You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Friday 11th November was National Takeover day; an opportunity for young people across the country to get a unique insight into the world of work by taking on discrete roles within an organisation for a day. Tianyi Song (Year 11), did my job and I will share his reflections a little later in this post.
In addition to this, and building on a pledge I’d made last year, I attended three lessons as a Year 11 student. This green-jacket plan was intended to be a way of raising the profile of the day and to have a bit of fun. But what my wife blenched at in the morning as a sad-man’s-school-uniform-caper became increasingly intense and provocative as the day unfolded.
After initial jostling and witticisms, I settled down to learn: in Geography I dredged up ancient knowledge about tectonic plates, volcanic and seismic activity for a test and wrote two sides; in Maths I rediscovered Pythagoras’ theorem after a quarter of century’s absence and in Latin I didn’t have a clue what was going on.
I can synthesise the most powerful reflections in these four points:
- I arrived a little late for Geography and lost preparation time for a test. Missing any lesson time from a sequence of learning is a significant handicap – attendance and punctuality really matter.
- Our students like structure and our teachers provide this with pacy, well-informed, driven learning episodes full of cut and thrust dialogue. This is why we were judged to have Outstanding Teaching and Learning in February.
- The students can teach too and should do more often. Latin was led by Harry Samuels (Year 11) in his capacity as of Head of Classics for the day. The class were rapt. I’d employ him.
- The huge influence that students have on each other is clear when you are among them and there were times that I genuinely moved among the student body incognito. This experience will linger and resurface strategically. How can the student body effectively police itself and take even more responsibility for the school’s health and success? Ownership. Self governance. This is the students’ school – not mine or anybody else’s.
Oh and I slayed a myth. There really is no excuse for not tucking your shirt in.
I was determined to give as accurate a reflection of my day as possible without imposing the 07:00 start or the game of 5-A-Side after bus duty on a Friday.
Before the day, I was both excited and nervous (mainly because I wasn’t sure if I could recover from my cold).
I arrived at 8:10, met Mrs Nicholson, and settled in to my office and role as headteacher. The working environment looked very professional–spacious and comfortable and I was given further information about what would happen during the day. At 8:30 we attended the Leadership Group’s Daily Briefing, during which we, in turn, spoke about our plans for the day. Initially, it was quite unnerving leading a discussion with members of staff, like Mr Butcher and Mr Margetts, and acting as if we were equal in position. However, I soon overcame that feeling and realised that I could get used to all this authority!
After the briefing, we made our way down to the sports hall, for Remembrance Day assembly. The assembly was actually quite similar to previous experiences, except that I sat in a chair right at the front and felt slightly awkward with all the attention and glances towards me. The mood of the assembly was rather sombre, which suited the occasion well.
The assembly ended at 10:15 and then came the most challenging part of the day. Following a meeting with the Estate Manager and the Director of Development, they told me about their astroturf project and the dilemma they had about the height of the fencing. I was really unsure about whether to have the fence as 2.4 metres and risk it not being secure enough, or sticking to 3 metres but risking the project being rejected. Best leave that decision to you, Mr Earley!
During the Leadership Group Meeting, chaired by Mr Butcher, I found out about some issues that the school is facing (such as the seating plan at Speech Day and the changes in the Engineering Diploma), and also some suggestions made by senior staff, (Team DHSB and Get Ahead afterschool sessions). It made me realise that, for one, every small aspect of the school that we take for granted has to be carefully planned and thoroughly discussed before it can happen, and also everyone is constantly trying to improve the school with innovative ideas.
I left the meeting slightly early to go to lunch with the six pupils whom I had selected prior to the day, and they were all very thankful. We finished lunch well before lunchtime ended, and I went back to my office to begin writing the Head’s Blog. This I did for the entirety of period 4. By this time I was extremely tired and the last thing left to do was to patrol the school.
Walking around the school, the reaction I received was completely different than I was used to. People were calling me ‘Mr Song’ and ‘Mr Earley’, and there were even teachers asking me for a pay rise!
The experience has been amazing; I’ve learnt a lot and gained confidence, and there really isn’t anything negative I can say about the day!