The sunshine on Friday was just so bright. I had a meeting for Headteachers in Shire Hall in Gloucester to look at ways in how we can collaborate more to get even more for the students in our county and in the Forest of Dean in particular. Despite the Thursday night forecast there was no Arctic blizzard hitting Bristol anytime soon as I drove up the M5. The cathedral looked magnificent in the morning winter sun and I prepared for a couple of hours in a room potentially feeling the opposite of what I was feeling walking through the medieval streets due to the severe financial situations all schools are now facing. I have a wry smile whenever I hear anyone official say “we have to learn to do less for more”. I am still waiting for guidance on how I tell that to my support staff doing everything and more for the school or my teachers who are ensuring every lesson is a compelling learning experience by working long into their evenings.
Thursday had been a long, intense but necessary day as the school held interviews to appoint the next Deputy Head. We were very fortunate to have such a strong field of candidates apply and at the end of the process the acting Deputy Head, Rob Wagland was appointed permanently to the post. This week we have the same process for the Finance Director role. As a new Head, relatively speaking now, both posts are crucial in helping me to take the school forward and develop an outstanding educational experience for the students of Wyedean. I took my assembly with Year 11 on Monday with this in my head as I delivered an assembly around the theme of motivation. Year 11s are now more than half way through their academic year and we have had the mocks and latest round of progress updates to make sure everyone is on track. I am always a bit wary of using my own experience to “motivate” anyone because an individual’s experience doesn’t speak to everyone and can back fire. My experience is fairly straight forward. My father worked underground digging coal for nearly 40 years and I was very lucky to be in a school where teachers saw education as the ladder of opportunities and literally would push books at you whether you liked it or not. There was a real passion for developing a love of learning and to be curious about the World. Teachers did really talk about “lighting a flame” and passing it on. I think of this often when I talk to any students. The Historian (and famous descendent of possibly my favourite president, John Adams) Henry Adams once famously said “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”. I think it is still true, even more so. One of the joys of watching my colleagues when they teach is that passion and enthusiasm for the very thing that once lit a light in their head. The area I came from is full of history. Any visitor to my beautiful heimat of Shropshire gets the “15 minutes of 3000 years of British history” just by driving from the Iron Age hill fort on the Wrekin, past Roman Wroxeter, by the medieval Abbey at Buildwas and through the Coalbrookdale valley to Ironbridge where the modern age began in the early C18th and the birth of the Industrial Revolution. It lit my spark for history a long time ago!
The UCAS deadline for applications on Friday made me think back to how lucky I was that teachers I knew pushed me to get GCSEs, A Levels and then to look at university at the first person in my family to do so. I thank all those wonderful educators daily in my mind. So back to how we do less for more. I think in the current climate all educators, support staff in schools, community and parents need to collaborate and do more together. I have also seen the power of better meaningful conversations about better education and how we all achieve this goal. Over the last couple of weeks governors, parents, staff and students have been working out how we can develop a “learning garden” at the school. I saw how powerful these were in places like northern Thailand for the students as places to learn especially independent learning. We could give up and say there is no government money and budget cuts or we can look at how we look at other ways funding this and make it happen.
I left the meeting on Friday very optimistic about what could be done for our schools and communities in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. It takes leadership and persistence. And maybe the odd prayer in Gloucester Cathedral. In the week of Martin Luther King Day, a day marked as a Federal holiday in the US. I caught the film “Selma” over Christmas about the Civil Rights movement in Alabama and the freedom marches of the mid-60s. When LBJ stands in front of Congress and utters “We shall overcome” you know we can. “Yes we can” as the man said running for president all those years later.