Preparing for the new year as a school leader

Christabel Shepherd

Christabel has over 30 years’ experience of teaching in both primary and secondary settings. She is a National Leader of Education, leader of the Exceed SCITT English programme, facilitator for the NPQSL, Pupil Premium Reviewer, and a system leader of school-to-school support. She has extensive experience of leading on school-wide provision for more able learners, having used the NACE Challenge Framework to audit and develop provision in two schools, with both going on to achieve the NACE Challenge Award. She is a firm believer in the power of growth mind-set and the importance of challenge for all learners.Chris is a wife to Phil and a Mum to Kit (24) and Molly (22).

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Well, here we are again! The summer holidays are over, batteries have been recharged and, in my case, a new hip is in place. I love September, embarking on another exciting and, inevitably, action packed school year, and I’m looking forward to so many things.

It really goes without saying that the best part about returning to school is seeing the children again: their smiles and excitement, and that zest for learning. Then there’s the cohorts of 2, 3 and 4 year-olds brand new to our schools. These children are often nervous about coming to school for the first time but, with such skilled and caring staff, it doesn’t take long for them to shrug off their shyness, and, instead of hiding behind their parents, begin running across the playground to get into school. Already, after 1 week, our new children are settled and happy. In fact, at this time of year it is usually the parents of the children starting school for the first time who find it the most difficult. There are certain tools we use at both Copthorne and Holybrook that help make the transition easier for parents. Online assessment and reporting tools are so valuable in keeping parents involved in their child’s learning and celebrating the experiences they are having each day – as well as reassuring them that all is well. We use cloud based systems such as Early Essence and Tapestry, which allow us to share those ‘magic moments’ with parents by sending them regular photographs and updates about their child’s developmental steps.

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As a school leader, parental engagement continues to be a real priority this year as - if we can secure this – we know that our teaching and children’s learning will be further enhanced whilst our children will feel supported, and what is happening at school will become part and parcel of daily conversations at home. At the end of last year at both schools, we launched the use of an APP-based parental engagement package: Marvellous Me, which I am so looking forward to seeing being fully implemented and embedded in our practice. To date, this is proving invaluable in providing a means of touching base with parents in an instant, sharing pupils’ learning, and, most importantly, sending positive messages and praise to parents about their children. This means that parents are collecting their children from school with smiles on their faces after having being sent a variety of ‘praise’ badges for their child and, often, a ‘super-parent’ badge for themselves. Children’s after-school experience now starts positively and the links between school and home are being effectively strengthened, with children seeing teachers and parents as partners in their education. Use of such systems has already reduced workload: sending praise is instant and no time is spent rooting in drawers, looking for stickers or praise postcards; newsletters can be very easily uploaded via the APP for parents – this is helping the environment and our budget, too – we are going to be using much less paper and our busy admin team are delighted about the reduction in photocopying.
It’s also always wonderful to see our staff team returning to school refreshed and so enthused about the year ahead.

Like most school leaders though, I continue to be most concerned about 3 areas: teacher workload; financial constraints; and ensuring that our curriculum is effectively planned and delivered whilst being meaningful and enjoyable for every learner.

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I am, therefore, constantly seeking out new ways of addressing these two important areas. We have already embraced cloud based planning tools to reduce the amount of planning and enable teachers to share their planning across the school. This year we will be continuing to seek out cost effective and innovative solutions to support teachers with their workload whilst ensuring that the curriculum is inspiring, learning is effectively sequenced and the highest quality education is secured for our pupils. We’re particularly interested in new technologies which provide easy and quick access to high quality and inspiring resources such as video clips, sound bites and photographs, linked to specific subject areas and specific Key Stages in order to drastically cut down on the internet trawling which so many teachers seem to spend much of their lives doing in their quest for engaging resources.

The new Ed tech we have already purchased ready for this year is giving us a lot to feel positive about as teachers: our new class sets of Chrome Books and mini IPads are available for staff to use to enhance teaching and to support the children with the new ‘knowledge harvests’ which will take place at the end of each curriculum theme. Children will retrieve, organise and present their learning in innovative ways such as through the use of digital technology e.g. Using the IPads to create digital books; creating short films or vlogs using our green screen. This allows learning to be shared with a range of audiences whilst encouraging children to use and apply their computing and digital technology skills.

However, we know we need to continue our journey of improvement by seeking out innovative Ed Tech solutions to inspire and engage our pupils in relation to the STEAM subjects. This is an area upon which we really need to focus in preparing our children for the future and showing them what’s possible in the world of careers.

So, as usual, a busy year ahead but with wonderful learning opportunities to look forward to for our children and staff.

Chris Shepherd

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