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15 August 2022

The Monday Briefing: Don't stop me now

The Monday Briefing: Dont stop me now

‘Could I have taken over as Principal at a less opportune time?’

So began the very first Monday Briefing, written on the 24th August 2020 and entitled ‘A Day in The Life (of a Principal)’ in the aftermath of the calamitous distribution of A Level results of that year. Centre Assessed Grades had replaced formal exams due to the pandemic, and 38% of those grades submitted by the College had just been brought down, resulting in a great deal of consternation amongst parents and students - and a great deal of ire directed my way.

I remember it vividly: that first day in charge was certainly a baptism of fire.

I had made a commitment earlier that week that I would share my journey as a new Head through a blog - The Monday Briefing. 

It was the first time I’d committed to such a venture, and, looking back now, I’m not sure exactly why I did it, not knowing just how all-consuming being a Principal would be.

Now, here we are, for the 75th blog of the series, at the start of my third academic year as Head, with A Level results day again on the horizon.

I suppose that back then I was primarily looking to gain some exposure for the College - to break free of the constraints which had gained EIC the moniker of being a ‘best kept secret’ in the locality, hoping instead to ensure that more people would be able to gain some insight into the incredible work we do here.

Though the blog itself has certain business advantages for Ealing Independent College - increasing website traffic and improving our search engine optimisation - this has certainly become a secondary reason for its existence.

The last two years have seen some incredibly tumultuous times: the Covid pandemic; managing the College as an online only school for two periods; organising alternatives to exams; and all that on top of the stressful nature of the day to day life of a Principal.

During that time, I’ve never once felt that the blog was a burden or unmanageable - in fact, I’ve grown very much attached to the weekly routine of getting my thoughts down to explain how the College or indeed myself, may have been shaped by the events of that week, and have tried to stay as honest as possible about my thoughts and feelings, whether they be happy and positive ones, or rather more bleak and pessimistic, as I faced in that first week.

There is, in fact, a very strong correlation between its importance, and the emergence of a nationwide consideration over my time as Principal which has made the blog all the more important to me, and will, I think, always remain as the most important factor in its existence: the maintenance of mental wellbeing - and its importance within a school setting.

Many bloggers write their blogs for different reasons: perhaps to share their interests or hobbies; maybe to improve their networking capabilities; possibly for fame, popularity or to make money; they could be trying to seek new job opportunities; or simply just to improve their own writing skills. Most importantly for me, however, writing my weekly blog is a source of catharsis, and, along with running, something which enables me to try and make sense of it all. Professionally, it gives me the best chance of maintaining my composure in a role which requires it as a fundamental skill.

As an historian, I like having a contextual record of the time, and what my take on it was. Sometimes, when faced with a problem, you need to look back in order to move forward - and I do, on occasion, reread some of the blogs to question whether the decisions which I took when I took them were the right ones, or whether I could have adapted my approach.

Sometimes writing the blog can be a breeze - speeding through a brief summary of my recollections on an event or a student who has made a real difference. On other occasions, it can be a work of several revisits, though it is extremely rare that I feel I have nothing to say, so I never struggle for content. The job itself, with its ‘every day is different’ nature, takes care of that.

Sometimes the blog post which I put most work into can get little exposure and receives very few comments. On other occasions, those which I feel have been produced very quickly can be the best received, with thousands of views and multiple, well considered comments letting me know what others think about an article.

To a certain extent, however, this is irrelevant. 

Once the blog is written and sent to Laura, Admissions and Marketing Coordinator at the College, usually on a Sunday evening, I personally start to feel clearer and more positive about the week ahead - ready to approach work at Ealing on a Monday morning in the right frame of mind. The number of views, comments and likes is completely secondary to my ability to maintain a measured and balanced approach to my role as Principal. Everything which follows the blog itself is a bonus - and if it helps anyone to think more positively about approaching a certain issue in their lives, then it has accomplished something far beyond social media gratification.

Certain facets of the blog have developed somewhat of a life of their own, though to many this is not abundantly clear. At the Christmas party in 2021, I was having a chat with Laura, the Vice Principal, about the titles for each blog post. She didn’t realise that they were song titles, chosen to reflect the theme of the piece. In my first academic year, these were Beatles songs; in the second, they were those performed by Michael Jackson. This small detail, which actually helps me write the blog by not wasting time by struggling for adequate titles, had gone straight over her head. 

There will be no prizes for guessing what the title of the blog today indicates about the band I’ve chosen as the one who will provide the titles for The Monday Briefing in 2022-2023.

Blogging has become as much a welcome part of my life as running has, something I mentioned in a previous post. Without my regular runs, I feel stodgy, irritable and unhappy with myself for not having made the effort. 

I guess, in a rather similar way, blogging is my intellectual workout, and I know that I’d be far worse off without it.

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