I was at some TeachFirst/Future Leaders training yesterday (oo get her) and one of the facilitators asked how long it takes once you have entered a school before you can identify its vision. Someone called out ‘A couple of weeks’ and someone called out ‘A couple of minutes’. I humbly propose one minute as the incontravertibly correct answer.
What do people experience in the first minute that they enter your school? What do they hear? What are the people like? How high is your office desk/barricade? Do you pebbledash your wall with Awards and Quality Marks? Are people dazzled by your crammed trophy cabinet? Do you have any corporate art, or do people find themselves staring at the joyful splatterings of children’s own paintings?
I am both lucky and nosey. In my role, I get to visit quite a few schools, which always satisfies my nosiness, and I have noticed something – no matter where I go, I always am wowed. Let me be clear; I am obsessed with new things, and this is a contributing factor. I shall not name names, but here are somethings I saw in my first minute, and what it made me think.
A Broken Window, A Lot of Smiles, Music and Parents Chatting
There was a school where the office staff were brilliantly positive and welcoming, as the sound of music drifted through from the classrooms nearby. Notably, the staff were smiling and chatting. As the Reception kids sauntered in with their parents, they were greeted by the teachers, and the parents accompanied their children to put their coats on pegs. The kids went into the classrooms where the Teaching Assistant was doing star jumps with the early arrivals. I went to the mens, and the window was smashed but the hole had been filled with some tissue paper. It didn’t really matter. ‘t felt like a very happy place, and my time in this school backed up the theory.
Immaculate Uniforms, Girls with Clipboards under the Chandelier
There was a school in a leafy suburb which was at the end of a long cul-de-sac. As I walked down the street, I saw signs of ‘Ducks Crossing’, and the only other obstacles I had to navigate were Lexus 4x4s. As I rounded the corner the school stood proud in amongst a huge estate. There was a large pond. There was a gentleman at the gate who asked who you were before you were let in. As I walked up to the front door, two girls aged about 13 were stood holding clipboards at the door, and they greeted me and ticked me off, before directing me into the drawing room. It felt like a very proud, esteemed and self-assured establishment (which I would never want to work in).
High Desk and a Quiet Staffroom
A few years ago, I missed a training session in my own school, so I was sent to another school to complete the training. This school happened to be 60 miles from my own school, and required me to get two buses, a train and a taxi (ridiculous). When I arrived in my taxi, the school was in a fairly unforgiving looking council estate and the school looked a bit sad. I went through the outside gate and had no idea where to enter the school office (it later transpired that the sign was obscured by an overflowing bin). I eventually found the office and the receptionist said ‘You’re late.’ I apologised, feeling confused (it later transpired that I had been confused for the course facilitator). The desk was so high I felt like I was at Gringotts bank. I was told to wait, which I did for five minutes. Nobody made any effort to speak to me, and this continued for six hours, and it was a very depressing day.
We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, an office by its decoration or a school by its appearance BUT first impressions count, and they are oftentimes dangerously accurate.