Wednesday, 4 July 2018

On Taking A Career Detour

Recently I've been cycling to work quite a bit - it's a great way to get exercise into the daily routine and has allowed us to be a one-car family again after we scrapped my MOT-failed runaround. But, because I've been working at my current school for nearly four years now, I've sought out a few detours to make the journey a little more interesting; a little more scenic.

One such detour took me off road, through woodland and around the side of a reservoir. As the already-risen sun reflected off the water and the quietness of my surroundings stilled my mind, I was caused to think on the nature of detours.

Detours are what makes life interesting. That I would stand by, and I was sure that some other greater mind must have summarised this thought in better words. Upon arrival I did a quick search for quotations about detours - there were plenty. Here's one of the most succinct:

"See any detour as an opportunity to experience new things." - H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Many other quotations spoke of detours as a metaphor for events in life - something which, as I pedalled on my way, I too had contemplated. My morning ride round the reservoir was a picture of my career moves this year.

After three years as an Assistant Vice Principal (that's the academy speak for Assistant Head) I was presented with a new challenge: I applied for the role of Primary Lead Practitioner within the MAT my primary school is a part of. I was successful and I was excited to take on my new role supporting the handful of primary schools in the group. I was to work two days for the MAT and three days as AVP at my school. The decision was made that I wouldn't have a regular teaching commitment due to my reduced time in school - my 12th year in the job has been the first year I haven't had my own class. The end of August rolled around and thus began what I recognise now to have been my career detour.

I've always taken a one step at a time approach to my career, seeing my journey not as on a road but as one might cross a river on stepping stones. I've not waited for opportunities to be handed to me, but have sought them out when I've felt ready: I'm still skeptical about 5-year and 10-year plans. But what has happened is, as I've progressed, I've always found myself at a point where I do want to pursue management and leadership. Whilst I acknowledge this isn't the only progression path to take in education, it's the one I've found myself to be on, and I've enjoyed the ride so far.

I had begun to assume that my next move would be to Deputy Head and had concluded that this would mean a change of school. Indeed, I had applied for a Deputy Headship, but despite getting through a rather grueling two-day process with an oncoming case of my yearly laryngitis, I was unsuccessful, coming second to a more suitable candidate. It was, as they say, all good experience. That straightforward road from Assistant to Deputy was not meant to be for me - I was meant to take a detour.
Early on in my year of being Lead Primary Practitioner it became apparent that one of the schools I was working in needed more support than the others due to a reduced leadership team. I began spending more of my time there. This was to become a detour from my detour - my role changed significantly as I effectively became a two-day-a-week Deputy whilst the actual Deputy became Acting Head.

During this time I also took on an active role with the research school attending planning meetings, speaking at events, preparing and running a three-day course and writing material for the blog. Through the research school I also got involved briefly with the Opportunity Area work. My role as PLP also saw me being involved in the MAT's NQT and RQT network programme of events. My online activity was also of a significant quantity as I wrote for TES, Teach Primary, Third Space and Innovate My School, as well as for my own blog. All of this weighed heavily, not to mention my 'normal' job of leading maths, leading LKS2, mentoring three NQTs, two students and carrying out general SLT duties, became quite burdensome.

The fact that I spent a reduced amount of time in my own school (and had begun working with a brand new team there with none of my previous colleagues), and limited amounts of time in other schools, meant that I began to miss the relationships I had formed. I began to feel like I didn't belong anywhere in particular.

Then, in December, Ofsted called. I rushed back into school from elsewhere to spend the afternoon in the usual preparation. It was a rigorous couple of days but when we eventually received the verdict I discovered that I had had a previously unrecognised, hidden goal: the job advert I answered called me to join the school on their journey to Good and this is what, deep down, I had been hoping to achieve with my colleagues. And, from the school's previous inspection judgement of Inadequate, that was the journey our inspection report deemed us to have made. On receiving that news I realised I had achieved a goal, and that almost immediately I wanted a new challenge.

Without going into too much more detail this cocktail of responsibilities suddenly felt like a lot and I began to struggle quite significantly, questioning my purpose and my impact. I began to renege on speaking and writing commitments I'd made and also asked to have some of my more extraneous work responsibilities removed. Whilst I still have moments of difficulty these actions have been largely successful in preserving my sanity.

Don't get me wrong, there have been some excellent moments this year - the very fact that the school where I began spending two days a week employed me as their Deputy Head (starting at the end of August) is enough to make my detour all worthwhile. But the best part is that I have learned more about what I want in my career by experiencing things that I think, in the long run, I don't want to be particular features of my work.

Career-wise, I have learned that (at least for the time being):
  • I want to have a regular teaching commitment
  • I want to commit the majority of my time to working with and for one school rather than across several school 
  • I don't want to make a habit of public speaking
  • I want to continue to prioritise doing things that have a visible impact in classrooms that I frequent
  • I want to ensure that I don't deprioritise my own health or my family

More generally I have learned that detours, welcome or or otherwise, are great and worthy learning opportunities and that they certainly do make life interesting. Despite some bumpiness in the off-road nature of my career detour this year I have experienced new things, all of which have taught me, one way or another, a little more about myself and what I want from my career.

If you have made it through my personal ramblings, and are reading this final paragraph, I'd urge you, if opportunities arise, to take a detour. Whether it's a change in route on your actual journey to work or a step in a new, unexpected direction in your career, it will certainly keep life interesting and will probably teach you a thing or two along the way.

2 comments:

  1. Im glad any route you have taken has taken in us on your way!! Much luck!!

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