At The Key, we’re always keen to hear from our members about the highs and lows of their day-to-day role. Last week I caught up with Gwen Temple, acting headteacher at Lawrence Sheriff School. She took my call during her Easter break in Devon – a favourite spot from her childhood and ideal terrain for valley-walking with her husband (though only when the sun shines, she says).
What’s special about your school?
Lawrence Sheriff is set in the heart of Rugby and it’s home to 900 students, give or take a few. I love it. We finish each week with a whole-school assembly (we can just about squeeze nearly all of us in) where a member of staff shares an uplifting message. It’s a brilliant way to start the weekend. I can put names to faces for most of our pupils, and I’ve learned that this is really important to me. There were 1,800 children on roll at my previous school, and I underestimated the challenge that would be. It wasn’t just a case of everything running to a bigger scale – I lost contact with the kids.
Why did you become a teacher?
Partly because I hated school. I didn’t even do a complete week in my first year of secondary school: I would have been a school refuser if the phrase had existed back then (gosh, that makes me sound older than I am!). We only had one careers interview during my time there, and I’ve a record of me saying I wanted to be an occupational therapist! I did a lot of youth work as a late teen, though, keeping teenagers off the streets, and I always got along with them very well. It must come from that.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
When I have to say ‘no’ to people – that’s tricky for me. As a senior leader you have access to all the information and can see the bigger picture, and sometimes that means saying ‘no’ to those who don’t. It can be upsetting when people think you’re the bad guy. I’m normally confident that I’m making the best decision, but would really like other people to appreciate that too. When my staff push for a ‘yes’, it’s because they’re doing their job and championing their department, which is fantastic! But it’s tough at the top.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring headteacher?
Find the right school: the place that makes your heart beat faster. And then (eek, this is two pieces of advice now, isn’t it?!) ‘know what’s on your t-shirt’: what are you going to live by? It’ll become your backbone, and once you have it the rest falls much more easily into place. It makes navigating those tricky decisions so much easier.
What’s the funniest thing a pupil’s ever said to you?
We once asked our year sevens to identify staff from their baby photos in assembly. One boy asked me if the world was black and white when I was a little girl!
What are you reading at the moment?
The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. It’s an excellent book!
What have you learnt from pupils?
I’ve discovered that learning is a social enterprise. Pupils come to an understanding in their own individual way, but usually having also interacted with other people. Learning is a real social event but it remains something that we each have to grasp for ourselves. When you are lucky enough to see this happening, it’s magical.
You can catch Gwen speaking at The Key’s event ‘Leading the way to outstanding teaching’ on 28 April 2015. She’ll be sharing her thoughts on introducing evidence-based practice into teaching.