Simon Arnell, Principal of Avanti House Secondary School
When and why did you become a teacher?
I wanted to become a Geography teacher from the age of about 13. I had always loved the natural world and lived as child nestled between the South Downs and Chichester Harbour. I was inspired by a two fantastic teachers to learn about the processes that shape our world and always wanted to learn more, through not just reading but actually immersing myself in the world around me, the perfect job was as a geography teacher. I also grew up as the first person to go to university and education had given me so much. It had supported my family and I pastorally through some very challenging times. I wanted to be part of a profession that could inspire educationally but protect and support all to be the best version of themselves, nobody gave up on me.
What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?
Teaching is a profession that is continually evolving, keeping up with the latest geographical changes and subject knowledge is important but so is developing the craft of learning and teaching. It is far too easy to slip into a personal style of teaching that may not be the most effective and could become outdated, stale and will certainly not have the best outcomes. Try new things, new methods and reflect on the learning as much as the subject you teach.
How do you manage your own workload and well-being?
I have played and enjoyed a variety of sports throughout my life, just before I started at Avanti I had to stop playing rugby. I then started to complete triathlons and became a member of Hatch End Triathlon club with my eldest son. I have competed at a number of events and qualify as a novice senior much to the amusement of family and friends. It is great as you compete against yourself and the times from each element, there is no point competing against my son as already he is quicker than me. lt is not just the exercise but doing something new and different, my goal is to compete in a half iron man in the next five years and to also enter a triathlon relay team with all of the family.
One of the most successful ways in which I manage my workload is to understand myself and how I work most effectively. I have learnt that there are times of the day or week when I work better at certain tasks and try to allocate my working week to suit this. An example would be that I try to complete more complex tasks in the morning between 10 and 12, as this is when I feel focused and aware of the needs of the school. Towards the end of the day I am often more reflective and plan with more clarity. Everybody is different and it helps to schedule the week and supports the writing of list as you are able to allocate to times of the day.
Is teaching an art or a craft?
It may be best to start with teaching as a science, evidence is informing a great deal of our practice and as good scientists we continually collect data and information on our students, the impact of our teaching and learning. We continually observe their behaviors, reactions, participation and interaction wit he learning activities that are created. We process this information and it will inform our practice and our experiences will evolve into the art of teaching. Not all of the practices will suit our classes but we will adapt into the philosophy of either the institution or the individual teacher. The art of outstanding teaching is the continual adaptation based on the needs of each class and the unique students that make up each class. There should be no expectation that one approach will work for every situation but the art of teaching must be based upon the science of teaching. The craft of teaching evolves as becoming a master in the art of teaching is about continual development and the reflection on your own learning experience and the students we are teaching. My answer therefore is that is certainly can be a mixture of the two but it should be embedded in good science first.
One book that you would recommend anyone working in a school should read.
In term of leadership and teamwork I would recommend a book about the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team called ‘Legacy’ which gives a really good insight into how institutions create a culture of change through an inclusive understanding of a shared responsibility. Although the focus is upon the change that the All Blacks team needed to instigate it’s message certainly can be applied to education and the classroom. The philosophy of ‘leaving the shirt in a better place’ can be linked to learning ensuring that at the end of each day the learning is left in a better place ready for the next step. The concept of a collective responsibility ‘we all sweep the sheds’ (antipodean for changing rooms)is what makes great schools tick-we all have a responsibility for the holistic education of our children and all should share that role whatever is required. If I could cheekily recommend a film that everybody working in a school should watch at the start of their journey it would be Kes. It may be a little clichéd but it is a powerful and beautiful film that evokes all that is best in educational and the worst