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Final holiday reflections as the new school year beckons

Well, my latest visit to Oz comes to an end tomorrow. We shall be flying back to the UK and I expect to be back in school, for some time, on Thursday, jet-lag permitting. It has been a super break for my wife and I, staying with our youngest daughter and partner based in Perth. We were here two years ago and had a great time then as well. During that trip the four of us travelled up the west coast to Exmouth, visiting some amazing places and experiencing some equally amazing sights during our two week journey in our camper-van. This time we flew to Cairns on the east coast and then spent three weeks travelling south to Sydney. This journey was different, but equally amazing, because of the experiences we had, and places we visited. We both feel as though we have had a complete break and I know I have been able to switch off after the busyness of end of term back in Scotland. This has got to be the first requirement of any holiday for teachers or principals, that we switch off, recharge our batteries, spend time with our families and remember what is truly important in our lives. Our jobs are demanding and taxing, but to perform them well we really do need to get that work/life balance equation right, and give our own well-being some thought and TLC. Mission accomplished in this respect.

I also recognise that I never really totally switch off from my role for very long. I love my job and in lots of respects it is also my hobby. I like to think about education and my role, and how it might change and be improved. I do this on my terms, because I want to. Not because someone else is telling me I ought to. So whilst in Australia I have managed a little reading, thinking, talking and collaborating around education and my leadership role. I have read a couple of books, The Moral Imperative of School Leadership by Michael Fullan and Distributed Leadership Matters by Alma Harris, two of my favourite writers and researchers in education. If you haven't already read these, I would recommend them both to teachers and school leaders. Both books were interesting and contained lots of thoughts and insights that chimed with my own beliefs, experience and practice, and I believe both will help not only my own thinking but also with a book I am currently writing on Making Sense of Practitioner Enquiry in the Classroom. I heard whilst out here that Routledge have agreed to publish this and it should be available  next year, something for me to look froward to and to focus on when I return. I also read a few papers on leadership and educational issues that had been given to me whilst here, or sent to me via Twitter. At times, depending on wifi links, I was able to keep half an eye on some of the things happening in education here in Australia, and some back home in the UK and Scotland. Amazing how similar the coverage seemed to be and the reaction from educationalists both here and at home. The latest announcement back in the UK to catch my attention is the possibility of the reintroduction of Grammar schools in the UK. Just when you think political ideology impacting on schools and children's learning couldn't get any worse, or further from what research says should happen, you are continually proven wrong! Press coverage down here has been dominated by NAPLAN results and the debate about the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of this approach in raising attainment and closing gaps. There are definite lessons and messages for the UK and Scotland from this debate, but that is for another time, or post.

I can deal with the shifting political and educational landscape back in the UK when I get home. Back here in Oz I have also had the opportunity to meet up with a number of educationalists from this part of the world, who had previously remained 'virtual' colleagues via Twitter. I met up with Stephen Breen, Andrea Stringer, Paul Williams and Deborah Netolicky and I am grateful to them all for giving me their time and their thoughts on education and the issues we all face. Each of them has a different role within the Australian education system and each has allowed me to tap into their perspectives and their insights. I am always reassured by the willingness of educators everywhere to connect and share and my Australian colleagues were no different. I will be in touch with them again, and many others, when I return to the UK, as we all continue to develop connections and understandings to promote system leadership and development. Andrea and I are going to be collaborating on a 'thought piece' for an International Educational Leadership journal, when hopefully we can share developments from both our systems. Whilst here I have also been able to take part in a few Twitter chats in real time, rather than late at night or early in the morning when back in the UK.

This may all sound like a lot of work-related activity whilst ostensibly on holiday. However, I have been down here for nearly six weeks and these activities have been spread across that time, so I don't feel too guilty! 

Come Thursday I expect to be back in my own schools preparing for the start of our new school year. Staff return, hopefully as refreshed as I am, next Monday and children the next day. I am already beginning to think about the start to the year. Almost twenty three hours in the air should give me more time to gather my thoughts for the start of term as well. Our school improvement plan was completed before I left for Australia but my immediate priority will be to settle our staffing ahead of the school year and begin to consider our immediate priorities in terms of getting the school year under way. The contacts I have made, and conversations I've had, will help inform my actions in those early days, either directly or indirectly through their influence on my thinking. Working in education is rewarding and incredibly challenging. The issues we face are often similar, and sometimes unique. What I do know is that the best way to deal with issues, challenges and change is through collaboration at all levels. I have been supported in my own ongoing development journey by many colleagues throughout my career and my experiences in Australia have been a continuation of that support. The ultimate beneficiaries of all that support and collaboration have been the children in the schools I lead, and the wider Scottish education system. Hopefully, I have also helped others in some way on their own development journey.

Thank you everyone in Australia, and good luck to you all if you are about to start your own school year, or if, like in Oz, you are heading towards the end of the school session. I will be back in touch when I get back to the UK. Collaboration whilst vital, needs to be part of a continuous process and part of our professional disposition, so that there are benefits for all. Watch this space.

PS Thanks to Vicky and Paul for hosting us 😊

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