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1000 Years of Experience

I returned to teaching in 1992, having only completed one year when I qualified in 1976. So I have some twenty three years of experience in education and another sixteen years in business and commerce. My last fifteen years have been as a headteacher and I have learned so much, and continue to do so, that I wish I knew when I started in teaching and leadership that I know now. I share these thoughts with you all and my younger self.
I have always been an idealist and a bit of a late developer in everything I have tackled in my career and am still developing now. My first thought would be:

  • Stay true to your values and principles. These will develop over time, but should be the touchstone for your practice and the demands placed upon you during your career. Stick with your instincts. If something doesn't feel right to you, it probably isn't. So, question what you are asked to do and whether it is the right thing to do.
  • Always remember why you wanted to be a teacher. For me it was to make a difference for all pupils, and because I love working with young people. When times are tough and you are facing challenges try to remember why you do what you do, and the difference it makes to so many lives.
  • Stay positive and ignore the negativity you will come across in individuals and some staffrooms. Find the positive people, who feel good about themselves and the work they do, and make sure they find you for the same reasons. 
  • Remember that in your classroom what is always the most important issue is learning. Not teaching, not curriculum, not the resource, not policy, or anything else, always learning. You probably only have a sketchy understanding of learning, so make it a priority that you get to understand learning and how your practice impacts on this. Everything else needs to be a support for the learning going on. If you find things impacting negatively on learning stop doing them and do something else.
  • Understand that career long professional development never ends and has no destination. It is best when focused on your practice and identified by yourself. It should be done by you, not to you. Resist the temptation to copy 'good practice' instead look to understand the principles that lie behind. Context is crucial and there are no 'one size fits all' solutions or magic bullets to school and individual development.
  • Beware of 'snake oil' salesmen offering to solve all your learning problems with the latest resource or programme.
  • You are in the best profession in the world. But, it's just a job so learn to prioritise professionally and privately. Work hard but play hard and have plenty of you and yours time. Stressed, tired teachers lead to stressed and tired learners who can't achieve their potential. Smile and laugh as often as you can. Accept that you won't get it right all of the time, but understand that is all part of learning. Don't try to hide your mistakes.
  • There is not a headteacher or senior leader who doesn't make mistakes or who has all the answers. If you are sat in a meeting thinking you must be the only one who doesn't understand what is being said, you are not.

No-one ever offered me such advice when I first started teaching. If they had, perhaps my development might have been a tad quicker at times, and I wouldn't have banged my head against so many metaphorical and real walls!


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