What makes a difference?

In my many years of working in a number of schools, I have often considered what truly makes a difference to the life of a pupil.

A good and balanced curriculum provides the food and enrichment for academic progress.

Assessment for learning is the building block that develops awareness of how to achieve.

A safe environment provides the security that many pupils need.

But what really makes a difference?

I’ve begun my third headship, and I firmly believe that what really makes the difference can be described in one word, relationship.

The best schools and the best teachers understand that the key to success is to understand the needs of every pupil. To understand how they can be engaged in their learning, to understand that the learning journey is different for every child.

When children require greater understanding, it is the relationships that have been forged that allows staff to know when to intervene, when to comfort and when to facilitate opportunities in the classroom.

I am often in awe and admiration of staff that go the extra mile. The staff that don’t judge but demonstrate patience and care to the needs of an individual. No matter the personal baggage they might have, they listen, they react and they respond just on seeing how a child can look and feel.

Some days, it is really irrelevant how well you have planned, every teacher has a day when, no matter how hard you try, things are just not working out. On these days, it is the relationship built with the pupils that allows you to stop and start again. They can often be the ones that provide the words of comfort and suggest a way forward.

Mental health is such an important issue, and a key to supporting each pupil is the relationship that has been built on trust, honesty and care.

The voice of the pupil is such an important asset. They can provide guidance in setting the direction of travel. These aren’t empty words but a vision that empowers the school as an educational establishment. To allow the voice of the pupil to have an impact on the life of a school then trust and belief in each other would have been the bedrock of this success.

Some people might suggest that big ideas make the difference but I would suggest that big ideas only work when the environment of the school allows them to flourish.

Leaders are only good or great when they have built a team around them that challenges and supports in a way that drives the school forward. Yet, to reach this point, a strong relationship built on respect is essential.

Perhaps the best quote to describe the power and importance of building the foundations of success in a school is found in the words of Nelson Mandela,

“There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return”

Nowhere is this more true than in the relationships built in successful schools.

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