Books Personal

A reflection on climate strikes

Global Student Climate Strikes 2019

While reading Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal and her description of the global student climate protests I was reminded of the reaction on Twitter of some of the educators and people I follow, which was quite disapproving of the strikes, like the post below:

Naomi Klein articulates very well why students wanted to strike: climate change presents such a pressing and dangerous situation, one that is very likely to be world altering, and that presents the very real possibility that for school age children there may not be a world with jobs and the life we know it in the future. If you know your future is is f****d, what is the point in studying for it? Klein, quoting Thunberg writes:

“Why should we be studying for a future that soon may be no more when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? … What is the point of learning facts….when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society?”

Klein (2020) On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal pg11

Teachers like Birbalsingh are focussed on their fight to create solid educational outcomes that they are sometimes not aware of the larger picture. Indeed, we could expect Toby Young, a climate change skeptic to take the view that students shouldn’t be protesting, after all from his position there is no justification for the strikes because climate change isn’t real. However, students striking to try to protect their futures, is just as important and urgent as studying at school to protect those futures. It is a shame that society has let them down to the point where they need to sacrifice their education in order to protest.

Greg Ashman writes along similar lines to Birbalsingh’s views in this post, although at greater length. And while what he writes echoes some of what Klein writes about in her book – the need for climate action to be driven by mass mobilization across societal groups for example – Ashman gets it wrong when he writes:

In this light, British school kids skipping school on a Friday to make vague demands that the government declare a ‘climate emergency’ does not really cut it. It is not like miners or nurses going on strike. It’s not really a ‘strike’ at all because nobody is inconvenienced and nobody loses any money. The only potential losers from a withdrawal of student labour are the students themselves, although this will depend greatly on the quality of the education that they have left behind. accessed 16/11/2020

Yes, the strike is not like a miners strike. Miners damaged their own income at the time of striking. They did this to try to protect their livelihoods. But I disagree with Ashman’s analysis. Students are trying to protect their future livelihoods, when none of the adults around them, who supposedly care about their futures seems to be doing anything about it. Ashman also misses the point that the climate strike is also a strike against free market capitalism (not capitalism itself – just the free market kind). If all students around the world went on strike they would be damaging that system as whole if they do not get educated because there would be a much more limited market to participate in in future. Remember that it is this free market system that is prime driver of climate change.

UK Remembrance Day Strike 2020

In the UK there is a yearly ritual of paying respects to those members of the Armed Forces that have perished in conflict most notably in WWI and WWII.

This year commentators were outraged by an extinction rebellion climate change protest at the Cenotaph. Despite the fact that one of the protestors was an ex-service man, media outlets claimed that this was an “insult” to the fallen.

Firstly, it strikes (no pun intended) me as ironic. While the day is a space for private reflection – members of the armed forces remember colleagues who have lost their lives in recent conflicts, the public uses this day, supposedly, to remember the fallen precisely because they fought for freedom and the rights it entails – like the right to protest.

Remembrance day serves as an opportunity to reflect on freedom, justice, and, so the story goes, by doing so we remember the importance of peace. My father would argue that remembrance day keeps us from fighting in Europe because we remember what a sheer waste of life it was.

Conviently it doesn’t stop us from bombing countries far away from here. We are happy to do that for oil.

Today we seem to have become obsessed with the ritual of remembrance day. But what are we actually remembering?

To me, staging a protest on the day of remembrance seems to actually be a way of actively honoring that sacrifice – you are actively exercising your right that was protected by the sacrifice of others. If you take issue with protests, are you really honoring what the dead died for?

When the protestors are claiming that “climate change means war” they are not making a metaphorical statement. They are highlighting the very real concerns that climate change will drive conflict.

You may argue that it wasn’t appropriate at the event, but what you are really saying is that what is important here is not the principle we are supposed to remember but instead the shallow, banal nationalism, that such events can be seen to support – the glorification of war and the feeding of the narrative that Britain is Great because she is more X, Y and Z than other nations.

As Naomi Klein writes:

“Honoring the dead begins with telling the truth”

Klein (2020) On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal pg255

Climate change will cause more war.

Climate change will cause more suffering.

We are already seeing it in Syria where drought caused the migration of farmers from the rural areas into the cities and sparked the unrest that led to the war and the migrations that have been so bothersome to many in the UK.

Climate change will affect geopolitics and could lead to more international tensions and conflicts.

I can think of no better way to honor the dead than trying to make society aware of its own hypocrisy. We are happy to remember the sacrifice that our heroes make but unwilling to face up to the problems our international actions cause both today and yesterday.

Coordination Personal Resources

NPQSL project: IBDP Curriculum Coherence

In January 2019, after starting a new job in China in September 2018, I began my NPQSL through UCL IOE’s Beijing Cluster. I guess I am a glutton for punishment. Not only had we uprooted the family and moved from Switzerland to China with our two daughters, to a new continent, city, house and jobs, I just had to undertake a large CPD project!

My job was a new role for me, and, while I felt very prepared for it, the challenges of adjusting professionally and personally to a whole new culture were significant. Reflecting now, going through my project and thinking about everything I achieved last academic year, despite such challenges, I am proud and that somewhat alleviates the shame I have been feeling this week over being made redundant.

Anyway, as I was scouting around for ideas for my NPQSL project, I could not find or connect with another IBDP Coordinator who had done the training, which is a UK qualification but open to (some) international schools too. Therefore I have decided to share a version of it on my TES shop for free (like all my resources that are slowly being populated to the site).

You can find my NPQSL project and appendices through the link below and you will also find my assessors feedback to go with it. I scored 20/28 which is the passing mark. Not the best score I have ever achieved, but I am pleased to have made it through despite all the other things going on in my work and personal life at the time.

I hope that it can help someone else when they are struggling with their own project.


A COVID-19 adventure

On February 3rd 2020, our school closed almost without warning. My family had left home on January 24th in order to take a weeks holiday by the coast in Vietnam with my parents in law who had been visiting us since just before my birthday.

On the last day before the holiday I had attended a meeting where we were told that there was an 80% chance that the campus would not open. By that time there were 5 cases of the virus in our city and the news of the outbreak in Wuhan had been on people’s minds all week.

The day we flew, all of us were already paranoid so that we didn’t leave the house for the day and wore masks all the way to the airport and on the flight to Vietnam.

As the holiday week progressed, we were told that the school would be closed for two weeks but staff needed to be back in school order to deliver online learning. This later evolved to an acceptance that no one would be allowed on campus – a rule brought in by the municipal government.

During the weeks holiday in the last week of January, the situation in China appeared to get worse and worse. We were glued to the BBC news app and watched as the UK FCO closed the local consulates and upgraded their travel advice all the way to do not travel unless it is essential.

Towards the end of that  holiday my wife and I were already worried about going back. With the change in the advice from the UK FCO, the clearly escalating situation, and the stories we were hearing from friends about food being cleared out of the supermarkets, we didn’t feel comfortable heading back but were worried about the stance our school was taking in initially insisting we come back.

Eventually the decision was taken out of our hands as our return flight to China was cancelled as the Vietnamese government took the decision to suspend all flights to and from China.

And so began our first 7 weeks of teaching and parenting away from home and away from school. During that initial 7 weeks we moved from Vietnam to Thailand because our Vietnamese visa was due to expire soon after our holiday and we knew we had 30 days visa free in Thailand as British nationals. Surely 30 days would be enough?

After 30 days we found we were still not going back and so we moved back to Vietnam after some issues surrounding visas which meant an aborted early morning trip to the airport in Chiang Mai.

I am sure that anyone reading this who lives in a house where both parents are working full time and have two children under 5 and has any experience of isolation/social distancing under the current COVID-19 pandemic will instantly understand the pressures that this situation presented. How do you both work full time from home and also look after small children that need constant supervision?

The added difficulty for our family in those first few weeks was that we didn’t know when we would be asked to come back for school reopening. It seems silly to write now, but at the time we thought we would be back to school in a few weeks at most. We didn’t want to be too far from our schools timezone so that we could stay in sync with the school timetable; if we went back to the UK we would conceivably have to teach at night and parent in the day. We also didn’t want to return to our school city because of the FCO advice and the stories we were hearing about the lockdown procedures being implemented in the city.

This left us planning week by week where we going to live as well as having to full time parent and work. Some weeks worked better than others, my wife and I finding a routine for ourselves and the children, even eating in the same local eateries for lunch and dinner. But that very much depended on the amenities that you found yourself with after making a decision to live somewhere based on info!

This continued until early March. All the while the disease appeared to be limited to China, we weren’t expecting a global pandemic based on what we were reading and our school began making plans to get teachers who were stranded outside of China back.

It is amazing how quickly the situation evolved in early March and it’s also incredible how different the picture looks with hindsight. In order to remind myself of the situation I was in I wrote much of this post on the plane back to the UK on March 25th.

In early March, we were informed that the school was planning to reopen and that staff who were not in their home country should aim to come back by the end of March. In order to see how the re-entry process went, the school Principal, who had also been out of China, was to return first and if that was successful the Site Based Leadership Team were to return followed by other “third country staff”.

After a successful return to China where the Principal picked up a direct flight to Chongqing from Bangkok with Lion Air my wife and I booked passage on the same route along with some other colleagues who were also stranded in “third countries”. At the time, in the middle of March, we were living in Hoi An in Vietnam and felt that we could easily get back to Bangkok from there to pick up this direct flight. Our Principal was also able to be picked up at the airport by school HR and taken straight to their apartment to begin their 14 day home quarantine.

Soon after however, it was clear that other staff were having some issues over their flights and it turned out their flights on the same route had been cancelled. Ours were still scheduled as initially Lion Air cancelled flights only to 31st March on that Monday (we had booked on the Sunday night) but by the Friday of that week (20th March) they had expanded that to 30th April.

So the Principal’s experience quickly became obsolete and the plan of having a guinea pig to see how re-entry procedures to China went became obsolete. The Principals return turned out to be the smoothest and easiest of all those who returned because the situation changed so rapidly in the last two weeks of March, when it became clear that the COVID-19 epidemic had expanded into a pandemic.

After our Lion Air flights were cancelled, the only options from Bangkok were via Chengdu or via Guangzhou. There were no flights to China from Vietnam since our original return flights from our holiday on 2nd Feb got cancelled.

When you are living it, a week can be a long time but when you think back on it it can seem very short. Memories become compressed and it’s easy to forget the feelings of anxiety that you live with in slow time when everyday you worry that the situation may change.

That week after we booked our China flights on the Sunday on the same route as the Principal, it seemed quite natural to be able to fly on 27th March so we could have our second week of quarantine in the Easter holiday.

My wife and I had already learned how difficult it was to plan and teach our own classes, deliver our eldest daughters online learning and parent both of the children well all at the same time, so when discussing our return home to China we knew that the only way we could manage a home 14 day quarantine without the distractions of any outside space was to plan the quarantine period in the holidays. We had expressed this desire as soon as we were asked to come back because we had already been having the conversations.

Now in light of our current actions I am sure that some will interpret our reluctance to fly earlier as us not wanting to go back at all. This is not the case but we felt at the time that we had to make the best decision for our two children.

It’s hard to get your feet in someone’s shoes. A colleague expressed concern by telling me why they thought our plan to quarantine at home during the Easter holidays was a bad idea because they felt we wouldn’t get a break. It was hard for them to understand why quarantining in the holidays was going to be the best break we could get! It meant that our children would benefit from not having two parents constantly torn by the demands of their needs the needs of the school. It meant that we would only have one week of work where we were trapped in the house with no outside space and no where to really separate work and play.

Being responsible continually for other people and placing their needs above your own, continually is a very hard thing to understand until you have had to do it.

Two days after booking our initial return flights from Bangkok to China we found the same airline had cancelled our colleagues flights on the same route. This was Tuesday 17th March, only a week after we were told the school plan to get everyone back and four days after the Principal had successfully made it back on the same route.

On Wednesday 18th March we were told by our landlady in Hoi An, that airlines were cancelling flights out of Vietnam. She was concerned about us being able to leave the country. Remember that there were no direct flights from Vietnam to China? Well now there seemed that there was going to be no flights anywhere else.

Faced with the looming realisation that we might get stuck in Vietnam we found our anxiety rising. Particularly as we already had an exit flight back to China from Bangkok. That evening that we got the news from our landlady, we booked an air Asia flight for the coming Saturday from Da Nang to Bangkok.

The next morning we woke up to find that flight cancelled. This was Thursday morning 19th March.

More airlines closing. More panic. We found tickets for a flight leaving to Bangkok a day earlier – leaving on Friday 20th March. It was more dear but we had passed counting coins at this stage. This was also the day that our Chinese nanny, after waiting for weeks for us to come back, resigned so she could find other work.

There’s a pandemic. You are separated from your home nation and from the nation you are resident in. Governments are making last minute announcements. Airlines are cancelling flights. It is hard to stay on top of the information. You live with anxiety constantly about the changes, about what is going to happen. This is on top of already emotionally, mentally and financially challenging “home-work” circumstances that we had lived with for 7 weeks already.

The next morning, Friday 20th March, we woke up to the news from the FCO that Thailand was bringing in new immigration requirements. Our flight was that day and we had no way of meeting the new requirements. We went to the airport with bated breath. Unsure if we would be able to check in. unsure if we would have the correct paperwork. Unsure if we could immigrate into Thailand.

Thankfully checking in went smoothly , although that entire check in procedure and exit from Vietnam was one of the tensest moments of my life. At the airport every flight, bar ours, was cancelled.

When we arrived in Thailand we received news that our Lion Air flight on 2nd April had also been cancelled. After panicing to get out of Vietnam back to Thailand to be able to get our flight back to China we no longer had a flight back to China.

We couldn’t wait around any longer hoping things would work out. We could see that the sand was shifting around us. The travel picture was changing. Immigration requirements were changing. Information you had on one day was obsolete the next.

If we booked a flight there was no guarantee that it would go. Plus because of the increasing expense of flights, we needed to trade off economical flights with leaving as soon as possible, before the situation changed further.

A delay of 24 hours would push prices up further. A delay of 24 hours would leave us more exposed to the risk of sudden changes in flight schedules and immigration policies.

We seriously felt at risk of being trapped in Thailand with our two small children during a global pandemic.

This was a real risk that we couldn’t afford after 8 weeks already of living out of bags while parenting and working.  We had initially packed for a one week holiday. We needed to get home and we needed support with the children so we could focus on work.

We also had no clarity on what the quarantine procedures would entail for us. Our Principal has been able to go straight home and quarantine at home, which would be manageable if we could do it in the Easter holidays but as we saw over that weekend, that rapidly changed. With no direct flights back to our city, there was an increasing chance that teachers would be held in quarantine in hotels in other cities that they flew into. it wasn’t clear who would be responsible for these costs.

We booked refundable flights back to the UK and waited. Over that weekend we began to see the challenges of no direct routes. Flights were available via Guangzhou, Nanning and Chengdu. These were clearly different and by the time recommendations came to not go via Chengdu people had already booked flights on them. Some colleagues ended up being quarantined in a hotel there. We also heard that families were to be separated for the two weeks with the children being quarantined with their mother. By Friday 27th March it was clear that home quarantine was not an option.

It was not the time to wait. We had to make decisions based on the best data we had available. In the future you may look back and think you did the “right” thing, or you may look back and think you didn’t. In the here and now there is just no way of knowing. Often when you look back your perception of the events is changed so it’s important to be clear with yourself in the present moment what your reasons are.

On the plane home on Wednesday 25th March I wrote:

Sitting on this plane I still feel anxious. I am relieved too. Relieved to be getting my kids back into the UK where their grandparents want to see them. Back to the UK where I have been amazed at the deep support network and its ability to collectively find a solution. But I am anxious. For me the anxiety has now changed. No longer anxious about getting trapped. I’m anxious about what my employer will say. I’m anxious that I’ll be jobless and that I’ll lose my bonus. I’m anxious that my actions will damage my career. I’m even anxious that I can’t now access the internet, so accustomed I have become to reading the BBC news hourly, sending and receiving messages like never before. Constantly connected in my hours of panic, I’m now unused to being disconnected.

The day after we returned the UK the Chinese government announced that it was closing its borders to all foreigners except diplomats, a sensible thing to do when individuals and companies were disregarding the governmental advice to limit travel to essential travel only.

On Thursday 26th March the Thai authorities brought in stronger lockdown procedures including road blocks and checkpoints. There was a possibility of further flight cancellations and stronger shut down measures. Those who waited may be forced into being stranded for a long time. If we hadn’t booked our flights back to the UK and rebooked to China we would have been stuck in Thailand and facing the national lockdown there. I am sure we would have managed but it wouldn’t have been great for our two little ones.

Unfortunately, I think that often teachers and school leaders become so focussed on learning, that losing learning time can be the worst thing in the world. Forward planning becomes narrow and very short term, long term planning almost obsolete, or very rare. Maybe it’s worry about accountability to parents. Maybe an inability to think, plan and articulate long term scenarios. Maybe it’s a lack of training.

In this scenario, I wonder if more would have been achieved long term if more time had been taken to adequately train staff in the short term and plan for the long term instead of assuming it would all be over in a few weeks.

Perhaps we should have had a short, medium and long term plan.

It’s easy to say that in hindsight though.

Books Personal

My Favourite Quotes

Over the last few years I have been collecting quotes that I help me reflect and think about my thoughts, emotions and judgements in particular situations.

Acknowledging uncertainty

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken” Oliver Cromwell

I first came across this quote in the Ascent of Man – quite possibly one of the best television series ever made – and again recently while reading. Not only does this quote help me temper some of my own thinking about situations I encounter but it also helps me to evaluate my own claims about things I think I know.

I now think about knowledge in terms of certainty and uncertainty – for everything I claim to know I like to ask myself how certain I am that this is true, with the maximum being 95% – even the claims we think are completely true, could, ultimately turn out to be false.

The power of curiosity

“Be curious, not judgmental” Walt Whitman

I first encountered this quote as the desktop image for a colleague. I think it is safe to say that this colleague is one of two educators that have had a profound and lasting impact on my engagement with and thinking about teaching as a profession.

For me this quote challenges me to ask questions and hold back from arriving at conclusions. When we reach a conclusion about anything, we tend to close a door on that something and therefore lose some of the potential it may hold. For example, an idea I meet a lot when talking to families goes something along the lines of “the only universities worth attending are the Russell Group or the Ivy League” This is a value judgement but is this really true? How do we know this?

Killing my paranoia

“Never assume malice, when stupidity will suffice” Hanlon’s Razor

This is a new one for me and I came across it in Julian Baggini’s “How the World Thinks”. It went straight up on the IBDP common room wall (although I changed stupidity to ignorance). A great way to check one’s paranoia and emotional response to stressful situations life throws your way!

Confidence check

“The less someone knows, the more they think they know, and the more someone knows, the less they think they know” The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Are you over confident?

A a senior colleague once attended a conference on university admissions and guidance with me. They had said prior to going that this was an area they knew they wanted to improve in because they knew so little about it. A fine thing to admit. Admitting to gaps in our knowledge opens us up to new learning.

After our first meeting with parents where we discussed the generation of predicted grades, this colleague turned to me and remarked how much more confident they felt in dealing with parents about these issues.

Classic Dunning-Kruger.

Just a little extra knowledge (how much can someone glean from a day and a half professional conference) lead this colleague to immediately over estimate their own knowledge of the issues.

Beware your own confidence – if you think you are an expert on something or just think you know a lot about something, it is probably an indication that you don’t know that much at all and you need to keep learning!

Note to school leaders: you don’t need to know everything – in-fact admit what you don’t know – you will gain more respect and open yourself up to the possibility of learning.

What are the quotes that got you thinking?

Coordination Personal Teaching & Learning

I survived 18-19

This is my last post for the school year 2018-19. I will be back in August/September with some new material.

What have I done this year?

I certainly don’t do things by halves. In the space of one year I have moved house, country, and continent with my family, engaging with a whole new culture, paradigm and language.  This involved huge adjustments in life (just going to the supermarket was one!) and parenting routines as well as overcoming significant cultural adjustments. It’s been a hard year to be a parent and husband.

At the same time I have changed schools and jobs, taking on a new senior role involving acting as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, HS Diploma Coordinator and the University Guidance Officer. My new school had recently moved from A Levels to the IBDP and this year was to be the final year for the first cohort. It was exciting to be a first time DPC, working with a new program: lots of potential for positive change and influence where necessary.

I have also moved back to teaching IGCSE biology for the first time in six years and picked up a year 13 class which resulted in me having to adapt my normal teaching SOW to fit their needs. It has been quite a challenge; having taught the IB Middle Years Program for four years where I had to adapt the biology curriculum on an ongoing basis, I had to start over in planning and prepping the IGCSE biology course.

I wrote my reflections on my first term in this role up in this post, and throughout this year, as I wrote about previously, I have led training on academic integrity, leading to a new policy, coordinated the IB Extended Essay (which was a unexpected surprise) and implemented a development plan to embed TOK in the whole secondary Yr7-13 curriculum.

On top of all of this I have continued to work as a university guidance officer and managed kids applications to universities in Hong Kong, China and South Korea for the first time, alongside apps to Canada and the US. Korean University applications are far from simple!

Finally, I have undertaken significant professional development, through the UK’s National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership via UCL’s Leadership Colab’s cluster group at Harrow International in Beijing attending five Saturday sessions. I am now looking to write up my 5000 word project based on my role as IB DPC and implementing change in the Key Stage 5 curriculum. Added to this I have attended the CIS-EARCOS institute on higher education  in Bangkok and the IBO’s global conference in Hong Kong as well as fitted in university visits to four universities in Hong Kong.

Reflections on classroom practice

The teaching has been enjoyable but frustrating when I haven’t been able to deliver a much loved course in the way that I would like, particularly after I have spent so much time reading, thinking and writing about my ideas regarding life science instruction over the last few years. I am looking forward to beginning a new course with year 12 in August, and further developing my ideas surrounding using stimuli material to help link the course to other subject areas and generate big inquiry questions, linked to real world issues. I have enjoyed the IGCSE teaching, mainly because this has been an opportunity to take a course from the start and really think about how my ideas for the IB biology curriculum translate over to the IGCSE curriculum. I am looking forward to continuing the course with a fantastic group of year 10s soon to be year 11s.

The major problem I have been consumed with recently, both for my own classroom practice and from a whole curriculum perspective, is how to make the learning authentic and meaningful for students. By this I mean is how can we help to students to see how what they are learning links to the real world, and real world, current issues – to help them understand the global narrative that they are their curriculum is part of. I also mean how can we inject more meaning into the their performances and the artefacts that they are producing. I summarised my ideas in this post.

Reflections on leadership

As I wrote previously, this was my first year in senior leadership and this year has been a steep learning curve in that regard. Leadership is a proper marathon. You can’t afford to slacken off – there are always relationships to be built, and the wrong smile or word can undo weeks of hard labour on this front. This has come home a lot for me as we wind into the last three weeks of a very long year. Teachers are tired, I am tired, the leadership team is tired…..what is  the learning from this?

One thing I have noticed is that my sleeping thoughts, those just as I am going to sleep and when I wake up are much more preoccuppied with work. Aside from the occasionally sunday night worries, or worries the night before a new term start, this has never happened to me on this scale that I can remember. This year it has been a constant feature of life. Several nights a week, for most weeks of the year I have found myself thinking about things that I am responsible for and have no direct control over. I wish my waking thoughts were preoccupied with my own kids but no mostly these are do with the administration of the Extended Essay or something to do with Academic Honesty.

Since Christmas a huge amount of my time has been taken up with thinking about exams! First it was the mock exams and then the May exams. The amount of behind the scenes work that goes into running an exam session is truly extraordinary. There is the exam secure storage to sort out, so that it meets new and ever changing standards. There is the exam timetable to put together so IB and IGCSE exams are in one calendar, there is the invigilation schedule to plan and organise, and find creative ways to make this easily understood by teachers. In our case there was a re-rooming schedule to organise. Added to this there is making sure that all the correct exam stationary is present and accounted for, that we have received the correct exams, that the examination rooms are set up correctly and in line with regulations, that the invigilators are briefed and know what they can and can’t do, that the students and parents are briefed. This aspect of the job is highly administrative but still requires learning of new procedure and reflection on how to improve the processes that we put in place last year.

The approach to exams this year reminded me of prior learning. Some of the conversations I have had this year with colleagues have surrounded accountability and quality assurance. I refused to make personalised exam timetables for my students in year 12 and 13 this year. Not only is this a MASSIVE opportunity cost for me, but it means that potentially kids miss out on a massive formative opportunity for development. The argument that we should was basically to ensure that they didn’t miss any exams, but so what if they miss a mock exam? Surely that is going to teach that student something valuable. I know it did when it happened to me at university. Secondary leaders and teachers have got to remember that we are in the business of raising adults, we shouldn’t be taking away opportunities for kids to learn, no matter the cost, because better learn it now, the stakes are only going to get higher.

Aside from exams, I have had to guide the teaching team through their first set of IBDP eCoursework procedures. Making sure that teachers knew which items they were uploading and which of these were meant to graded and annotated and which weren’t. We also had to think, as a team, about good marking and moderation procedures and practices as well as what were consistent annotations on student work. Again I think that there is still room for improvement here.

Because the IBDP has such a large volume of coursework that is both externally assessed and internally assessed, externally moderated, student and teacher understandings of academic integrity issues is paramount. Next year, there is still work to be done in this area, particularly in terms of improving our students understandings, but we have made steps in the right direction this year in developing a shared understanding of the policy and procedures surrounding this.

Another aspect of the IBDP curriculum we have been beginning to look at this year is the narrative and coherence of the curriculum both horizontally, within year 12 and 13 and vertically with the rest of the secondary school. The first step in this was to look at how TOK brings the curriculum areas together. This involves developing subject specialists understanding of TOK and what it brings to their subjects and exploring links between the TOK and subject areas. We have begun this process this year with some training on TOK and P4C and will continue with training in this area next year. I have been much inspired by Mary Myatt and Martin Robinson in this area.

I have continued to be mindful of building positive relationships and a positive atmosphere, as I identified this as an area of development for me coming into the role. Teacher issues and resolving them, has been the real stumbling block here. How do you build trusting, respectful and positive relationships but still hold colleagues to account for the actions or lack thereof. Managing challenging personalities remains an area for development for me, as well as maintaining my own positivity and proactive outlook when stress, tiredness, and difficult attitudes can make it even harder to be empathetic and understanding of others at times. How do you be an inspiring leader and get people on board with your vision when, at times, you have to call others out? How do you do this without allowing others to take advantage of your attempts to be understanding and to empathise?

Even if I don’t pass the assessment, the NPQSL course has been really quite valuable to me. I wanted to take this course because I recognised that I had a lack of leadership training, if you will. I wanted some exposure to the theory behind leadership for learning.  I have taken away something from each of the five face to face session and blogged about four of those sessions; here, here, here and here.

Finally, At the start of this year I expressed some frustration to my boss about my lack of line managing anyone. I was new to SLT in my school and with the new leadership position I had expected to be formally part of the appraisal process for staff. I felt that I had a lot to offer in terms of coaching colleagues etc. I have come to learn over this year that leadership isn’t about being anyones boss. Instead it is about relationships. I am pleased to reflect on the fact that several HoDs have sought me out on regular occasions for advice and support. I am pleased to give it to them and pleased that after 8 months in a school I am at a position where despite the lack of official “line management” in the org chart, colleagues have felt that they could approach me with questions and that I am able to support them. Leadership and management is far more than box ticking appraisal and I now reflect that I am happy being an unofficial coach and mentor than having direct reports.

No wonder I have not always felt the best on an emotional and psychological level this year, it has been a ride. Time for a much needed holiday . Looking forward to celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary in Otterburn, Northumberland with all my siblings and their families. Oh, and I better get writing that NPQSL project up….