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Getting gung ho with your teaching career [interview]

Drew Morris

Drew Morris has been teaching Drama for 12 years and is currently director of learning at Larkmead School in Abingdon. He is about to take the step into leadership, by joining the Aureus School in Didcot as assistant headteacher, leading on community and transition (as of September 2018). He has a keen interest in pastoral, behaviour for learning, character education and global citizenship.

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Image via interviewee’s Twitter page. // Drew Morris (left) during a Year 7 PGL Aeroball grudge match. Image via interviewee’s Twitter page. // Drew Morris (left) during a Year 7 PGL Aeroball grudge match.

An experienced Drama teacher, Drew Morris will soon become assistant head Aureus School in Didcot, Oxfordshire. Here, he discusses self-doubt, leadership tactics, celebrating your colleagues’ successes, and the Way of the Beaver...

You told us that you never thought you’d take that step into senior leadership. Why not?

Honestly, I didn’t think I could do it! I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a leader, and I didn’t want the responsibility of being one. I realise that this doesn’t sound like an assistant head speaking, let alone a trained actor who has stood on stage in front of thousands of people.

I couldn’t boss people around, but I have come to realise that there is more than one leadership style, and a combination of them can be used at different times. I know there are so many hardworking, dedicated and truly fantastic teachers in the education community; people who are feeling the same as I did. They need to have a bit more support, and to be told that they can make the move into leadership.

I have always been a confident person on the outside, but would often question myself and my ability internally. It probably manifested from years of being bullied in school and putting on a brave front. Eventually, it was Drama that allowed me to develop my confidence and my ability as a performer. After treading the boards for a while, I looked to a more stable career and chose teaching.

How was that, to begin with?

I had a whirlwind first year in education, taking on a head of Drama role in my NQT year - on top of becoming a father. After two years, I moved on to become head of Drama at another school, only being in situ for one year before moving to the school that I attended as a child.

In hindsight, I possibly hadn’t allowed myself the opportunity to get settled in any school and prove to myself that I had developed as a teacher and a leader of a department. Then, in 2011, I hit rock bottom following the death of my younger sister at the age of 28. I lost all my confidence, and suffered from anxiety for a couple of years. We all have our battles, so what makes it harder for teachers? Our battles are often very public, and if we are having a bad time or an off-day there are few places to hide. Therefore, it took the support of my family, and some wonderfully supportive colleagues, to build me back up. I had considered giving up teaching and very nearly jacked it all in; thankfully I didn’t!

You eventually became director of learning role at Larkmead School in Abingdon.

Yes, and this was a key turning point for me. I found what I was good at, and immersed myself in the pastoral role. I took part in and led various school-wide initiatives, like Building Learning Power and PiXL Edge. In preparation for the inevitable Ofsted inspection, the school had built up a culture of learning walks and non-judgemental lesson observations. Now, I had never been a fan of lesson observations, however this is where my confidence started to flourish. Through receiving positive feedback and coaching, I began to realise I was good at what I did. We talk about the importance of positive feedback for pupils, but teachers need it too, and I question if all schools are giving this.

You’re soon to become assistant headteacher at Aureus School in Didcot. How did this come about?

It was in my first performance management review as a director of learning that I was asked if I had thought about leadership. My initial response was to laugh and I replied “No way!” I was encouraged to think about it, as I had apparently shown the qualities of a great leader. For the first time, I began to look back on what I had achieved, and realised I could do it. I started researching into different types of leadership, and happened across the book Gung Ho!: How To Motivate People In Any Organization by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. I really identified with the idea of being “gung go” - being extremely excited and enthusiastic about my work. The book talks about:

  • The ‘Spirit of the Squirrel’ - helping others to see the value of their work and working towards a shared goal.
  • The ‘Way of the Beaver’ - set the goals, identify the roles and the rules, but let them be free to take control and meet that goal.
  • The ‘Gift of the Goose’ - encouragement and praise. Teachers need to be reminded of their value and how much progress they have made. Notice the little things and HONK (like a goose) their success!

I then found myself applying for my first leadership role at a new school: Aureus, a place where I had the potential to ‘grow, learn and flourish’ as a leader.

How has the transition been for you?

The application process opened my eyes, and allowed me to look back on what I had achieved. Don’t get me wrong - my leadership skills had clearly been developed at my current school, but why wasn’t I aware of what I could do? Surely, it is our responsibility as leaders to encourage and show our staff what they are capable of?

I am now in a unique position of being able to see the workings of two different schools. This has led me to realise how important it is to be outward-facing. Being a head of department can be a lonely job at times, and we need to encourage working collaboratively both internally and with other schools in the area. I suggest we utilise skills and resources, and develop more cross-curricular and cross-school links. This was demonstrated in the STEM to STEAM project I was involved in, sponsored by Artswork and featured in the article Chris Hunt wrote for you - ‘STEAM work makes the dream work’.

How are you feeling about this new opportunity ahead of you?

Oh, I can’t wait to step into my role as assistant headteacher at the Aureus School managing… no, sorry, leading community and transition. I am looking forward to bringing the community into the school, and the school into the community. One of my main objectives is to develop the global citizenship curriculum - educating the pupils about the world around them and their role in making a difference.

I want to make them aware of what they can achieve, and have self-confidence in everything they do. I intend to encourage and motivate my pupils and my team to be 10% braver; to make that leap and become gung ho in every sense. I have just done so, and I am looking forward to the journey ahead of me. Watch this space…

Any final key points for teachers and potential leaders out there?

Absolutely:

  • Get yourself involved in school-wide initiatives.
  • Take a moment to stop and take stock of what you have already achieved.
  • Don’t be afraid to work with other colleagues and departments to learn from them.
  • Stop and tell yourself you are doing a good job.
  • Notice what your colleagues are doing, and praise them for their good work - it might be the first time they have been told this.
  • Be outward-facing and make connections beyond your department and school.
  • A sense of humour can go a long way!

I’d also recommend these texts:

  • Gung Ho!: How To Motivate People In Any Organization by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles
  • When Adults Change Everything Changes by Paul Dix
  • From My Heart: Transforming Lives Through Values by Dr Neil Hawkes
  • The Power of Character: Lessons from the Frontline by Dr Andrew Reay
  • Building Learning Power: Helping Young People Become Better Learners by Guy Claxton

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