Having toyed with the idea of leaving the teaching profession, especially after my first child was born, to open by own coffee shop with in-house baked breads and pastries, or open a boutique bed & breakfast somewhere in the country, I always came back to teaching. It’s what I know best and what I’m passionate about, as I know I can really make a difference to young people's lives. So instead of leaving the profession, I took the plunge and applied to work in the brand-new Aureus School in the south of Oxfordshire, whose motto is “Grow, learn, flourish” - for both students and teachers. For anyone that is old enough to remember Montell Jordan - this is how we do it:
Our workload is made easier by every member of staff that works at the school having a Google Chromebook. Everything that is written on a Google Chrome device is saved automatically, so nothing can go missing. Documents can also be easily placed into a team Drive, where other colleagues can access the documents at the same time and be shared without having to attach them to emails. Even more brilliantly, your colleagues can work and annotate on a document at the same time as you. Google Chrome is how we operate all our technology and is easy to have access to your documents anywhere, all over the world.
2. Flexible leaders
It is very easy to feel trapped, after having a child, going back to work and asking to become part-time. I have heard so many times how schools relinquish teaching responsibilities after women have had babies. When a woman resigns to the fact that this is their career - based on the fact that she has had children - she might conclude that they can go no further. Hannah Wilson, our school’s headteacher, challenges the idea that women cannot be part-time leaders or progress their careers just because they have had children. Having children shouldn't stop a women to aspire. All staff with children starting school were able to start work later on their child's first day. As Hannah says, if we are going to embrace part-time leaders, we must also embrace all that comes with that.
3. Staff wellbeing room
The staff have a wellbeing room here at Aureus. No technological devices are allowed beyond the door, and staff are expected to engage with each other in conversation, or to spend some time being mindful. There are wellbeing pledges displayed by every member of staff in this room. It is a relaxing space with good natural light and plentiful amounts of tea, coffee and flavour-infused teas.
4. Dining experiences
Every member of staff that works at the school is treated to a hot lunch with students, everyday, as part of our dining experience. The logic behind this experience is for students to learn the basics of table etiquette and eat their lunch in a calm manner, chatting with friends and staff. With students and staff having this time to sit down and eat a hot two-course meal together, we ensure that everyone has eaten a healthy and balanced meal with the correct amount of energy to resume the day.
5. Behaviour management
We reflect on children's lives - where they have come from and what traumas they may have already been privy to in their short lives. We practice restorative behaviour management, taking the time to communicate with those children about what happened, or what went wrong. It’s important to discuss what impact poor behaviour has had on others, as well as what needs to happen to put things right and not make the same mistake again. We believe that all learning comes from failure, and those conversations are much more powerful and effective than punishments such as detentions. Instead of shouting, we treat students with kindness and compassion.
There are no power-dressing, unapproachable members of the leadership team. They don’t even call themselves SLT. Yes, they lead the school, but it doesn’t mean that they are better human beings than anyone else that works there. It's the simple things that makes the difference, such as saying “good morning” to everyone and asking how their weekend was. Taking an interest in others families and asking what holidays they may have been on - it really doesn’t take much. We socialise, go to TeachMeets, share lifts, visit the pub after school on a Friday when it's pay day... We want to celebrate the Christmas holidays with one another by having a whole-school social. Why can't we all be friends? Why can’t we show care, kindness and compassion for one another? We are true professionals - and we maintain those relationships at work. But the key difference is that we nurture our culture so that all staff have a voice, no matter who they are in the school.
7. Values are at the core of everything
Our school’s values are made and decided upon by all members of staff that work in the school, not just the teaching staff or SLT. This decision had to come from everyone in order for us to all believe them and live them. We embed these values in everything we do. What is the good in having a values-based system if nobody knows what the values are? We do this by displaying them in every assembly as the children enter. Each month has a value of focus, with all staff delivering engaging themed assemblies, not just SLT. We further reflect and develop the understanding of those values with students in a 30 minute coaching session at the end of each day. Students reflect on how they have shown a particular value and how they could develop them further. These values are also present and planned throughout the curriculum.
We believe that everything comes from the top (staff in general) down for students to learn. How we set the tone for each lesson is how the students will follow. What we do, the students will naturally want to copy and replicate. For example, there is a ‘no phone’ policy in our day-to-day work. Students aren’t allowed them - so why are we? We have very few behaviour issues regarding these devices, which I know can be crippling for school culture. As a body of staff, we believe in these 12 values and live them completely. They are embedded in our culture because of our strong belief towards them. Hannah Wilson has openly said we are not an exam factory. We are developing good, happy and authentic young humans that can become good citizens who are employable.
8. Mental health
To help break down the stigma surrounding mental illness, it’s important to instill in students that ‘it's ok not to be ok’. We teach them the best ways in order to look after themselves, using research and real-life examples. We share these methods in assemblies and end-of-the-day coaching sessions, where we are open and honest about how we can protect ourselves to lead long, healthy and happy lives. Julie Hunter, the deputy headteacher, has put together a unique package for all students to practice mindfulness four times a week, for 30 minutes, before lessons start. In every sense this is a calming process, where students focus on themselves. We practice mindful strategies, mindful movement, mindful art and mindful reading each week. It's a time for them to focus on the moment, their breathing and practice, allowing their mind to focus rather than letting emotions to take over their behaviours.
If people are happy in their work, they feel valued. They feel they have a voice that people will listen to and be interested in - they will work hard. For whatever reasons...whether through professional or personal lives, everyone will struggle at times. However, a little bit of kindness and guidance can make all the difference. Wellbeing is not something that is put in place for one month in an academic year, nor is it a something a school should say they do but don’t really. The only way anyone will reap the benefits is to believe in it and live it.
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