Five years ago, almost to the day, I walked out of the British International School in Addis Ababa for the last time. I left proud. Working as Deputy Headmaster and as part of a close, committed team made up of both local and expatriate staff I had helped turn the school round. Behaviour was incomparably better and improving. Exam results were up. Children, parents and staff were proud that the BIS was part of their life.
Later that evening, at the end of year staff party when almost everyone else had gone home, I sat with the Headmaster who was also leaving. As we laughed and reminisced about all we’d achieved, and the joy the school had brought us, and the inevitable sadness we felt at leaving it, it suddenly occurred to me that we might be making a terrible error. “We should be staying.” I said.
But no. While my reaction was understandable my reasons to leave were good ones and, in the cold morning light of the next day, I knew it was the right time to go. The school had taken three years to turn round and the result of the changes we’d made was that it was now a different place altogether, with different strengths and different challenges. The Headmaster and I could have stayed but, had we done so, there was a very real danger we’d be too comfortable, too willing to accept where we were because of how far we’d come. The school needed us to either reinvent our jobs or step aside for someone who didn’t know the school’s history, someone who saw the school as it was and wasn’t distracted by what it had been. And, for lots of reasons both personal and professional my friend the Headmaster and I were too tired to reinvent ourselves. It was time for us to step aside.
I have been thinking a lot about leaving the BIS because, five years later, I am moving on again. At the end of this academic year I am leaving my job as a Head of Humanities to work for the Institute for Teaching as a Secondary Tutor in the Birmingham area.
Some of the reasons I am leaving are similar. I will again leave proud of what my team has achieved. Results are on the up. The subjects are now popular. Behaviour is better. Our move to a knowledge based curriculum is proving even more successful than expected. On the face of it, and I can’t help feeling this sometimes, it may appear foolish to leave just as the fruits of our labour ripen for harvest. So why go?
The answer, I think, comes in two parts. The first is very similar to the reason I left the BIS. I have finished one job. I know the changes we have put in place mean things will continue to improve, but the next big step will need us to shift up a gear again. Staying would have meant committing to another block of time to see this through and, for reasons I’ll go into next, this is something best left for someone new.
The second reason I am leaving is more selfish. Not too long ago I wrote a blog, called Plugged In, which described how much Twitter had improved me as teacher. It was well received by some and was even quoted in speech given by Nick Gibb in Australia. The blog explained how ideas I encountered challenged what I had thought to be a universally accepted orthodoxy around teaching and learning, and led to me wholeheartedly searching for different answers. It was these answers that I brought into my Faculty. One of the things I most regret about the early years of my career was that I wasted so much time on methodology that was sometimes just not right for me, and sometimes actually conceptually flawed.
It was because of this that I found an opportunity to work for the Institute for Teaching such an exciting prospect. I am looking forward to helping teachers progress faster than I did, by using evidence informed practice and hope that this means many children, particularly those disadvantaged by their circumstances, learn faster than they might have done otherwise.
I hope I will do this with some humility. Twitter took me on a journey through the Dunning-Kruger curve. To begin with, what I read made so much sense that I began to assume all answers could be found in a small handful of places. But the great thing about Edu-Twitter is that it is made up of such a diverse network of teachers and educationalists that the complexities of teaching and learning become apparent unless quite a concerted attempt is made to avoid them. First, I didn’t know there was even a debate; next I began to think I was becoming an expert in it and now I am increasingly aware that there is so, so much I have yet to learn. In my new role I will be making sure that I listen more than I speak, that I read more than I write and that when I have something to say it’s based not just on my own personal experience, but on a wide range of views, evidence and research. I will be asking a lot of questions. And, the wonderful thing about the network I am now so deeply plugged in to, is that I am certain that when I inevitably get things wrong they are plenty of people ready to put me right.
So, from the colleagues I’ve worked with to those I know only as pixels on a screen, thank you everyone. I am excited about my next step and it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for you. The attainment gap between our richest and poorest children yawns as wide as ever and there’s lots of work to do. I can’t wait to get started.