Phil Arnold, Principal of Avanti Hall School
When and why did you become a teacher?
I became a teacher in 2006, after completing my PGCE at Exeter University. When I was younger, I played a lot of cricket and at 18, I was offered the chance to play in New Zealand as an overseas player. Part of the role was to teach cricket in the local schools and lead the district youth teams. It was the first time I had ever thought of teaching as a career, but I loved every minute of it and by the end of my time in NZ, I was enjoying the teaching element more than playing cricket myself! While studying for my undergraduate degree, I volunteered as a sports coach in local schools and this experience confirmed that I wanted to teach in the future. I was studying Ancient History, and wanted to focus on History, so I stayed at Exeter University to complete a PGCE.
What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?
Enjoy the journey! As a Principal, I ensure that I am still teaching because it is what I really enjoy doing. I think as Headteachers, leading on teaching and learning, we should model what we hope to see in our classrooms. As a young professional, I was always striving to get to the next step on the career ladder, and a consequence of that is that I missed the enjoyment of teaching in my first few years in the profession. What I enjoy now is researching and reading around what I do, and I often think back to when I first started and wish I had built in more time to do that.
I would also keep reminding myself to watch and listen to colleagues and leaders to see what works and what doesn’t. I know that as a leader, I am a hybrid of my experiences and that my observations have informed my practice, right through from my own teachers at school to colleagues I have observed. I am glad I have worked in a range of schools and can see that different leadership styles work in different situations, but I can now appreciate the complexities of leadership and that there may be many reasons behind the decisions and choices leaders make.
How do you manage your own workload and well-being?
Managing workload can be tough, because you always want to do a better job and be better than the day before. The only way to do that is through hard work, which takes time. Since becoming Principal at Avanti Hall in April 2020, there have been two national lockdowns and it has been a challenge to balance all those changes as well as create and develop a new school ethos.
I have young children and making time for them is important, so creating some work free space when I get home is very important to me.
I also believe that a healthy body is essential for a healthy mind, so I really value exercise every morning before work. I have a very active Labrador, so taking her for a run each morning helps to set the day up positively. I also enjoy music and find that playing and listening to lots of different genres is helpful.
Living in the Southwest of England is something I am very grateful for. I live twenty minutes from Dartmoor and close to the the South Coast beaches, so visiting these with family and friends is really good for looking after my well-being.
Is teaching an art or a craft?
It has to be both! It is a craft because we are developing all the time and crafting our own way of doing things, but the best teachers I have seen are creative, inspiring and full of positive energy, which is an Art. I have had the privilege of hearing Sir John Jones speak on a couple of occasions and he refers to teaching as the ‘magic weaving business’ – I think the best teachers make our craft an art form.
One book that you would recommend anyone working in a school should read.
I think Teach like a Champion by Doug Lemov is a great resource. I was lucky enough to meet Doug Lemov two years ago and we spoke about his background and his vision for education for everyone. His work has transformed so many lives all around that world that the strategies, ideas and passion he brings to education should be read by everyone who works in a school.