A period of intense thought and activity is hopefully coming to an end in the next couple of days, and a chance to draw breath and reflect on that intensity will present itself. It has been a very interesting couple of weeks at Christ the Sower partly because I have crammed a lot of our actions towards the School Development Plan, for our upcoming SIAMS inspection (albeit a mock one – it still needs planning for), and for checking the quality of our curriculum planning into that period. On top of that, we have broken the back of the work we need to do to mirror the job evaluation procedures implemented by MK council last year – an important piece of work that will give us a chance to see how our Christian commitment really applies in the day to day world of pay and progression. It has given me, again, cause for rich thankfulness of the leadership team that serves with me, and whom I probably do not acknowledge nearly enough. We have actually only been back at school for 12 days before today.
Two of those days have been spent in activity that has strengthened my understanding of the importance of our vision as a school. The first of these was a long overdue visit to the Blake CE Primary School, our partners in Witney who are trying with us to show what a church school could be if we really thought deeply about it – and they have thought deeply, for much longer than we have, and so remain a constant source of inspiration to us. I went over with senior staff from Christ the Sower and another local head of an Anglican primary school, and we met with their senior team, the RE leader and the vicar of their local church. Together we explored all sorts of issues, but principally:
- How do we enrich our school council’s experience when we carry out our regular visits?
- How do we take the learning that our children have gained from each other forward to something that is sustainable?
- How do we root our Christian identity as a school in the display and communication of that to parents and visitors?
- How do we deepen our children’s experience of RE so that it makes a much richer contribution to their learning and lives – of whatever faith or background?
- How do we show, in our physical environment, the opportunity for children to live and grow in reflection and peace, especially during those times when they are on break or at lunchtime?
- How do we deepen the relationship between church and school?
Some of these issues we explored together, others we looked at apart, in small breakout groups, and for me, it was great to have a chance to renew the friendship we have with this school without having the children there, so we had the time to explore these. The root of the Blake experience is that they have been doing, to use Nietzsche’s expression, a long obedience in the same direction. But more recently, what has added to this root, and something which really inspired me to action, was their use of scripture, and the simple (but not widely shared) belief that the scriptures that speak into the life of the church can equally powerfully and relevantly speak into the life of a school. Somehow, and I am still reflecting on exactly how, they attain a depth of corporate experience through using these scriptures, that we have not yet attained.
The second day away from the mothership was a chance, on Tuesday, to present our story as a school to a group of leaders from within the ecumenical churches with oversight from the MK mission partnership who were at the beginning of a leadership development course that involves a co-coaching model within action learning sets, but which required some input. We met at Buckden Towers, north of St Neots, the home of the Bishops of Lincoln from the late 12th century until the 19th. The mix was interesting. Seeing the stress under which clergy are working and the impact of that on their demeanour made me very grateful to be in a role where if I want something done I can at least tell someone to do it. Clergy don’t have this power, of course, and I did say at the start of my talk that they would probably be jealous of my ability to make things happen simply because I was in a command structure! The talk covered the four years between the school going into local authority intervention in November 2010 and the end of the rescue job in February last year, and I tried to tell the story as much as possible from the way that the grace of God had helped and encouraged us to build a school that would reflect that grace to adults and children. It was a really good chance to try and look for the threads and main emphases that have changed since I have been there, and to build a coherent narrative from that.
The evening before I went to Buckden we had reached something of an impasse in our thinking as a leadership team about how best to help our teaching staff get a view of what outstanding teaching looks like. For over a year we have been committed to building more autonomy into the decision making on teacher improvement, and it has been hard to get folk weaned off the OFSTED criteria and the label that goes with it. It is still hard, and we have to find a way of being accountable to one another as well as being autonomous. The model we have explored has been that of the “Maltese glass makers” of Mdina Glass – craftsmen sitting in a workshop, sharing a common desire to make the most beautiful and creative glassware that they can, but at the same time being responsible for their own work and contributing to the quality of each other’s work through provision of resources, encouragement, humour, correction, etc. The biblical picture is, if you will, that of Galatians 6:2-6
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
This scripture contains personal and social responsibility in it, mentoring and coaching and a degree of self-assessment whilst allowing others to help you away from deception about the quality of your work! There is much here to learn from, but that is not the point I wanted to make!
In the midst of Monday evening’s leadership discussion on teaching, we were reminded (a great relief and one that led to repentance on my side) that it was our agreed vision that we needed to hold to. It was that vision that would show us what outstanding teaching would look like and what it would produce. It is that vision that has the power to sustain us over years and years of endeavour and I was reminded once again that it was biblically-formed, that it had authority in our school life and above all had the imagination and language to renew our sight and encourage us to richer and deeper teaching. For all our sakes, here it is again:
At Christ the Sower Ecumenical Primary School we provide the ‘good earth’ for all in our community to flourish; where every member can fully explore who they are created to be, with the high expectation that we, individually and collectively, will bear fruit beyond our wildest dreams. A place where we are loving, learning and growing together.
A loving community: At our heart is an ever-increasing understanding of God as the source of love. Because we know each child as a unique treasure, we value each other, treating each other as we would expect to be treated ourselves. Being motivated by love, we strive to be a community where everyone works for the good of everyone else.
A learning community: Believing that we all can excel, we are a community that deeply desires to learn. We nurture children and adults so that we are all empowered to be fearless, lifelong learners: embracing challenge, releasing creativity, persisting through difficulty, seeing mistakes as opportunity, discovering for ourselves and responding in wonder to what we find.
A growing community: We diligently strive for excellence in all we do by working our hardest and seeking to improve. At Christ the Sower we ‘grow’ people who are able to embrace the fullness of life, and nourish a growing community where that life can be expressed.
A community together: We rejoice in our diversity and recognise that we are parts of the same body journeying together, walking hand-in-hand with God. We aim to provide a rich and true experience of Christian community, being a beacon of love, light and hope here on the West flank of Milton Keynes.
Practical repentance consisted of making two copies of this and sticking them in my day-book and my diary so I would always encounter it. Further work will need to be done to re-visit it, re-engage staff and re-inspire learners with it, and advertise it more widely with parents and the community we serve.