I am up early, thinking about the challenges of my last “public” day at Christ the Sower, a mixture of incredulity and thankfulness. One of the great disciplines I learnt years ago at St Mary’s was to practise writing short summaries in cards on an annual basis to everyone on my adult team, evaluating the wonderful impact they have had each year and trying to find words to describe it. This started with Christmas cards and when I left it became watercolours for each adult (we had a small school, thankfully). Today it is farewell cards – sorry, folks, no time for paintings! But still, a great discipline, forcing me to consider each one with care and attention, and what the future could mean for each of them. It hardly seems a blink of an eye since I was leaving Shropshire.
Now, already, I am overwhelmed by those who are doing the same back to me usually as inscriptions in cards. Parents, particularly, have perceptions that are unique to them and their children and these have been the most moving, because we just don’t know the impact that we have. Teachers, uniquely, tell the story of what we have achieved for them. Children generally labour under the common and delightful delusion of their headteacher’s alleged place in the world rankings of headteachers! Hyperbole doesn’t even come into it, but it’s lovely, and in their world, we take our honoured place and understand the importance they place on us.
What I want, more than anything, is that all the honour and praise that is poured on me today – and it will be: we would be foolish to ignore the massive impact we have as school leaders – is taken by the Holy Spirit to re-root in each adult and each child the necessary strength and conviction to face an uncertain future, and because this is already happening, as a result of the pressure being applied from the new leadership, I want to try and describe it.
Some context. The leadership that is coming in are competent but characterised so far by the imposition of tested systems from one school onto ours (some will work, others maybe not), weak communication, and a perceived lack of respect for the people led and their work. I do not doubt their efficacy to reach the outcomes that have been set them by the LA, and the three features above are easy traps to fall into when you are coming from outside, and may change; but from below, and God always looks at things from the impact on the weakest, it is feeling oppressive to leaders and teachers. Parents are concerned that the “required” results-emphasis will be a short term solution at best and not allow their children to flourish. Governors are already concerned to watch over our foundations as a church school, though these are, I believe, more secure in the long term. Even some children have expressed concerns at the way that they will be taught – will it change?
So for teachers, the question is how to get the best from this, particularly as what we value as success is a long way from what the new leadership appears to value as success, and what we value as strong, devolved leadership is very different from their (so far) much less consultative approach. They, like the LA, only see one yardstick of success, not one that we have much regard for. What I am seeing already, arising phoenix-like from my teachers, is a controlled and focused (and often furious) determination to place children at the centre of the learning experience, a determination that we shall be a church school and remain one, a resolute love for one another, and a recommitment to our vision in all sorts of ways. These are very hopeful signs. One or two have found it more challenging and are responding negatively to pressure, but the love of the others should bring them round. If all I have done in this school, and all that I do and say today, can build up this precious body of adults to serve an even more precious body of children, so that all they do flows from affection and compassion in September and beyond, then the day – and my time at Christ the Sower – will be complete.
That, anyway, is the plan.