Thursday, 30 March 2017

Til I'm dizzy, time to breathe ...

Time for a little “oxygen” …

For those who’ve been following this drivel long enough, you will all know my devotion to my music.  In times of joy, sadness, discomfort, need – basically, all the time – we can always rely on our musical loves and highlights to carry us through. 

This has been a very difficult, testing time for everyone at Badock’s for all sorts of reasons, and so a brief pause for reflection may be timely.  Whenever a pause is needed, whenever I have needed space, I have almost always retreated to the loving arms of one of my favourite Willy Mason songs (please reread that sentence if you now have Willy Nelson in mind; this is not a blog about On the Road Again) – “Oxygen”.  First introduced to this song during a late night channel surf, it has remained with me throughout as a dark-clouds-descending, pull up the draw bridge theme tune.

At times such as this, some of the lyrics are highly resonant.

“I know the future looks dark …”

Of course, the journey into special measures, the path on which we now find ourselves and our (still dearly beloved) school, is, first and foremost, a journey of great uncertainty.  With our destiny no longer in our hands and the future direction as yet unknown, people are quite rightly somewhat concerned.

Above that, we also find ourselves in the odd position of being unable to make any real tangible decisions.  Countless times in recent weeks have my senior leaders and I been embarked on a discussion about strategy, when we’ve just stopped and commented “Can we even do that?”

What I found most unpleasant has been placed into the utterly ambiguous position of being unable to answer questions.  Not out of rudeness or secrecy, but there have simply been too many things that are happening around us that we are unaware of.  People have been to me with seemingly innocuous questions to which I have had to reply “I’m really sorry, I don’t know”, and it has been difficult to watch trusted and respected colleagues struggling, both with me taking this hitherto unseen course, and to acknowledge that it is true.

Despite all of this, even when the journey seems to be getting ever more bleak, we still have a school functioning, and functioning well.  As you can imagine, we see more than our fair share of visitors over the weeks, and they each report the same things
-       Everyone’s really happy
-       Everyone’s really busy
-       Everyone’s working so hard
So despite all the negative messages we have been made to hear, the bad press (both real and metaphorical) that has been thrown our way, what you would see if you visited is a school still putting children at its very core, still dedicated to the business of learning, progress and care, and a place that’s is still – miraculously – smiling.

“On and on and on it goes
The world it just keeps spinning”

Because that is the crux of it: what astounds me on an almost hourly basis has been the utter stoicism with which the team and the children – indeed, the entire school community – has continued delivering this school year.  The work the children continue to produce is stunning.  It may be easy for me to say, but two separate visitors last week said exactly that, without being prompted.  Our children can discuss how and what they are learning, and why, and take immense pride in showing it off. 

Just this week, years 5 and 6 have both attacked a trial SATs week with incredible determination, have gone through their marked papers with diligence and care, and have taken everything thrown at them.

Our curriculum is still rich in offering children as many experiences as we can.  A few weeks ago, the enchanted forest theatre inspired all our younger children to write amazing fantasy and fairy stories; today, all of our classes are involved in dance; hundreds of our children volunteer to go into choir each week.  Only last week, a string quintet played for year 6, who sat mesmerized and in awe.  Once the final applause had died down, and that took a while, one of our year 6 boys stood, unprompted, and said to the highly professional musicians “I have to say, that was amazing”. 

What you see most is resilience.  How easy would it be for people to crawl under the nearest stone and wait for the storm to pass?  Yet we see none of it.  Our staff are too professional, our children too determined.  People are continuing to make the world keep 

“We can speak louder than ignorance
Cos we speak in silence every time our eyes meet”

What has also struck me enormously at this time is the continued, unreserved support of the community.  People have been relentless in offering their support to the school, the parents’ association has grown and we have more parents attending our various clubs than ever before. 

Furthermore, when times have been bleak, and we have needed to give out harsh messages, the community has not only accepted them, but also reinforced them for us.  After I had been forced to challenge her over attendance, one parent made her negative and, frankly, slanderous feelings known on facebook, and three others joined in.  Normally, I might have been notified of this verbally, but more often no-one would’ve bothered.  This time?  Several people told me before the following school day had even begun, and some took the time to bring in their own devices to show me.  “It’s not good enough, Mr Willis” I was told.  “Our school works too hard for this”.  Fair comment.

In addition to this, we have tried to open channels of communication ever wider.  At a recent parents’ breakfast, those who turned up gave us some amazing ideas for future events and ways to enhance the school curriculum.  Why didn’t we think of that? We were forced to think to ourselves.  After one of my monthly strategic newsletters, a parent came into my office and made me go through each of the key points, probing and asking for more.  How amazing is that?

I still maintain that I never get more “good mornings” than when I am out there each morning in the rain.  I must be one of the few people who views impending rain on the weather forecast as a potentially good thing!

“If I’m afraid to catch a dream
I’ll weave you baskets and then float them down the river stream”

The thing that strikes me the most, however, and strikes me repeatedly, is the remarkable optimism everyone holds.  In the grip of uncertainty and almost unbearable inertia, what I feel and what I am surrounded by is incredible determination.  At more than one governors meeting recently, we have heard the phrase “It’s going to be incredibly exciting”.  Everyone appears to be welcoming the change, the challenge, and the wealth of opportunities this might bring.  Just this morning, a parent came to my office over a couple of things, but ended with the question “Any news yet?”  When I had to (once again) offer no real answer of any satisfaction, she shrugged, and merely commented “We’ll get there, and it can only be better.”

So, why do I love Willy Mason’s song so much?  I’m afraid that I may have been slightly misleading at the outset.  The full lyric reads thus -

“I know the future looks dark
But it’s there that the kids of today must carry the light”

Whenever things seem strange / odd / sad / difficult (please delete as appropriate) at this moment in time, I remember the one basic thing: what I’m in it for.  Why do I still look forward to pulling into the car park every day, why do I still look forward to the first day of each term, why do I still love what I do? The children, and the amazing things we share every day.

As Willy Mason says, things may look bleak right now, but just imagine the possibilities for everyone, especially the kids of today.   At the very heart of darkness, this incredible team is still prepared to carry the light. What an adventure it promises to be.

Enough said?  I think so, yes.

One more thing: thank you everyone.  Once again, Badock’s defies convention and expectation in every possible way.

So, from a little too close to the stereo, that is all.