A school leader’s reflections on how, when and why she is nurturing her staff This article originally appeared in NAHT’s July Leadership Focus Authored by Kirsten Marriott, Head teacher, Hemingford Grey Primary As a relatively new head teacher, I stubbornly hold onto my lively excitement about the future of education. The pandemic has been a challenge, but it has not diverted my passion for creating a great school where the best outcomes for children’s futures is the priority for all. In fact, it has without question created opportunities that have helped shape the school over the last two and a half years. My school is, at a glance, a place of quirky indulgence in childhood. The features that drew me to the headship are its enquiry-based curriculum where children build independence as learners and its teachers who model a growth mindset and hold high expectations of childhood experience. And, of course, not forgetting the children who run through the gates in the morning, past the chickens and allotments, ready to greet another day ahead of them. I once heard a head teacher speak at a conference and say he had the best staff. Well, guess what, like many of you reading this, you’ll think like I do and say aloud, ‘so do I!’ I have a team of staff utterly dedicated to ensuring the successful futures for our children. Coming from a new school in a MAT and working as a head of school who lived and breathed teaching and learning, headship in a local authority school came as quite a shock to the system. My usual intense daily focus on relationships with staff, children and their families had shifted to one with responsibilities for finance, health and safety, premises and personnel. I sorely missed my passion and area of excellence where I could impact developing and supporting learning for others. Just as I began to understand these new areas better, get to know the people in the school and community, and feel ready to consider moving the school forward; the pandemic hit. Gone were face-to-face conversations, time observing teaching and learning, developing staff with feedback relevant to their daily classroom practice, parent/carer information sessions and valuable sharing of classroom practice. Fortunately, this wonderful team of teachers took on the remarkable challenge of transferring their lessons online. They recorded their lessons, read stories, sent encouraging messages to children about their efforts to learn at home, gave gentle feedback and checked in when engagement lapsed. Not only that, but while I was trawling through the daily updates, writing risk assessments and trying to navigate the challenges of school leadership in a pandemic, the staff were keenly accessing self-motivated online continuing professional development. They utilised the world of technology and social media, absorbing recommended approaches for improving teaching and learning. Throughout the school closures, my teachers were itchy to continue developing as educators – eager to prepare themselves for teaching in a different way to support the changing needs of children learning through and after a pandemic. They reflected on our curriculum, reviewing the provision and securing the journey each child had ahead of them so that they were ready for when we returned to something people call ‘normal’. At Hemingford, we are proud to love learning, and I truly believe that supporting my staff to be the best they can be will help the children be the best learners. So, with already such dedication to professional development, why Pathway? Quite simply to value my staff. Pathway’s focus on the whole teacher resonates with my deeply held value system. I want every teacher to know that I care about them, value their professional journey and know that I trust their instinct and interest in continual improvement. The word that caught my eye in Pathway was empowerment. I loved the sound of empowering my already dedicated staff with a toolkit. The Orientation section captures their motivation and skills, and then you channel that into specific modules of learning in the Navigation section. Meanwhile, you maintain a steady focus on their well-being through the section on Reflection. Now that we have Pathway, the question tumbling from my mind is, ‘so what impact will this have on school improvement?’. That’s my very privileged job in the process. With so many enthused staff sharing their ideas on how to improve their area of focus, I could end up with too many improvement projects and a lack of consistency in the important journey of childhood for our pupils. The quality and quantity of rich pedagogical discussions in the last few months, which leave my teachers and leaders buzzing, have come from the varied new learning that they have acquired and the challenge ahead of supporting children’s next steps on their journey. My job is to capture this motivation and channel it into school improvement. My plan sees Pathway helping teachers to grow individually and channelling this growth into the school. Initially, we are all exploring the Orientation section so that we’re ready to identify a personal objective in the appraisal process from September. The aim being for each teacher and leader to feel ownership of their professional learning. From early career teachers to experienced leaders, Pathway enables all staff to share in a learning focus on self-improvement at varying levels. We all love learning, and we want to be better at what we do. Pathway brings this together so that our improvement journey is united and, ultimately, the children will benefit. Getting back to the whole teacher, I include myself and my deputy head in the programme. We are still relatively new to school leadership, and most of our experience has been to lead in crisis, not to lead a school. The whole Pathway programme is for us, too; we have an exciting journey ahead of school improvement, and we are glad to be part of a programme that we can access alongside our team. The buzz of teaching and learning in the classroom is still there for me; my staff are my class now, and when they are successful, that buzz is incredible. One buzz, in particular, came after exploring the first section of Motivation in Pathway. A teacher, usually ‘Miss Positive’, was having a tricky time with a challenging class, and my deputy head and I talked at length about how we could best support her. We knew that she had many strengths as a teacher. Still, she was, understandably, finding the individual challenges of an eclectic mix of children, all returning from a school closure, overwhelming. It was beginning to impact both the teaching and learning experience and her own self. After watching the Motivation section and reading the first think piece in Pathway, we decided that this teacher was definitely like a car with her lights running off the battery. My deputy approached a conversation aimed at honesty and care for her as a person, teacher and professional. She responded well, agreeing that managing the class alongside the challenges of covid-19 had led to her feeling completely demotivated. She engaged positively with the solutions and welcomed observation and feedback. Now, she is committed to giving her best to all the children in her class until the end of term. This is just the start, but the Motivation think piece really helped provide the context for having an honest conversation that focused on creating a shared understanding of both the problem and the solution. I take my responsibility to nurture my staff seriously, and Pathway just feels right. I know I am offering staff an opportunity while empowering them at the same time. I look forward to seeing where the pathway takes us. Created in partnership with NAHT, Pathway offers a fresh new approach to CPD supporting the continuous professional empowerment of teachers and leaders.