Isle of Man. 

Thursday, March 2nd (Day 34)

World Book Day celebrated across all three of my schools today. The focus was very much on reading rather than dressing up, and children were encouraged to bring in favourite books, share stories and talk about authors. At Willaston the staff encouraged children to design book characters on potatoes which was great fun. 

Favourite characters from favourite books – some of the wonderfully creative outcomes from Willaston School on #WBD2023

The Isle of Man Newspapers ran a picture special which featured my schools. 

The Isle of Man Newspapers ran a picture special which featured my schools. 

Willaston’s Chair of Governors called into school late morning, and it presented a useful opportunity to catch up on a variety of school related matters.

Friday, March 3rd (Day 35)

The first of three Daffodil Days, one at each of my schools. Today was Willaston’s turn. In the autumn term all children had been given a bulb to plant by Douglas Town Council and today the children were asked to bring their fully grown and flowered daffodil in, and to present it in a decorated pot. 

The sight was glorious and definitely a much needed sign of spring. 

I also launched a revamped Celebration Assembly at Willaston School today, aligning it more closely to that offered in Laxey School and Dhoon School. It is always so fantastic to be able to celebrate the successes of our pupils and this is so important. Willaston already did this very well before my arrival in the school, and so the format required only a few tweaks to help revamp it. 

Revamped (… slightly “tweaked”…) Celebration Assembly at Willaston School.

I also managed to visit Laxey School and Dhoon School to be present at their Celebration Assemblies. The day finished with the publication of the March newsletter across the three schools, before Laxey’s School Council hosted a Cake Bake Sale with all proceeds being donated to the Turkey/Syria Disaster Fund in respect of the recent earthquakes there.

Cake Sale at Laxey School raised over £400 for the Turley/Syria Earthquake Fund.

Monday, March 6th (Day 36)

Tottenham lost over the weekend, and Mr Michael the lollypop man at Willaston took great delight in reminding me of this when I went to stand with him at the start of the day to welcome in the children and families.

We took delivery of a new unit for salads, breads, cheeses and yoghurts etc at Willaston School – when coupled with the introduction of “real” plates last week, the improvements to the lunchtime dining experience for our pupils continues apace.

More lunchtimes improvments at Willaston School.

After a few hours at Willaston School I headed over to Laxey to check in there and attend a meeting. During the afternoon, I took a safeguarding call from my Head of School at Dhoon before receiving some very unexpected staff news towards the end of the day…. more on that in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, March 7th (Day 37)

My laptop gave up the ghost today so my first stop was into Government Technology Services (GTS) in Douglas to drop my machine off for repairs. It meant that for the rest of the day I had no access to Teams or email which was surprisingly liberating. I was able to spend time visiting various classrooms in Willaston and continue my observations about the teaching and learning within the school. 

In the afternoon I attended a meeting at DESC HQ with the Department’s CEO and other heads who are running multiple schools to discuss the role and consider the challenges and opportunities brought about through executive leadership. 

Just before 5pm I had a call to say my laptop was ready for collection, so the evening was spent catching up on the many emails that had accumulated during the day. 

Wednesday, March 8th (Day 38)

Today was Dhoon School’s turn for Daffodil Day, this time supported by Garff Commisioners. I loved seeing the results – such a bright, cheerful display that brought joy to the heart. 

A beautiful display of diffs in this year’s Daffodil and Decorated Pot Competition at Dhoon School.

The Lempen Theatre Company were in Laxey School to present their story without words: Flotsam and Jetsam. It was a wonderful production – all pupils were able to watch – and it was a fantastic injection of live theatre and culture into our curriculum offer.

The Lempen Puppet Theatre put on a spectacular performance for the pupils at Laxey School this morning.

Meanwhile, the Isle of Man weather forecast was looking ominous……. Snow!? 

Thursday, March 9th (Day 39)

On Wednesday evening, in the light of an adverse weather forecast, the Isle of Man Government announced that all schools in the Island would be closed today. Instead of having the expected typical school day, I used the opportunity to catch up on paperwork and prepare for remote learning. Dhoon and Laxey were well prepared for delivering remote learning due to our contingency plans which were developed, tried, tested and reviewed during the Covid19 pandemic. 

As it happened, the snow never arrived on Thursday, but conditions were not great and as the evening wore on the flakes started to appear… 

Friday, March 10th (Day 40)

We woke up to snow across the Isle of Man and another island-wide school closure was announced by the Government. 

We awoke to a reasonable coverage of snow across the Isle of Man on Friday morning – it was enough to result in island-wide school closures.
Dhoon School covered in snow on Friday morning. (📸 Ian Kelly)

At Laxey we had planned to hold our Daffodil Day, indeed Gracie had finished her entry during yesterday’s snow day. Some early morning messages between my Head of School and I, and the local Commisioners, resulted in a decision to postpone until Monday. We got that message out on our socials asap. 

At Willaston, we had booked Lempen Theatre Company to perform today – our school administrator made early morning contact and managed to rearrange their visit for next week! 

Once all the rearrangements had been made and communicated across the schools, I settled down to work through various tasks including setting up the online booking system for the upcoming parents evenings across the schools. Of course, I also found a bit of time in the day to get out in the snow with Gracie to go sledding, though by the end of the day most of the snow had meted away or turned to slush. 

Sledding on Snow Day #Friday

Not quite the way I’d expected the week to unfold, but with 40 days under my belt now I can reflect on many positive steps forward at Willaston including improvements to lunchtimes, revamped assemblies, an ever improving school environment, a new school-wide display being developed, and lots of great activities across all three schools including theatre productions, daffodil competitions and positive press coverage. 

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