If you’re a subject leader, you have to make friends in school strategically. If you’re the head of English like me, you firstly need to befriend whoever guards the gate to reprographics needs the bounciest, sunniest, most dribblingly sycophantic version of you that you can muster. We’re talking bottle of wine at Christmas, chocolate egg at Easter, flowers on their birthday. Because they can do something that you could never do since the highest qualification you’re likely hold is in English Literature (or the one pertaining to your subject), a degree that required you to pontificate on postmodernism for 2 hours a week – they can fix the photocopier, a machine so psychopathic, so actively engaged in the utter destruction of your soul, that it makes HAL 9000 seem like a Care Bear. “I’m sorry James, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” you imagine it says as it mangles your Year 10 mock exams in its hot, metal, inky gob.
Homewood is a large Secondary academy in rural Kent. The new post of teacher researcher was first created here in 2013, as a part time role, in conjunction with my existing role as Science teacher and PhD student. It has the full support of my principal, Sally Lees, who has a vision of Homewood as a school that has evidence based practice as its foundation, and practitioner led research embedded in its staff development. This article explores the use of methodology and philosophical worldview in shaping the tasks and responsibilities of a teacher researcher.
I don’t believe any educator or administrator wishes to start a cult, but far too often our leadership approach mirrors this kind of approach. Without knowing it, we can create a school or classroom that depends on us; one that revolves around our personality, our authority and depends on our presence to run smoothly.
1. Tell us about how you got into teaching.
To be honest, it’s the vocation I always wanted to follow. I loved teaching and learning right from being a leader at my local church youth group as a teenager. After completing my degree and PGCE, I went straight into the classroom and have never looked back. I’ve met other fantastic teachers who have joined teaching after several career changes so there are plenty of routes in! I think the key to remaining fired up is to evolve your role in different schools. It will keep you fresh and motivated. Over the years I’ve been an assistant head of year, outdoor education and expedition coordinator, departmental and faculty leader, and now senior leader. All have had their unique rewards and challenges.
1. Tell us about how you got into teaching.
I was a solicitor for nine years, and when the property market crashed in 2008 I was sadly made redundant. I took another job up in London as a compliance manager and it was during this time that I realised that it was time to accept that my first career was over. I had always wanted to be a teacher whilst at school, but somehow in the course of my studies had side-tracked into Law. There was suddenly a window of opportunity to re-train, and I took it with both hands. I found an amazing school who were willing to accept me into their fold and, as they say, the rest is history. I found the most amazing job in the world. I trained through the Graduate Teacher Programme. Practical and hands on, the GTP enabled me to immediately to experience teaching and school life and I loved it. Somehow, through the twists and turns of life, I'd found my home.
As Sir Anthony Seldon stood on the stage, he slipped his jacket down his arms, slid his shoes off and kicked them to the side, chatting away to the audience as though nothing was amiss… then, out of the blue, he flipped himself upside down, into a headstand, balancing solidly, still. “I think I’ll do the rest of the talk this way,” he said, humour in his tone. The great academic from Wellington College was doing a yoga move on the stage and the audience went nuts! Where was this great feat of physical and mental strength happening? At The IPEN (International Positive Education Network) Festival in Dallas, Texas.
So, if you’re a Middle Leader, what motivated you to move to that role? It may be that after spending some time as a classroom teacher you felt ready for a freshchallenge, and wanted the opportunity to extend your sphere of influence into other classrooms in your subject or pastoral area. It may be that the chance to work with and through other people, to support and challenge, encourage and inspire other staff, in addition to trying to get the best from students, constituted an appealing new area of responsibility. I’ve previously written about why you might want to move to a Middle Leadership role and how you might start to prepare yourself.
There are very few secondary teachers that would argue with the view that the role of the timetabler is one of the most difficult in the school. Most teachers have a certain respect for what they describe as a thankless task, while many senior leaders seem to display a mild fascination with it, riddled with an underlying fear of the day when they are asked to do it themselves. But does the school timetable deserve this negative image? What is it about the role that scares people? Are the rewards of the job great enough to throw yourself into the deep end? If you had to do it, would you sink or swim?