School leader interview: Claire Bracher, West Thornton Primary Academy

Claire Bracher

For the last year, Claire Bracher has been an assistant headteacher leading whole-school English. She is now about to embark on a new challenge at The West Thornton Primary Academy in Croydon this forthcoming September, where she will be an assistant headteacher and full time class teacher. Claire has a passion for teaching and learning, but is particularly interested in project-based learning and growth mindset for children. Building a resilience for learning and risk taking is something which Claire believes to be an essential part of developing life skills in children. A collaborator at heart, Claire loves to work with those around her, whether in the real world or in the Twittersphere. Always striving to improve and be the best she can be, Claire loves working in education and her own passion for English, History and creativity continues to grow with each challenge.

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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.

2. How long was it until you became a school leader? Was assistant headteacher your first SLT position?

I became an assistant head in 2015 at Huntingtree Primary School in Dudley, Birmingham. Prior to that I had been the KS2 Phase Leader at Regina Ceoli, Croydon. Both of these positions involved continuing in class, which I think was and is so very important. The transition into leadership is, for me, an ongoing process. Not a day goes by when I don't learn something new from those around me, whether they be more or less experienced. I try to lead by example. I don't always get it right, but I always own my decisions and learn from them. Every school brings its own lessons and growth for me, and I am thankful for the opportunities that I have had "The transition into leadership is an ongoing process."so far to work with so many fantastic people along the way.

Above all, I try to make sure those around me feel confident and able to talk to me. I do not have all the answers, but I can and do listen. My biggest lesson so far I would say is that if you want someone to fly, give them wings of confidence. Make the team around you better than you; stronger than you and share all you know. The team and those I work with are important to me. Together we can deliver an amazing education. The magic word there is 'together'.

3. What’s the best part of being a school leader that you didn’t have as a teacher?

The best part of being a leader? Sill being able to teach. The next best thing? Having the opportunity to go and learn from all the other educators around me teaching. My times of personal growth have been as a result of learning walks, peer observations, lesson studies and professional discussions. Sharing is everything and as a leader you have the opportunity to open the doors to facilitate this.

4. What kind of challenges do you face as an assistant headteacher, and how do you tackle them?

Challenges? Every day in a school is a challenge whether you are on leadership or not. Above all, I want my team to be an effective one where those I work with feel confident and happy. I am lucky. I work in a school where the educators talk about pedagogy and learning; the discussions are genuinely productive. My challenge comes when I have to balance this with my own list of 'to dos'. As a full-time class teacher I feel strongly that my commitment is to the children I teach and the team of teachers I work with.

Finding a balance between these commitments and the that of a leadership role is by nature a difficult one - but that, at the end of the day, is the line. I think that is part of the challenge and I can't complain - I have a great team around me and the key I think is to be open, honest and accept that you are human. Everyone faces challenges in their work. It's how we deal with them and how we learn from them that matters, not always whether we have crossed everything off the 'to-do' list in one day.

5. Tell us about your favourite resources and activities for this role

Anything practical and engaging which enables the children to experience the learning for themselves always holds a good level of success. Tech is key, especially at my new school, and I am lucky to be able to use and access it as"I feel strongly that my commitment is to the children." readily as I do, but I also have an amazing learning zone to work in which is flexible and adaptable. It's the simple things that work for me.

Very often I have ideas in the middle of lessons… these ideas are thrown out for discussion and new things tried. The failures help me to grow; the successes help me to facilitate learning. I am always open to new ideas and as a result resources and activities change as I learn. Kahoot has been a hit in our year group recently as has book creator (poetry book to be published shortly) but likewise, so has building a skeleton from scratch (in only 2D) and hanging him on the wall. Children are all different and they respond to different strategies. With that in mind I find it is best not to have a favourite 'way' but to instead embrace whichever way suits those I am teaching.

6. If you had one piece of advice for school leaders, new and established, working today, what would it be?

Make the team around you confident, strong and flexible. Value them. Learn from them. Lead by example but let them know you are human. Never be afraid to say you don't know. There is always a way forward together, it's just a case of finding a best fit for all. Always keep the children at the heart of what you do - every single day.

Are you a school leader? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

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