Well, today I have reached that half-century. A smattering of applause, a shy raising of the bat, a readjustment of the helmet, and then it’s time to take guard for the rest of my innings. It’s quite a daunting moment – 50 years are a lot of years.
The birthday comes a few days after reading Stephen Tierney’s blog (here) which really resonated with me. And also seeing Vic Goddard’s comments about his friend who died so early. Tierney’s piece recounts the thoughts of people as they talk to palliative care nurses, discussing their regrets and wishes. Conversations played out on the theme, ‘What would I have done differently?’
The word ‘courage’ was mentioned twice and for me this is important. Too often we accept things as they are, without challenging and calling things out. We agree to the latest missives, advice, research or trends without really, well… agreeing with them. Its extreme expression is in the phrase ‘but isn’t that what Ofsted wants?’
Of course, many have little choice but to go with the status quo. They feel they must follow in order to put food on the table for their family. I understand this tension – it is there almost every day in my own professional life.
But never before have we needed teachers and school leaders to be so courageous. That’s why I applaud those headteachers who have led the fair funding campaigns and marched on the Houses of Parliament. As I do the headteachers who speak up when they see injustice in the marginalisation of children with special educational needs. Or those whose determination to offer a broad, relevant and busy curriculum compromises their ability to be ‘top of the league tables.’
I am approaching one of the biggest risks of my career. Having set up a Community Interest Company and attracted modest but vital funding, we’re bringing over 15 pupils and staff from Sierra Leone (half of them blind) to join us in our work for three weeks in June. It will dominate our curriculum for that month. They, and other teachers from around the world, will sing in a joyful concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic on June 20th and then attend a great conference in Anfield on 21st June (Mary Myatt et al). We’re waiting on visas for the group so please say a prayer. It could be amazing, or it could be a flop.
It’s a courageous step because it’s not in the manual. It has not been recommended by DfE, or EduTwitter, or Ofsted. I haven’t a clue if this promotes a knowledge-rich curriculum. There is no underpinning research evidence as to why this will benefit my pupils and community.
But what I think is that it’s right, for our community, for our pupils, for our staff. And if I’m wrong, then that’s the price you pay. As Derek Trotter would say, ‘He who dares, wins.’ (And now you can tell I’m 50)
Being prepared to fail and accept the consequences is, in my opinion, a core part of leadership. Standing up for what you think is right is vital. And whilst it might not help you climb the career ladder, it might provide the fulfilment described in Mr Tierney’s blog; as you contemplate your final days on our wonderful planet, to think: ‘Yes, I was true to myself.’
So, for however many years I have left, I will try my best to follow that mantra and be courageous.
And if I fail? Well, I least I tried.