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Two weeks in and I still love my job!

Well, I have been back at school for two weeks now and am just about able to pause for breath. Amongst the things I have discovered in those two weeks is that I still love my job!

As a school leader it can be a trepidatious returning to work after a summer holiday of some six weeks, especially if you have been doing it for some time. Will you still be up to it, and enthusiastic? Will you still be excited? Will you still have the same energy levels? And, at my age, will you be able to remember everything you need to, including all those pesky passwords? are some of the questions that may pass through your head as you contemplate the end of the summer break and the return to what can often be the frenetic working environment of your average school and its head. Or it could be just me who thinks about all of this stuff.

Anyway, ten working days in and I am answering all the above questions positively, including the password one, though I did have those all written down somewhere.

Those ten working days have been very busy and engaging and included some of the following. One In-Service Day where we welcomed back staff, some of whom were new. We set out the agenda, via the School Improvement Plan, for the year ahead and where our main priorities lay. Staff were reminded of key messages about child protection and given news about senior management changes within the local authority that occurred over the summer break. We updated them about our own staffing changes and filled them in about any building works that had happened or were planned for the year ahead. Then everyone was off to their classrooms to prepare for the pupil arrivals the next day, Tuesday. To tell the truth I had been in school unofficially for three days the previous week, along with my DHT and most of the teachers. I am sure this is a common picture in most schools, but it is worth it if it reduces some of the early pressure you can feel, as a school leader or teacher, at the start of any new school year. It also helps you to be more prepared for the pupils arriving and gives them a better opportunity to settle quickly into a new year and new learning. We hope this will improve next year, with a proposal to start the new session with two In-Service Days, instead of one. This would allow us to have one full day for school development activities and still give everyone a full day in their classrooms for preparations, a much better scenario in everyone's eyes.

Pupils returned on the Tuesday morning and we were immediately faced with six new pupils arriving with their parents, quite a common experience after a summer break. Myself and the DHT had to speak to all of these children and parents, as well as to be out and visible in the school yard to greet our new P1s and all their parents, some of whom were a little anxious. Quite a balancing act, but we were helped by glorious weather, which is another common occurrence on our return from a damp summer break. When everyone was happily ensconced in their new classrooms, it was time to visit them all to hear about their holidays and say hello. At this stage, I still hadn't got near my computer and the hundreds of emails that awaited my attention. No problem there, as most of them would be junk and be consigned to the bin. A very busy morning finished with me heading off to the other school I lead to see the new pupils and parents there as well. More visits to classrooms and then back to the bigger school to tackle those pesky emails and other administrative duties. Amongst these is putting together a proposed programme for staff development sessions, pulling together the first newsletter for both schools, producing letters for parents in specific classes where staffing had changed over the holidays and meeting with the DHT to flesh out our respective tasks and priorities over the next few days. Then out to meet parents again as they collected children and to check in on staff after the first day, and particularly new members.

The second day was again a very busy day as we continued to pull things together for the new school year. More visits to classrooms and meetings with school partners who were eager to get their activities planned and into diaries. We had our first staff meeting. We shared information and photos of new pupils so that staff knew who they were when they bumped into them around the school. We also shared some prepared draft programmes and timetables and asked staff to have a look and make suggestions, or spot anything missing. Made sure new messages up on school websites and starting to use the Facebook page to keep parents informed. Had to deal with staff illness and members of staff being seconded to help at local authority. That means we have to sort out an advert for a teacher to cover one of the secondments. We have some supply in till situation sorted out. Another visit to other school to ensure I am visible and available. More emails to clear and arrangements to be made about our participation in events to celebrate the opening of the new Borders Railway. This will involve an assembly next week and someone winning a Golden Ticket for a ride on the first train. Could we remind all children of the story of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory? Yeah, no problem.

Thursday already and already we can see pupils settled and moving on with their learning. Visiting art teacher in and beginning to work with classes, so is our PE teacher. Meeting with Active Schools Coordinator to go over plans for year and term. This will involve lots of extra-curricular activities available at lunchtimes and after school. More meetings with DHT as things start to take shape. Have to phone headteachers of school I am working with on Friday to confirm arrangements and timings. Dinner and playground duties to make sure everything is bedding in well, as we have new playground supervisors. Also had my first meeting after school with local headteachers, primary and secondary, to discuss plans for cross-sector working groups and local issues and developments for the year ahead. 

On Friday we had our first whole-school assembly of the new session. Everyone is there as we take this opportunity to bring the school community together to look forward and to celebrate some successes, both in school and out, already achieved by pupils. As we are working an asymmetric week, school finishes at lunchtime on Fridays. As soon as the children had left I had another quick meet with my DHT then I was off to work with colleagues from four other schools in the local authority. They were starting their journey of collaborative enquiry and I was there to help support them. I wrote about this event in my last post. I have spoken to the two headteachers involved and the response to this by their staff has been overwhelmingly positive and has enthused them ahead of the new school year. On my way back I called into school and had to chase staff home for the weekend, another common experience.

I managed to draw breath over the weekend and reflect on the week and everything that had happened. As usual, the start to the term had been busy and challenging, but you know what? I had enjoyed it all. One of the attractions of school leadership is its busyness and the complexity of issues and factors you have to deal with. Making sense of all this and findings ways to deal with it all in collaboration with staff and colleagues is one of the job's great satisfactions. Helping all the pupils grow, develop and learn, and supporting staff to allow this to happen, is what we do and that is what everything I had been involved in this first week was about. Result!

This second week has been just as hectic. Back on Monday to our first letter of concern from a parent, which was sorted quickly. Plans completed for our 'Golden Ticket' assembly tomorrow where someone was going to find an invitation to travel on the first train on the new Borders Railway in chocolate bars to be handed to them. More meetings with DHT and individual staff members happened over the day and member of local authority staff arrived with chocolate bars for the assembly. This visit was followed by email with video and powerpoints to use in assembly prepared by local authority. Looked at these quickly and decided which snippets we might be able to use.

Tuesday started with assemblies. Our PT led the one in the smaller school, helped by the local minister, as I prepared the assembly at the larger school. A Golden Ticket winner was found and she was very excited. Only mangaged to get preparations at other school completed before two local councillors arrived for the assembly, one resplendent as Willy Wonka himself, complete with top hat and cane. Sometimes you can't make this stuff up. Provided them with tea and coffee as they were early and took the opportunity to explain to one of them why I didn't really think the Academy system, 'like they have in England' was necessarily a good idea for Scotland. 'Okay, thanks for the lecture,' he smiled as we left my office. The assembly went well and we found another Golden Ticket winner. Afterwards I had to phone parents and let the local authority know who our winners were, after thanking and saying goodbye to the councillors. More dinner and playground duties and then visits to classrooms. 

On Wednesday I had an appointment, so the DHT led the staff meeting where we finalised amongst other things our working time agreement, visiting teacher timetables, arrangements for our first few weeks of collegiate activity and started to consider Christmas Concert arrangements ( I know) and themes for our assemblies over the year. I called in to smaller school to visit classes and speak to children about their learning, starting early this year. Amazing what they could tell me and why, and how they were so engaged and understanding of class routines, even the P1s. That's what experienced and skilled teachers can achieve when pupils are well motivated and enthusiastic. Then it was across to the second school and straight into dinner duty. Over lunchtime we had our first accident in the playground which left a pupil with a badly grazed face and chipped tooth. Waited to meet and speak to parent, who was great about this, even though her daughter looked as though she had gone a round or two with Rocky.   After they had left for the doctors, I then had time to carry out further investigation of the incident and speak to others involved. Assured this was a complete accident, I then had to complete the online paperwork required by local authority. Then in to more classrooms and conversations with pupils and staff. The day finished with staff collaborating to plan work across levels and the curriculum, whilst I prepared interview questions and arrangements for the next day, as we were seeking to appoint a member of staff for our nursery.

Next day, was dominated by the interviews myself and the DHT were holding to complete our nursery, or Early Learning and Child Care setting as it is now known, staffing. Interviews are demanding of all involved and at the end of the process, usually, there is only going to be one happy candidate. One of the hardest jobs is phoning unsuccessful candidates afterwards and dealing with their disappointment. I always like to give everyone feedback that helps them and thank them for taking the time to apply and attend for interview. They all took the news quite well, but I felt for all of them. I could have employed any of them, but a decision has to be made. The day finished with a leaving event for two senior education managers at regional headquarters. They were leaving after many years service with Scottish Borders, and other authorities before that, and both had been in post for most of my time as a headteacher. The event was both moving and funny in parts as they and we recalled their time with the authority and some of the memorable events we had all shared. It was good to wish them well and see them before they left and such events can remind us all of the people and colleagues that have supported and worked with us through the best of times, and sometimes the worst of times. They can also remind us, if we need reminding, that it is people who make the difference, not systems and structures.

Today is Friday. I started the day by meeting with my DHT to recap the staff meeting results, then I had to complete all the paperwork and contract requests following yesterday's interviews. I then spent a bit of time completing my slides for the presentation I will be delivering tomorrow at 'ResearchEd' at Glasgow University. I am presenting a session looking at the importance of research for leadership and teacher development in schools with Gillian Hamilton who is CEO of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership. Gillian will be talking about the importance of research to SCEL and I will speak about how we have used research to inform our actions and development in my schools. I cleared my emails, then headed to my other school to check in with them before the weekend. We have a new visiting PE teacher and I spoke to her and observed her working with the children. Everyone was having a great time and being very active and collaborative. I was briefed by the PT, who is based there, about any issues, nothing major, wished everyone a good weekend then headed off to headquarters. I dropped some pupil records off at another school and then headed home, (remember asymmetric week). When I arrived home I cleared emails and phoned Gillian Robinson from Edinburgh University to arrange to meet up next week to discuss more input from her into the schools, and the writing we are supposed to be doing together.

The above is really just a flavour of some of my activity in the first two weeks of the new session, but it is a fair reflection of most weeks as a school leader. Some will even be busier and some will be quieter, and  they will all be different. They are interesting, challenging, stimulating and exciting to various degrees, but I do look back and see how much I continue to enjoy them, I don't think you could do the job if you didn't enjoy them. The week is not over, because I am off to Glasgow tomorrow. If you are there, I will be the tired looking guy with glasses, but hopefully with a big smile on my face.


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