Reflections on the songs that make up my theme tune …

Whist scrolling through Twitter this morning in between getting together my thoughts ready for a school improvement visit I saw a post from Kenziah Featherstone with the hashtag #Themetune and #playlist. This stopped my in my scrolling. It is something I have often reflected on. When Prince died on 21st April 2016 the magnitude of this hit me like a truck…. no more Prince music , how could this be possible? This musical genius had provided the soundtrack of my life since I could remember. His lyrics somehow hit home with me on such a level it was comforting, a musical travelling partner through life.

It is however the case that I have very wide, eclectic taste in music. I love music and rarely is there no music playing around me. Playlists for the car, school, gym, music is every room at home …. music surrounds me and on deeper refection whilst Prine was and still is the consistent musical inspiration there are many, many more.

With this in mind this blog could go on forever as I adore so many artists, groups , tunes I have however noted the first 10/15 songs that jumped into my head to make reference to and make shed some light as to their importance in ordering my thoughts , adding clarity to life and taking the edge off what can be, at times a serious life ….

Always in my hair by Prince is my number one go to tune to bring me back to centre. A heart felt song about how someone can be in every fibre of your being. The importance of this relationship is everything to me, gives me strength to be me, to be a strong women, to make mistakes, to learn , to be loved.

My Fantasy by Guy is a song that takes me right back to the party days of my youth, big laughs and wild nights. Concerts in London on a shoestring budget and feeling that dancing the night through was all that you needed to get through. In stark contrast This corner of the earth by Jamiroquai brings instant gratification in the warmth of memories. It pulls together all my thoughts of Cleethorpes, it’s quirky creativity, shabby nostalgia of My Dads habit of going every morning to the seafront and looking out to gain a sense of freedom…. how crazy I thought he was, and how I have now grown into this habit.

The search for freedom in a shackled existence is a theme too the Stevie Wonder song Free is also on the playlist …the sentiments are , to me, just what you think on at 2 o’clock on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon after a day of number crunching.. a beautiful haunting tune that always calms me.

Memories of music at home as a child have remained warm… my Mum’s favourites The Drifters on full volume Save the last Dance for me . Then taking Mum to a Drifters concert a few years ago and her whispering to my husband that this was her and my Dads favourite song and him instantly getting up and dancing with her… me with tears streaming down my face, missing my dad and proud of my man. My Dad playing Gloria Gayner I will Survive full blast on a Sunday morning from the sign shop we lived behind and my brother being obsessed with Band of Gold by Freyda Payne ….. these were all played in by also on a record player hidden under a wooden hinged cover that Mum had a crotchet doily on and a hideous blue and white ceramic ornament of figures from the past.

Strong female artist have always sat amongst my favourites on Prince, Stevie Wonder, Teddy Riley ,etc etc. When I finally got out of a job where I was unhappy and went to give my notice in to the chair of governors I got into the car and I’m Coming Out Diana Ross was playing , I turned it up loud and sang at full volume all the way home … this now always reminds me of the joy of getting yourself out of situations that are not for you. Why by Annie Lennox is a favourite mainly , I think , due to that beautiful video and the transformation she goes through from the simple to extraordinary… it’s possible, we can all do this when needed! My All Mariah Carey… simply delicious song about laying yourself on you line for what you want. Right through to my current favourite Million Dollar Bill by Whitney… this song quite simply makes me sing, dance and feel happy. Put it on in my kitchen and I will dance in a Pavlovian type reaction … at the gym I have to be so restrained . when Whitney says If you feel good, If you’re feeling good Put one hand in the air , say yeah I have to stop myself doing just that.

At school, Three Little Birds by Bob Marley hold such a special place in my playlist. My school is a school with high pastoral need, the children need security, understanding and enthusing with high aspirations . When a few years ago on the last day of term when everyone was out on the field in the sun a teacher took out a guitar and started strumming Three Little Birds the whole school,all 350 of them, sang the chorus loudly , spontaneously… just perfect Don’t worry about a thing , because every little thing is gonna be alright . That took them into the summer holidays ..just perfect

Just a snippet of my listening habits that make up my #Playlist so although Sometimes in Snows in April Prince will always be a reminder of the sorrow April 16 brought there are many other joyous tunes that’s make up the full picture …. hang on haven’t even mentioned. Luther Vandross, Beverley Knight , Craig David, George Michael , Solo, Mary JBlige ………


Sometimes it snows in April…

I was still in school when Parade was released, 12 perfectly crafted tunes that captured me immediately. The compositions seemed to possess me, layered and intricate, pitch changes and drama. The lyrics intriguing, sensual and deep weaved their way through my senses, made me think, reflect and long for more. 
I already loved music, it was an escape and a way of categorising and organising the world. I thought too deeply, worried too widely and sought perfectionism. It was draining music let people, events and thoughts be dealt with by a connection with a melody.
My music collection is vast and diverse, the concerts I have attended, many. Other musicians who’s music I love have died, Luther Vandross, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and although sad I have been thankful for what they gave us musically and accepted their passing without too much concern. 
The news that Prince died in a lift shaft in his home on the 21st April 2016 has left me bereft… he was the supplier of the music that lubricated my life journey. Barely a day has gone past with me listening to some of his music or reflecting on a tune that reminds me of someone, something or an event in my life. More importantly in some ways is the flow of music had stopped abruptly. The prolific genius always guaranteed one thing , that the music kept on flowing. 
I have never cared for the stories,the details of his life , or indeed any of the hundreds of musicians I appreciate. Why is that any of my business? I don’t speculated on character or personality overly, his stage persona hinted at a complex multi dimensional character… good, this reflected in his music. The frenzy or theories and speculation over the past year has barely touched me , I ignore , roll my eyes and move on.  
The music fits me, could have been written for me. Prescribed to smooth the journey. This is a personal affair, I couldn’t care less if you like the music or not … I prefer if you appreciate the musician but if you don’t … then I won’t lose sleep.    
The performance in 2004 Rock Hall of Fame induction ceremony saw Prince steal the show with a breathtaking guitar solo of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood and others on stage. I remember smiling and smugly congratulating myself on being in no doubt for many years he could, should he wish, steal the show musically from just about anyone I had ever seen and heard.

This year has been a bit tough … not a wailing upset, not a depressing mourning of Prince but a realisation that a huge part of my life that I never considered coming to an end has… no more new music from Prince. I do feel grateful for the music, the memories and the structure to hang my feeling on. 
Sometimes I feel so sad….


By the time the request for LLE applicants to apply to facilitate the ‘Making Best use of Teaching Assistants’ sprung into my inbox I had long since recognised that this was an area in our school that required our focus. It was one of those development areas that, as a school leader, buzzed lazily around you when walking the school, looking at learning or even observing staff behaviour and morale. Every now and then it had stung me and I had salved the pain with the all-encompassing notion that we had other issues to deal with before looking at the way in which we deployed, viewed and empowered our very talented teaching assistants. Even when the EEF guidance document hit my desk , as it did that of every head teacher in the country, I looked at it, read it and thought ‘That will be a superb resource to use WHEN that pops up as an agenda item.’
As it turns out, rather like my thoughts after having my eyes lazered after years of inconvenient and expensive glasses wearing, it was something I really do wish I’d grasped so much earlier. The shift in the school in so many ways has shown it was worthy of a much earlier time slot in our development journey.
So I applied, making it clear that our school in a deprived area (70+ PP) was at the end of the rail track… No, literally the end of the line – in a charismatic, shabby chic (ish) seaside town called Cleethorpes was on the journey. We had invested heavily into TA training, undertaking the very painful journey of upskilling TAs and losing those unable or unwilling to keep pace.
We were no experts, we did have some plus points, our Same Day intervention (SDI) team were making a huge impact on the progress of the children. Our work ethos and every second counts was paying dividends. Our TAs largely saw themselves as a force to be reckoned with… time for the rest of us to catch up!
So I was accepted and the meetings began. The research became serious and I was becoming very excited about working with the other facilitators to set out a series of opportunities to reflect, plan and improve on the vast army of oh-so-willing TAs in our schools. I was of course also incredibly excited about any improvement I could make to the provision in my own school.
So I intended to write a little about the journey we are on, in an attempt to lure you into a similar process of self-reflection in this much discussed area: leadership to Improve the impact of our Teaching Assistants.
We put a ‘Reflect to Improve’ team in straight away, led by a teacher whom I had observed had a very forward thinking attitude to the deployment of TAs, in the classroom and for intervention. The SENDco was in the team, but it quickly became clear that the area for development was not in the IEP delivery – it was in the whole school ethos. We also had two TAs, a very experienced , excellent educator, and a new to our team member who we hoped would breathe fresh air into any long-held views.
An action plan was constructed. We made the plan transparent and involved everyone. Audits of practice, views, resources and timetabling were completed, discussed, debated and reflected upon. Excitement mounted! We welcomed more ideas, opinions and reflections from a previously quiet TA team. The teachers and SLT were challenged in previous misconceptions. We noticed in the whole school training, to which they had always previously been invited, they now contributed more, asked questions, debating how they could use the ideas and strategies of Roz Ferrera, Isabella Wallace, Pie Corbett, and the countless other training sessions we had sought to embed.
I came across conversations in corners, not the moaning eye rolling type, but the ‘which sentence should we teach?’ type.
As plans were reviewed ideas were vocalised and I eeked out some budget, or if not, agonised over other ways to make things happen. The SDIs all were paid to attend planning meetings after school. The TAs all met with their teachers on a Monday morning to talk plans.
TAs wanted to look at learning so the Learning Studies now included everyone, looking at work in books, looking at learning in class and discussing progress. Professional dialogue was building. The Reflect team championed their cause and soon everyone had target relating to ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants’ in their Performance Management. The focus of staff meeting and TA meeting became this and the team led on that.
I actually just handed the snowball to a few well-chosen people and they had rolled it around to create a positive avalanche.
The difference was seen in classes: the way the teachers were freed to teach, as well as the connections between the children and the TAs. The learning is better and the team is together. Socially things have developed. We have long since been a happy team, but now the TAs all come along on staff nights out: 40+ regularly sign out for tea and the pub, or a fiery after school Indian. The TAs report that they feel more relevant and more needed. They are afforded the same respect the teachers do; we train, we discuss, we seek their ideas. Their timetables are not disregarded due to an incident, if it was important enough to be timetabled, it is important enough to not be disturbed.
So our journey continues. They are separating from us this term and looking at learning in their own teams (they have asked for learning walks focusing just on the TA skills). The visits to other schools have continued for further rich collaboration and networking.
It’s not perfect, nothing is. There are inconsistencies and still some resistance in areas, but this is a journey that I am pleased to be on. To be honest I have done very little… It’s self-motivating once the majority see the benefits.
SIGN UP: Join Claire, Diane Heritage and Alex Quigley on the ‘Leading TAs for Maximum Impact’ training programme at Huntington Research School, in York. Find out more and sign up

Whenever I feel like giving up…

On the 21st day of April this year the unthinkable happened in my musical world.  The man who wrote lyrics that spoke directly to me, that made me think, reflect and expand my thinking was found dead in a lift in his Paisley mansion in Minneapolis.

I watched the world mourn, they watched videos of him, scrabbled for snippets of information about this immensely private genius.  I have no interest in how he lived his life, what he did , what he ate, how he worshipped his God.  I was and am only interested in his music.   Don’t misunderstand me in the over 80 concerts in which I saw him live I found him to be funny, engaging, charismatic but ultimately he was,to me , a poet, a thinker and a musician .

The injustice floored me and in many ways I am still in a state of illogical denial.   I have a hugely eclectic taste in music but no one will ever fill Prince’s purple Spotlight.

So I guess that has set the tone of the year, as a person who enjoys striving for perfection within stability this year has been a shake up.

There has been a change in me that I now need to accomadate within my lifestyle.  The is a realisation that nothing is forever and that anything may happen .

Educationally this year I led the decision to move the school from maintained to academy , which will be realised shortly.  I never thought I would feel confident moving into a academy status but with all our secondary schools and the majority of primaries in our area now having academy status our position was precarious and vulnerable.  I am now very eager to join the Carefully selected MAT we are joining.  I feel the challenge and support is just what we need to progress further in our journey, a new and welcome way of working.

Work life balance has, if possible, been even worse in the last year.  Rather like the liberated women who celebrates being allowed to work whilst still retaining all of the household duties I have celebrated a move to the country and the village walks, space to entertain and a larger living space without relinquishing late night, weekend working and sleepless nights.

I know I am calmer with family and friends I appreciate people more and will be more flexible , I will back down, wave a white flag and forgive where previously my stubborn streak refused to allow me.   This double edged sword has however meant that in the past 18 months professionally I have felt disappointed , taken advantage of and sometimes bullied … not from my own team of course, they are simply wonderful!   To care deeply means to hurt deeply too

So looking forward to 2017 how can I be a better me? Lead a healthier like , enjoy more, worry less?

I promise to…

-listen to my body, if I’m tired I must stop..too many late night at a laptop in 2016

-Keep my gym routine, no matter what.  It gives me time to reflect and wind down.  Stop guilt tripping for leaving work at a reasonable time to get to the gym.

-listen more, judge less and stop worrying so much about what people think of me.

-spend time with like minded people, relax, enjoy and learn new ways to look at old problems.

I’m not going to eat healthily, drink less, get super fit… it’s not going to happen.   I’m going to concentrate on being happy.

Going t consider..Let it go!  Does it matter? Do I need acceptance?

Keep the main thing the main thing…as Covey says

Whenever I feel like giving up, whenever my sunshine turns to rain….  Prince really was Always in my hair  and always will be probably … thank Goodness img_7071


Many thanks to @mishwood1 for including me in 5 twitter colleagues to mention.  I was honoured by this and the continued opportunity to be in the company of such passionate educators.

   #TwitteratiChallenge  Mary’s twitterati challenge 

Also within Mary’s select 5 was Jay and Nicola ,Nicola Wood @NicolaWood64 Jay Virk @virkjay both of whom along with Mary would most certainly be in my 5. As I am most definitely  not ‘A good girl ‘ I will break the rules and tell you why.  

All three patiently listen to my ramblings, nonesense and silliness.  I love silliness, rambling, musing and fun with equal measure to my love of education, children, collaboration and impact.  All three are ‘sharers’ quickly and selflessly giving what they have and honestly commenting on real issues and educational dilemmas.  They are the team I rely on to be real, be honest and to be supportive. Many thanks … I can’t wait until our upcoming tweet meet in Cleethorpes 

What’s it all about? 

It is a challenge initiated by Ross, @TeacherToolkit – “In the spirit of social-media-educator friendships, this summer it is time to recognise your most supportive colleagues in a simple blogpost shout-out. Whatever your reason, these 5 educators should be your 5 go-to people in times of challenge and critique, or for verification and support”:

Here are the rules:

There are only 3 rules.

1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life.

2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge.

3. You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and (the rules and what to do) information into your own blog post.

What to do?

There are 5 to dos you must use if you would like to nominate your own list of colleagues.

1. Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely regularly go-to for support and challenge. They have now been challenged and must act and must act as participants of the #TwitteratiChallenge.

2 .If you’ve been nominated, you must write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost within 7 days. If you do not have your own blog, try @staffrm.

3. The educator nominated, that means you reading this must either: a) record a video of themselves (using Periscope) in continuous footage and announce their acceptance of the challenge, followed by a pouring of your (chose) drink over a glass of ice.

4. Then the drink is to be lifted with a ‘cheers’ before the participant nominates their 5 other educators to participate in the challenge.

5. The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost and identify who their top 5 go-to educators are.

That’s the easy bit – saying the purpose of the post and including the rules – it was hard for me to choose only 5 as there are more people if the rules had allowed I would’ve included so please don’t be offended – I could only include 5. I did think of giving a few more a sneaky mention but I am a good girl so top 5 it is…here goes – in no particular order:

Emma Emson @louiseema77

Another ‘rule’ ( to be broken) is the no one you work with one.  Anyone who follows me will see my dedicated school #teamwbj who regularly interact and chat on Twitter. Open  , honest and supportive they make my job so much easier. I have known both extremes of team and appreciate my current dream team. Within the team is Emma.  When I first explained Twitter and the strength it gave to my work and the wealth of ideas it holds , the depth it gives to my reflections Emma jumped in , both feet, and got tweeting, enthusiastically recruiting other team members and drawing them in . thank you Emma for the support. 

Michelle Dutton @orlakitten

A great tweeter with open mind and heart.  I enjoy interactions regarding the ebb and flow of headship. Honesty integrity and a passion for putting children first make Michelle a clear winner for me.  A lovely lady who puts sunshine into my timeline. Thank you

Jo Baker @jobaker9

I am green with envy at the talent Jo  has. I adore looking at her art cubed tweets, I’m fascinated by the energy she takes to her classes and goodness knows how I wish I could be in her class!  She is quite simply every teacher I ever loved and every teacher I want in my team. A true role model for passion and zest in education. 

Anne Ingle @ozzysocks

Anne is simply optimism in a tweet!  Every morning bright and cheery always seeking to improve .  I have told Anne my opinion, on occasion ,knowing it conflicts absolutely with hers and she graciously accepts it , no malice, no bitterness and then bounces back for more.  Anne is going to be a great headteacher and is already a sound leader. Keep smiling Anne you are best best kind of morning ‘Hello’ 

If you group Jay,Nicola and Mary into one illicit choice then that’s my 5 

These 5 are by no means exclusive. The reason I love Twitter is that it suitably addresses all my many facets.  I am ,at times, in need of serious educational dialogue ,advice, support, direction. I am also , at times , in need of frivolous fun…I think my nominations represent a few of those tweeters that accommodate both of these things.  I do however appreciate those grown up educators who seemingly always have an eye on the system.  I also adore those tweeters who are funny,  cheeky and pop in and out of my timeline to talk Prince, nails, holidays, shoes, baking…. Oh the things I love go on and on 

ClaireC @Constant55

So there it is … Over to you Emma, Jo , Michelle , Anne 

Enjoy the ~TwitteratiChallenge everyone!

There’s joy in repetition … 

A Prince song title , of course…. But in times of change and movement I take comfort in what I’ve always known.  I was brought up with a love of my surroundings , shabby as they often were.   My father was a Traditional Signwriter… He learnt his trade whilst in hospital.  He was in hospital for years. He was diagnosed with a TB, he held the prosegious award of being the first in Grimsby to ‘go in the Iron Lung’    He told us tales of life on the TB ward.  He made light of an operation to collapse his lung throughout which he had to stay awake as back then they weren’t sure he would awake if put to sleep.. They had the radio on and listened to cricket.. The deep wide scar curving  across his back stamped authenticity to his stories.     But when they had a hospital fayre one summer they thought ‘Snowy’. ( My dads youthful nickname due to his mop of blonde hair) would do it.  He did it, was great at it and from then on set up a room in the hospital doing posters… The doctors bringing him in jobs .  Sounds very Carry on Doctor I agree but that’s how he explains it…

So my dad was a Signwriter with a love of Cleethorpes, Grimsby and the previously thriving docks.  We lived behind the workshop, our lives were dominated by it.  I would often wake up in the morning with every inch of my bedroom. Hallway and house covered in posters…my dad had been screen printing all night.  Dad was old fashioned, he’d been brought up by his gran and didn’t really know what to do or say to children.  The best spent time with dad was in the car driving to deliver signs … He was the most animated I remember.  He would explain what shops had been there before , when he was a lad . We would drive to the docks and he would become animated , lit up, explaining the thriving pontoon of his youth… This was dad’s  world and so long as you were quiet you were allowed in briefly.   Cleethorpes was another favourite.  Still now I often go to the prom early morning, as my dad did to think , reflect and consider.  But as a child we would drive and discuss the signs, the styles, colours, rate them.  Talk about the changes and differences.

It is this that I repeat , often , weekly ,sometimes  often more.  I silently pay homage to the sights and sounds that my father loved so much. That I love so much .. Prince is right.. there’s joy in repetition  …

Tonight’s journey to the comfort zone….