Have you every worked so hard for something that when you actually achieve it, you don't know how to feel or what to do?
When you commit to leading a school, you soon become aware that your success could change the long-term fortunes of your community. If you arrive in a role where the community is not in good health, has little belief and with a troubled past, then your job will be much more than maintaining reputations, you're in the business of creating a new one.
On that second day I set off to school at sunrise. It was around 6am. There was a serenity about the drive, with a memorable morning sky that was a shimmering pink and orange. I drove knowing that I had to keep the team upbeat, stay strong and see the day out.
'The drive to work is a meaningful and precious part of the day. for me, it's a bit like reading or meditating. Some of your best thinking can occur as you prepare yourself to be all things to all people. It's that little gap between home and school that allows you to breath and relax, before shifting from one role to another.'
We had originally come from special measures. Having demonstrated improvement, we hit satisfactory before amalgamating and creating a new school. At this point, I was 14 years into the journey.
The first day of this inspection had gone very well. The inspector had tipped me off that there was a real chance that we may well get our 'good', I just hadn't really known what to do with this information yet.
As I drove through a silent town, past the empty backstreet mills, I pulled in. With my head in my hands, I wept. It may have been premature, but the relief combined with the exhaustion was just too much. I was overwhelmed because I was beginning to understand the significance of what we were about to achieve.
'I have needed to be composed and to be a leader who can manage my emotions, maintain logic and have clarity. I've had to be this way to reassure others, and to make the right calls. Not often were my emotions known to surface this way because whatever the situation, I had always been too busy focusing on the right, or next, positive outcome.
I had learned that communities have self-esteem just like people do. We had resuscitated the school and the community. We'd set our expectations high because we owed it our families and we were not willing to accept that our children would not be able to have the same life chances as any other.
The WIN / WIN
This inspection gave validation that we were getting things right. This in itself is critical when demonstrating that your school is competent and the the decisions that you have made, have been the right ones. It's very hard to measure the wider impact at first glance, but then you begin to notice these wonderful little indicators of your success. For example, I have one of our parents who became a good friend. He was great for telling me what the word on the street was. He was born and bred in this community and he could give me the inside story on what people were feeling and saying. He told me that he had bought a house to let and was buying another one on the same road as our school, because of the change in the value of house prices since the school secured 'good'.
With this verification, we began to attract visitors to the school. Many of these families had heard good things or had been told to look around. Most of them admitted later to me that they had been sceptical, but once they were inside the school, that was their decision made. This was something that we had worked on because we were very aware of stigma and reputation. It always gave me great pleasure to tell the staff that the reason why we were here was to smash any unfortunate pre-conceptions that anyone may have about us.
As the demographic of the school changed, so did the outcomes. We were still very inclusive and very diverse, but we now also had more families that were choosing to join us. We could pitch lessons differently and we could work together to create a sense of pride and belonging. When this occurs, staff will seek to do even more for the community because they know that it is making a real difference. My job was to collect these indicators, to feed them back to everyone and to ensure that this cycle could sustain momentum.