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Posted on: 21/08/2020

Getting ready for re-opening

It has been a long time since I wrote here. This is primarily because there was so much to do and so much to read to prepare and plan for both the end of our first year and now the re-opening in September. When reflecting over the summer on my first year as Principal with students at the academy, I am reminded of how proud I felt as we looked back on all the things we crammed into the shortened time we had with our students actually physically in the building. I can only imagine the impact that the pandemic has had on their lives, changing their futures and all our daily lives. However, I am mindful and thankful that the Deanery has remained relatively unscathed both during the pandemic andin the most recent problems associated with public examinations. I hope that by the time our Class of 2019 get to the end of Year 11, we may, as an education system have sorted out a fair, reliable and just system. We have been very busy over the summer, preparing for our reopening. I realise that we have assimilated phrases and words into our daily vocabularly that meant either different things before or certainly were not used as often: lockdown (we have a policy for that, but it cetainly wasn't as planned!), isolation (we don't do that as a general rule, but we all did that), shielding (as a PE teacher that means something completely different to me), social distancing (I just thought that was me being a bit introspective and wanting time to study!), PPE (to me this previously stood for Pre-Public Exams)and Zoom (that was my favourite ice-lolly as a child). Now I find our procurement is very different - normally we are spending hours pouring over stationery catalogues and choosing new exercise books, this year we've been sourcing hand sanitiser, tape measures and for the floor, one way signs, face shields and clear perspex to make screens. And I kick myself that after only one year we now need to buy more and new bins for classrooms, all with lids. It has been a strange time to be a novice Principal, but then everyone has been a novice this year, no-one has ever really had to do any of this before, so I guess I was suddenly not new at it, just travelling the same path as all other leaders of schools. One thing is for sure, we always take particular care over our newly qualified teachers, especially in September when all things are new to them - this year we are all effectively newly qualified - having to go back to school to completely new ways of working and being. We will all have to learn to teach in a slightly nuanced way, perfect our craft in new ways, I suspect use non-verbal communication much more, use many more reassuring smiles and to a large extent lose proximity from our behaviour management toolkit. I, like many others, cannot wait to get back. I know it is going to be hard work and different, but challenge accepted. Who knows what will happen in the next 12 months, this time last year I wrote about one moment in time, obviously not knwoing what was ahead. We continue to pray for healing in our world, for a safe and swift return to school and 'normal' and that we can continue to build our exceptional school so that all our students and their families can live life in all its fullness. Read More
Posted on: 21/04/2020

I have been here before

This time last year we were busy making final preparations for opening. I remember sitting on my sofa, with my laptop on the floor in front of me, writing postcards to the new students about to join us. I have just done exactly the same exercise for our new students! I must admit, I had imagined that I would not have to hand write all the addresses again – I thought I would have a PA who would be able to print address labels for me! Social distancing and working from home has prevented that from happening, although there is something very satisfying about addressing 210 postcards by hand! At least you don’t have to lick the stamps these days. I am a bit sad that we had the postcards printed well before any of this pandemic had started, so the last part of the postcard says that we hope you enjoy the last few terms at primary school. I do hope our Year 6 students get a chance to go back to school and say their goodbyes properly. Closure is very important. Whilst we are very excited about welcoming the class of 2020 to the Deanery, we feel strongly that there needs to be a really good ending to our students’ time at primary school. And so here we are again. Planning not an opening this time, but a re-opening! We are desperate to get our students (class of 2019) back into school, but of course we have to wait until we are told that it is safe to do so. Mr Scutt and I spoke yesterday about how strange it is, he has been working with me for a year now, having started his new post straight after Easter 2019. We spent some time working together in various coffee shops and the rest of the time we spent working from our respective homes. We really did not imagine we would be doing that again this year!!! So much has happened since we became “clo-pen”, our phrase for being “clo-sed” but “o-pen” for vulnerable children and children of key workers. We have tried to carry on with some things as normal. For example, we still think it is really important to celebrate the birthdays of our students (and staff) and so have continued to send them cards to make these happy but different times. I was moved last week to receive this wonderful message from one of our students in response to her receiving her birthday card: “Dear Miss Culling, I have just got your lovely card. Thanks for thinking of me even if school is closed. Both my mum and I got very moved. The card almost had me in tears! I miss school very much but am working very hard on the homework. I really wish we could come back in for the last term at least...fingers crossed. Xxx much love Abigail”. We have continued to have our weekly whole year group assembly, via Zoom, and it is wonderful to see the delight on the face of the children as they see us and each other. Our tutor worship is posted on the website weekly and forms a resource now that families can use with each other, I am very proud of this and hope it is helpful to people. And of course we, like many other schools, are setting work for our students to complete at home. We are not being as prescriptive as some, as we also believe it is really important for children to be spending valuable time with their families, and whilst our teachers have set plenty of tasks for students to get stuck into we are encouraging them to take regular breaks away from their screens, and make time for having fun and connecting with friends and family. We feel strongly that students should go outside if at all possible for their one hour of daily exercise, following government guidelines, and make the most of the wonderful weather to play, run, walk, cycle, search for insects, make mud pies, climb trees, complete scavenger hunts, pick up fallen leaves, smell blossom, listen to the birds singing and soak up some healthy fresh air and sunshine. Lots of things are new. I have overcome my fear of video conferencing and now find I can hop from one platform to the next with ease, even remembering (most of) my passwords! I never thought I would hear myself say this, but email communication has been vital. Those people who know me well know that I much prefer ‘face-mail’ and in fact when we opened last September I specifically asked the staff not to send emails to each other if they were in school; I even threatened to ignore some emails if I thought the person sending the email could have come and spoken to me! Of course now we find ourselves being drawn into whole conversations on email, text, chat and even live on documents. Who would have thought?! I have learnt about etiquette on video conferencing as well, often finding I am having to bite my tongue as I now know that I am rather prone to interrupting…. Who would have known?! And I have occasionally turned up to a formal meeting in either pyjamas or even shorts….tactical placement of the camera and blurred backgrounds have become my thing! I am sure there have been many changes in everyone’s households. One significant change to mine has been the loss of Fuzzy, our oldest school dog. Fuzzy was happy until the day before she died, actually she was last seen chasing a chicken around the garden late into her last evening! She awoke next morning and had to visit the vets for the last time. I had always made it clear at school that Fuzzy was a very old lady and probably would not be with us for much longer. I explained this on many occasions to the students and staff. However, not only did Fuzzy have the most amazing last 6 months of her life, becoming part of the Deanery family, it also gave us a small way in to talking about loss and bereavement with our students. I was overwhelmed with the kindness of students and their families who messaged me to send their condolences. Fuzzy was put to sleep on the last day of school and I did not have the heart to tell anyone until the following week. I even was sent a picture of Fuzzy that one of the students had drawn, how kind. We have had to deal with the sad news that one of our members of staff has had a bereavement since we closed. Mrs Cornish lost her husband after a very short and aggressive bout of cancer. Again I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of our families and friends of the school, sending messages of condolence to Margaret and her family. I am incredibly proud to say that, as a Lay Minister in the Church of England, I was asked if I would perform the funeral for Chris. This was such a privilege for me and a moment I will not forget for a long time. As a minister I have both performed and been involved in many funerals, but this one will stand out for many reasons. Not least the fact that there were only 7 mourners. I am so pleased to be able to report that despite this, the funeral felt just as it should have – a very dignified moment for us to focus our attention on Chris, celebrate his very full life and say goodbye to his earthly body. I am struck by the horror of the situation we are living through. I, like many others no doubt, look for the statistics every day and hope desperately to see the number of deaths going down. But taking Chris’s funeral made me stop and think. Each and every one of those statistics are people, not just in our country but worldwide, and each and every one has a family and friends who are now mourning their death. The effects of this pandemic are being much talked about, economic, social, political. I am considering all of these, thinking often about how to re-open the school and like many others desperately hoping we can get back as soon as possible. But I am also very aware that we need to keep in mind so much more. The effects of all these deaths take their toll on people. Not least the families and friends of the victims, but also the undertakers, ministers, crematorium staff to name but a few more who are working so much harder than normal. And so in that respect, I have actually never been here before and know that hopefully we probably will not see another pandemic like this in my lifetime. I have spoken to the staff this week and said that we really do need to mark this moment in time for our students – they are living through history being made and will talk to their children and grandchildren about this. I do hope that if you are reading this you are in good health and that you will remain in good health, keep safe and until we do meet again, keep in your minds (and prayers if you do) our school, our families and the many thousands of people who are affected by Covid-19.Read More

A moment in time

Posted on: 30/08/2019

Monday 2nd September 2019 is a moment in time, as is Wednesday the 4th September 2019.  On Monday the Deanery CE Academy opens its doors to staff for the first time; on Wednesday we welcome our first cohort of students.  I almost cannot believe that finally the time has come.

This building is finished.  The students are enrolled. The furniture is in.  The lessons are planned.  We are just waiting now.  Waiting for the staff to come, waiting for the students, waiting for the adventures to begin. 

I wish I had kept a tally of all the decisions I have made on the way.  I had the privilege over the past 24 hours of showing my family around the school.  When I told them that I had chosen the paint, the floor covering, the carpets, the chairs, the tables, the toilet roll holders, the doors, the door handles, the signs, the computers, the telephones, the projectors, the computers, the laptops, the programmes, the fitness equipment, the quotes on the walls, the fridges, the shredders, the goalposts…. Seriously, the list is just ridiculous!  All the decisions that have needed to be made have been made.  We are waiting…  waiting for Monday, waiting for the staff to come, waiting for Wednesday, waiting for the children to come, waiting.  And as you know, I have been waiting a long time!  And those of you who know me well, know I am not good at waiting.

So, some of the things I have been thinking about over the past few days have been more to do with lessons than ever.  I remembered a quote from Haim Ginott that I was given once by an inspirational Principal I worked with, it goes like this: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”  Teachers are critical.  Great teachers are critical to making a school a great success. The Deanery teachers have already proved how great they are, I am so excited to put them altogether as a team and see just how amazing they can be.  And so, as I showed our Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning at Swindon Borough Council, Gary Sumner round the school today, I explained that whilst we have the most amazing building ready and waiting for our staff and students to enter, it is not the building that is the most important part.  Don’t get me wrong, the facilities are exceptional, world class even.  But the Deanery school is not just about the building and the facilities – the beating heart of the school will be the people contained in it.  The staff and the students.  And that is why I am becoming increasingly excited, because very soon both the staff and students will be entering the building, inhabiting it, making it their own, breathing life into it, bringing it to life, helping the building fulfil its purpose.

Which brings me to explain the title of this blog: one moment in time.  I am reminded of this song by Whitney Houston, excerpts chosen by me:

Each day I live I want to be, a day to give the best of me
I'm only one, but not alone, my finest day is yet unknown…

…I want one moment in time,  when I'm more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me…

And in that one moment of time I will feel eternity
I've lived to be the very best…

…Give me one moment in time
When I'm more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me…

…If you seize that one moment in time…

This to me is a close a representation of our purpose: to live life in all its fullness.  To be the best you can be.  To be ‘more than I thought I can be’.  This is my dream, my prayer for all those who are going to join me on the Deanery journey.  The pioneering staff and the pioneering students.  I hope my blog has been of interest to those of you who have followed it – I do intend to carry on, as I think it will be fascinating to record post-opening developments as well as pre-opening ones.  Please, if you do, pray for us this weekend, as we make our final preparations and rest ready for our opening.  Pray for the families who are about to step out on this journey with us.  But most of all, pray for our students, as they enter into the Deanery as children and will leave as young adults: selfless individuals, loving life, bringing out the best in each other and living life in all its fullness.