March 2021 Edition

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 It is far too easy to slip into a personal style of teaching that may not be the most effective and could become outdated, stale and will certainly not have the best outcomes.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

Deborah Walters, Principal of Avanti Court Primary School

When and why did you become a teacher?

What a question! Initially I spent my childhood and teen years studying to be a classical singer, however it became clear to me that teaching was a performance and something I thought I was good at. Being a teacher enabled me to put into practice all the skills I learnt as a performer! I made the leap into teaching in the year of….I am afraid that would give my age away!

What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?

The advice I would give to my younger self would definitely be to remember that teaching is a journey and things will go wrong but as long as you learn from them it is ok. I would also tell my younger self to cherish everyday as the years go by so quickly in teaching! Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I would give my younger self would also be to get into headship sooner as it is one of the best jobs in the world!

How do you manage your own well-being?

I am fortunate to have a team around me at Avanti Court who make me smile and laugh and just sitting with them after school for a few minutes puts everything into perspective! I love my job and profession and understand that the workload can be immense at times but the difference we make to young learners makes it all worthwhile.

I do not sing classically anymore but I still play the piano and enjoy going to watch Westend shows-when they are on! I also seem to buy at least one plant a week to care for-much to the annoyance of my family who constantly tell me to stop, however, I love watching things grow and take delight in seeing a new leaf or bud!

Is teaching an art or a craft?

I would go a bit further here as I believe for me teaching is a calling as I have a passion as a teacher to share knowledge with others. Teaching is also an art, as you have to find methods and strategies that work for you. As a teacher just like a performer through experiences you carve out your own philosophy and discover your own unique way of teaching. But, teaching is also a craft, like learning to play the piano you learn through experiences and practice.

One book that you would recommend anyone working in a school should read.

Let me think, well I do not read very much but prefer audio books as I can listen to them anywhere. The audiobook I would recommend is:

Make Your Bed By William H. McRaven- this book provides encouragement and inspiration that can be used in any profession.

    February 2021 Edition

Abby Atkins, Principal of Avanti Park School, Frome

When and why did you become a teacher?

I had a tough time at school. My mum died of cancer when I was twelve and because of this the teachers tended to take me under their wing. I always joke that I was ‘head girl’ at school because teachers felt sorry for me rather than me showing any early leadership qualities! One particular teacher really looked out for me. Her name was Jean Walpole and she taught me Biology. I eventually went on to read Biology at Bath University and then became a Biology teacher myself. She showed me huge kindness and so even though I’ve not linked the two things until now I guess she really influenced my decision to become a teacher. I found out when I was older that my mum was also a teacher before I was born and so I guess there may be a genetic link too!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I had to be hugely independent as a teenager and was also determined to make a success of my life.  Looking back now I would probably tell myself to speak out when things don’t feel right and be a bit kinder to myself.

How do you manage your own well-being?

I love to eat good food and drink fine wine (only at the weekend though!). So as balance to this I am very active loving to be outside. I run, walk and cycle to keep fit. I am a Cornish girl and so my favourite place to be is on a coast path in the far west of Cornwall. The sea has a way of putting everything in perspective and making you realise it’s just a job!

One book that you would recommend anyone working in a school should read.

I must admit I’m not a big reader of educational books. I do love a good novel though. I would advise everyone to have a good book on the go as it helps to unwind at the end of a day. Particular favourite authors are Ian Rankin and more recently I have discovered Emma Donaghue who writes really fascinating historical novels – well worth a read.

Denham Kite, Principal of Krishna Avanti Primary School, Leicester

When and why did you become a teacher?

I became a teacher in 1997 after completing a four year B.Ed (Hons) at what is now the University of Wales Bangor. I became a teacher, probably because of my nephew, who I enjoyed supporting. I don’t think you can ever get bored of developing people and helping them to be the very best person that they can be. In my mind nobody is beyond help and everybody can achieve over time.

In your role as principal what do you enjoy the most and which part of the role have you found most challenging?

The part I most enjoy about being a Principal is being able to really drive the opportunities and direction of the school. This enables me to really have a positive impact on what the children have a chance to do and creating that really positive culture and can-do attitude. A recent example is providing the children with leadership training by a qualified coach. This has empowered the children to understand that the school is theirs and we want to know what they think about it and how it can be better. Sitting alongside this we have recently achieved UNICEF’s Bronze: Rights Committed school status. It’s been wonderful for our children to study the Children’s Rights articles and understand their place in the world and how we can work together to help others and protect our own rights. This involves studying the various articles and incorporating it into our curriculum every week. It’s important that the children understand what the different rights are and how there are many people across the world that are denied their rights. We’ve talked about children’s rights as staff; we have shared our work with our parents; we have a dedicated page on our website; and we focus on a different article every week. It’s amazing how the children have responded and were unaware of the plight of others.

The most challenging part of the role is fielding off the unnecessary bureaucracy and tasks and protecting the staff from initiatives that don’t make any difference. This needs to be done very carefully and needs to be backed up with other practices that have an impact – or you lose the argument.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Everybody has something to give and we all behave in certain ways for a reason. We need to give time to people and really try to understand them and what makes them tick.

How do you manage your own well-being?

I’m a pretty sporty person and usually go running either on the streets or at the gym. I really like the outdoors and we usually go camping a few times a year. I’m an Everton season ticket holder so I look forward to that again once we’ve beaten Covid.

One book that you would recommend anyone working in a school should read.

Bounce by Matthew Syed. It’s a book that I think relates to every part of the life and if you put the time and effort in you can become world-class. If we relate that to children in our schools, giving them the right opportunities, guidance and practice will result in them achieving great things. Effort, resilience and determination will lead to success.