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Heading Back, Moving Forwards by Helena Smith

Heading Back, Moving Forwards by Helena Smith

Three years. During one of my placements, I overheard an experienced teacher say, ‘Three years and move on,’ when explaining her decision to hand in her notice. For some reason, this resonated with me, and I always told myself the same mantra. However when May 31st of my third year arrived, I found myself staying at Woodhill school for a fourth year, with the promise of change and new experiences coming from the switch from Year 1 to Year 2.

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I had been with the Inspire Partnership since its infancy, and had even had my last university placement at Woodhill. I had seen first-hand the work that goes into promoting successful, forward thinking school improvement, and working in an ever evolving environment. Yet, by the end of that year I was ready for change. Having trained in Early Years, it was a position in this area that I began to crave after 4 years in KS1. This is main reason I chose to leave the partnership, as there were no EYFS positions available for me, however I did have other reasons. You could say I was a little disenchanted. I was allowing myself to only see the negatives of my current situation, and what, at the time, I felt were negatives about the partnership. I was ready to leave, so I did. I applied for a job where a friend worked, in EYFS, and my new team seemed really supportive. I felt I was making the right decision for myself and for my career.

Currently, I am part of the team at another one of the partnership schools, Rockliffe Manor, in the role of EYFS Phase Leader. I wanted to write this blog as a way of sharing my reflections on my journey.

What I learned when moving schools.

As a teacher in my 5th year, I was so self-assured in my practice, my routines, and my ability to build relationships. I had moved jobs before and so was feeling confident. On reflection, the move to Woodhill wasn’t really a new start, as I had spent 2 months there during my last placement, so I was familiar with the routines, the people and the cohort of children I would receive. My move in 2018 to a different partnership was going to be just as easy. Or so I thought.

Trying to get to grips with new routines, new expectations of timescales, and different (or less) organisation around scheduling can be tough, especially when you haven’t had the time to build relationships with members of staff in order to know who to go to for all this information. Without knowing the expectations, it was difficult for me to have a shared clarity with my new team. Since joining Rockliffe Manor this year, one of my main leadership development focuses is to try and ensure shared clarity around everything, so that no person feels that they cannot achieve. I strongly believe that my class last year did not have the same experience as the other two classes in our year group; my class were at a disadvantage because their teacher was not supported well enough to establish settled routines that fit with the school. Now I am a phase leader, this is constantly in the forefront of my mind, as I ensure no child is at a disadvantage due to poor collaboration between staff.

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Collaboration is something that the partnership not only emphasizes, it is something the Inspire partnership thrives on. The move to Rockliffe Manor wasn’t just made easy by the fact that I knew a couple of members of staff. I feel I was welcomed with open arms, at both Rockliffe and our partner school Foxfield. Everyone was keen to make sure I was happy and secure in my new role, and I knew I could go to anyone for support, whether I knew them personally or not, creating the culture that allows for best practice and success for the children. I could compare this to my start at Woodhill as an NQT. I was sure I wanted to complete my NQT year at Woodhill because of that exact same feeling. I knew I would be supported. 

In her book, ‘High Challenge, Low Threat’, Mary Myatt talks of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Instrinsic motivation is described as ‘a personal driver for doing a great job.’ Extrinsic motivation is described as being done for ‘external rewards which determine how well someone does their job,’ and are public displays of those markers. In my previous setting, I was upset to be told that I had low expectations of the children because I was willing to miss a deadline on displays. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. While other staff were doing displays during the school day, I was passionate that this was vital learning time for the children. Looking back, this is a clear example of the difference between Mary Myatt’s definition of motivation. I was being told that a display, the obvious and public marker for how well my class were doing, was more important than fostering the children’s learning through play. I feel like I have always stood up for what’s right, and have always voiced my concerns when I felt something was wrong, or unjustified. This experience taught me that even though I was being constantly told I was in the wrong, I knew I believed in myself, and my personal practice as an educator, to speak up for myself. All teachers have their own personal ethos, their reasons for going into the profession, and my personal ethos was being attacked. The fear of being the odd one out, or potentially losing your job, should not stop you from speaking up for yourself.

I have now learnt that despite being ‘ready’ to leave, the Inspire Partnership’s values align closely with my own. I do believe displays are of high value, just like my previous school did, however at Inspire this does not come before the needs of the child. At Inspire, the displays are part of the learning journey toward excellence, and something the children should be proud of. Children are the heart of the Inspire Partnership. Their needs are what drives the curriculum, and drives my colleages across all five schools to provide the best they can. The children are why we come to work every single day.


I host a range of visitors to my classroom, and one conversation that often comes up is that of work load. At my previous school, I was working a 8:30am – 4:30pm day. In September, it was lovely. As the year progressed, I realised working to these hours meant that I was not providing all I could for the children, and added to this, I was working singularly in a new role, without much support. At Inspire, the ethic of excellence drives the teachers to do all they can for the children, and the power of collaboration allows for shared planning and resourcing and shared professional development. In addition to this, we are given dedicated time for medium term planning and peer observations to ensure best practice for the children.

Earlier, I mentioned the ‘negatives’ of being in the partnership. There will always of course be the ‘negatives’ associated with the teaching profession and nothing is perfect, but being in a setting which I felt was so out of line with my values, made me realise that this is the most important thing. A shared ethos and vision in making a difference to children’s lives. A vision that everyone is part of and a place where everyone has a voice.

How my practice has developed.

My experience last year has shaped me as a person. I am clear on my values as an educator more so than I was when I left Woodhill. For example, I have learned to appreciate our weekly PDM’s, as when that personal development is taken away from you, you begin to miss it. I try to make sure my team are fully supported with CPD they would like, and have clarity around the ethos of EYFS.

I have always been supportive of staff, but after experiencing lack of clarity myself, it is even more important to me that my clarity as a leader is established. I would never again want my motives to be questioned, and I believe that the way to achieve this is by having open, honest discussions with my team centred around the ‘why.’ In Susan Scott’s book ‘Fierce Conversations,’ she states that, ‘the conversation is the relationship. If the conversation stops, all of the possibilities for the relationship become smaller.’  I believe in fostering relationships for the best outcome for all.

Mark Burns discusses ‘relational trust’ in his book ‘The Learning Imperative.’ Trust has to be built in order for a team to succeed. My previous experience allowed me to see what happens when this trust is not there. I felt distrust from others being a new person in the team, and I was unable to trust a team which, I perceived, had different values to me. There was a perception gap. I have learned that whatever your personal opinion is of someone, you have to be able to trust them professionally. The team, last year, were still good practitioners and my experience in Early Years has shaped my role as a phase leader at Rockliffe Manor. I have magpied provision ideas, and learning experiences as they were extremely beneficial to the children’s development. Part of my action plan is to implement outdoor focus groups based on the children’s interests, which was a high focus at this school. I have learned that the sharing of best practice can happen anywhere, regardless of the situation, and we should always embrace other’s experience and opinions, and trust that it works. I now know I am trusted as a professional by the dialogue that takes place, as opposed to ideas being verbalised and ignored. Dialogue is the key to success in this job, not a monologue of message sharing. At Inspire, you are free to take risks which are then later reflected and improved on.

The biggest change for me is more personal. We cannot be good teachers if we are not looking after ourselves properly. I have learned to slow myself down, and listen to my body a bit more when I am feeling the cognitive overload. It is important to also voice to others if you need help, as more is achieved when you work as a team in all areas. We cannot provide for our classrooms if we do not have the mental capacity.  I strive to not only look after myself more, but show concern for others, and make sure my team are looking after themselves and are supported in anything, not just professionally, in order for them to feel the best they can.

I do not regret the move from Woodhill, as I was ready for the change and have learnt a lot about myself-my values, my drivers and how to be a more successful leader. I am now really looking forward to seeing what the future holds and further developing my potential as a leader.


1 CategoryLeadership Learning
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