Never have I been more uncertain standing up for what I believe in. Never have I felt more exposed or more vulnerable… So says the blogging head teacher.
There is a palpable buzz of anger and disappointment around education right now. This is especially true on social media. Nothing seems good enough and you feel that your name and reputation is constantly banded around behind the scenes like some sort of dirty word.
“You put your head above the parapet; therefore you are fair game mate!”
This may be paranoia. Whether it is because of spending cuts, the business of academy, local and national politics or social media justice – it has never felt so hard to find the positive fish in this sea of bile.
Where has this feeling come from? Why have we become so bitter? Is this a cultural shift? Have the 1980’s and 90’s produced a generation of moaners who have dined out on a million depressing episodes of East Enders and reached a tipping point? Is doom mongering an art form we are naturally good at? Or is it the media constantly telling us we are being done over by every politician, toff and banker? Drip-feeding our minds with drug-like dissatisfaction. Is it our sense of injustice? Is it the distasteful EU debate dividing us? Is it the state of politics and a backlash upon public service? Or is it just human nature? I really do not know. I do feel it though and I feel I have to tread carefully because so many are watching and waiting in this quick to blame and shame culture.
I have noticed a creeping resentment for my role. I believe in doing the best for every child. Why would I not think this? And yet Facebook, and a small minority go out of their way to criticise and review my ability to do the job I have done for 12 years now. This is often despite what Ofsted, my school improvement officer, governors or children feel. I have stood on the gates time after time this year to positive comments and then a Facebook thread is bought to my attention and some parent’s talk of the terrible times to be had at our school. It is gutting. It is hard. But maybe they have a point? Times have changed. There is less money, people are losing their jobs, support services have been cut to the bone, expectations and testing is tough and as high stakes as it has ever been, Children are under pressure from young ages, there is rhetoric of no excuses and not good enough from up high and within the community itself and our society is divided on many key issues regarding human rights, jobs and culture. Why not look back to the good old days when bullying didn’t happen and every one held hands and sang songs of love and war with a twinkle in their eye?
This is why it is more important than ever for head teachers and schools to stand up and be heard. This is why schools need to be positive and forward thinking places. We need to aim for the future and we need to come together with a simple vision. Education is the answer to all of our woes and troubles. Education is a far greater force than hate or disappointment.
I care for EVERY one in my community – even those that seem to hate me. I will fight for their rights. I will challenge values that are fuelled by hate, misunderstanding and ignorance. I want every child and every family to live a happy and fulfilled life. I want them to be proud of their school. I want them to achieve their potential. I say this with no irony or smug self-appreciation. It is my job and it is easy to do. So why am I so misunderstood? Why is the head teacher such a prickly role? Even my own staff look at me with distant eyes when times are tough. My Friday briefing left me almost despairing this week. I tried to speak openly about a more positive future, I tried to be upbeat in the face of much adversity, and I knew I could not get through… I knew that I had to deal with it. I wanted to scream and I really wanted to walk out and pursue the other avenues I have (Weeding, Queue jumping and Wrapping) – But I have fallen in love with my school. I could never let it down now. Love is far more powerful than any other feeling I know. But love must come with understanding and a sense of perspective.
I would say there has never been a better time to feel the love for schools and learning. Never has there been a time to build hope in our schools for a better and more positive future. Children get it. Despite what Facebook tells me there has never been a more humane, caring, bright and brilliant school age population. If we cannot be inspired by them then what hope is there?
I received an email this week from a parent. I had refused a strong request for leave. I had unauthorised the request because I HAD to. They stopped what would have been a great holiday full of fun and learning (But not the official kind). Rather than be cross with me or writing hurtful words they thanked me and wrote a paragraph about our curriculum and what we were doing. It cheered me up and left me more determined to keep focused on what matters. If only we could get this attitude in to our society, one of care and love. It is contagious and it has a knock on effect. I immediately went out and gave some children extra Gold Coins (Our reward system) and they skipped off down the corridor making other children happy – the ripple effect right under my nose.
Despite the anger and the sense of shaming, in fact because of it, I will try to be even more positive. I will try to care even more. I will listen to every complaint and every concern and I will guide my school through the wind and the rain. It does not have to be this way. Times may be tough but just browse through the news headlines and know that we are living on a blessed Isle with many good, honest and positive people wanting the best for us all. Even more importantly we are teachers and we can change this climate rather than fuel it. So, kick me next time I am on a downer.
June 18, 2016 at 5:09 pm
Any time you feel on a downer, just remind yourself that some people have to work for sociopaths.
June 18, 2016 at 5:15 pm
I know. It’s a shame that when you are working for an almost sane head you just take it for granted.
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June 18, 2016 at 11:48 pm
You mention negative Facebook feedback here which is interesting. Facebook’s great for swapping personal photos and chatting, but in terms of serious debate, it doesn’t confer the immediate accountability of a meeting or email, nor the public accountability of open forum media like Twitter where the author has at least to consider the wider audience. Instead Facebook encourages people to write informally to small, closed audiences of self-selected / like-minded “friends”, so streams can become strongly themed and falsely self-validating. Knowing they’re talking to “friends”, people also use it to let off steam — either to raise a valid point, or simply to vent, it’s not always clear. Either way, Facebook works better with kitten memes than it does with 360-degree appraisals, and it’s acceptable to ignore it in favour of more reliable feedback mechanisms.
June 19, 2016 at 8:47 am
Brilliant comment and absolutely how it feels and seems. In some ways acknowledging it as you have said it makes it a little easier to understand. Thank you for taking the time to reply.
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June 19, 2016 at 9:04 am
Just stay as sane as you are Brian, and hold on to your beliefs. You know that you are doing the right job, for you and everyone in your school. That’s why it can become a thankless task, exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. A few will always find something to moan about, sadly. Social media amplifies the molehills into mountains.
Hope to meet up again soon.
June 19, 2016 at 9:05 am
Thank you Chris! Looking forward to chatting schools with you again soon.
June 25, 2016 at 9:09 am
I really do feel for you. I spent many years leading a school where the values the school promoted (one of inclusion) was not the ones the local community (or sections of that community) did not share and had some very difficult times over my 17 years of headship. However, supported by my senior team and all my teachers and very importantly by my support staff, many of whom lived I the community, things changed slowly. The children generally took on many of the anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-xenophobic that we promoted and carried the messages home to their parents. We also worked with all the primary schools on the Isle of dogs to develop a Living & Learning together charter so that we were all singing from the same song sheet…. I could go on! We also took some of our roughest and toughest students to Belfast to see what a divided community was like. They were so shocked that the came back and worked with us to become active citizens. How did I cope? I kept going back to my values and principles and the determination to do what was right. Keep going and take others with you. Gather people around you who believe the same things that you do and get the kids on board. If I can help in anyway please contact me!
June 25, 2016 at 9:16 am
Thank you Kenny… Luckily experience has taught me that your second year in headship is a very tough one of forming, mistakes and building the collective vision. Step by step and always going back to the core…