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12 December 2022

The Monday Briefing: Thank God it's Christmas

The Monday Briefing: Thank God its Christmas

As we enter the last week of term, it’s only starting to dawn on me just how momentous the journey has been for the College over the last few months.

I can see that it has taken its toll: the winter bugs and industrial actions of late have pushed the limits; staff are visibly tired; students are striving to find another gear as the mock exams commence. There really isn’t much left in the tank for anyone.

But this is how it should be. 

I always remember when I was growing up, playing football for various teams. I told myself something that I would go on to tell students who I coached in later years: ‘Leave absolutely everything out there on the playing field, and finish it all with no regrets.’

These words seem quite poignant given the travails of Harry Kane at the weekend, but, just like he always does, it’s vital to take a high degree of professional pride in what one does.

The general consensus is that this is the hardest term: nights drawing in; working so hard to get momentum going at the start; the sheer length of it. I’ve always been very conscious that it’s key to finish as strongly as one starts, as difficult as that sounds, with staff running out of steam.

I’ve discussed before the approach at the College to the last week of term - not letting up one bit and pushing all the way to the end through mock examinations. No videos. No Christmas word searches. No party games. Just vitally important assessments, followed by even more vital timely, quality feedback offering candid advice on the next steps needed for improvement.

That they then have two weeks or so to reflect, re-energise and then go again with purpose is vital in itself to setting up success in the last two terms.

I worked closely with a fellow Head of Department over a decade ago during a very happy time in my teaching. His wife, a Senior Leader at another school, had an analogy for this, and every term, for staff in schools. She likened it to being away at sea, being, in mind if not body, away from family and friends until the holidays come. Though I wasn’t fully convinced at the time, I understand some of the likenesses. (Forgive my attempts to get as many seafaring terms in as short a space to illustrate the point - but I’ll try to sum up the term at Ealing Independent College with this in mind)

August required all hands on deck to deal with the overwhelming amount of admissions enquiries which we had to deal with. I had been right: the College had been making waves in the years preceding, and not simply tiding over. Running a tight ship, with all staff on board and working at close quarters meant we could deal with the groundswell though.

Such an upsurge of students could have taken the wind right out of our sails had we not been shipshape. The staff at Ealing certainly knew the ropes by now, even when new arrivals came hard and fast. They showed their true colours - dedicated, committed and loyal. Each crew member never shirked a duty.

And as for those new recruits who joined us, the majority worked hard to make up leeway through their initial choppy waters of transition, with some taken aback by the standards expected of them. There were times where they had to batten down the hatches, but any deep water was negotiated. They encountered an environment where staff would support them through thick and thin.

Some of the listless needed a shot across the bows from time to time in the way of a detention or another sanction, to have their sails trimmed when they had overreached. But by and large, landlubbers sometimes just need to be convinced of the fact that they can swim rather than sink. They quickly toed the line - they were helped to fathom the key characteristics of a good learner.

As the nights drew in, it would have been easy to get down in the doldrums about the amount of work to get through, to feel high and dry at the prospect of the tasks to come. But we must keep in mind that we are never all at sea, and that the College approach to getting results for the students on board is copper-bottomed, anchored in lessons learned through experience.

We are under no illusions - it won’t always be hunky dory, or plain sailing to get to the end of the course we have set, but we must plot the right path to get there together. 

As for the captain of the ship, he has been displaying the cut of his jib through this blog all term, but is nearing the end of term quite pooped. 

May everyone who reads this have fair winds and following seas over the Christmas break.

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