Hanging Up My Gown

“Where’s your gown?”

For most people in education, I suspect, this is a completely bewildering question. Why would they possibly need something that they last wore on graduation – and even then, probably hired it?

I suspect many of the people who can answer that question (normally with “on my office door” or something similar) work – like I have done for over a decade – in the independent sector, where the occasional ritual remains alive and kicking. Staff wear gowns for duties, or for assemblies and formal occasions like Prize Givings (back when those were things…) – and as archaic as it might seem, there has always been something rather lovely about seeing your staff clad in their academic regalia. It’s a reminder, not just of their profession, but of their scholarship and the rich tapestry of their own stories and journeys.

But for now, I am hanging up my gown, and stepping away from the classroom.

It’s been a wonderful privilege to be Head of Geography at a fabulous school, and be part of an astonishing journey of transformation. I’ve enjoyed curriculum challenges, timetables, and all of the myriad complexity of domestic and international field trips, enirchment, students and UCAS and university destinations galore, and the enormous honour of leading and coaching wonderful teachers to be the best versions of themselves. I’ve been part of a few cadet units as a CCF (RAF) officer, and loved watching students fly – literally and figuratively. I’ve been a small part of students’ lives and their learning about the world – and there really has been no greater pleasure than helping them on their way: whether that’s been with enthusiastic classroom understanding of earth.nullschool.net and the global atmospheric circulation, or taking their first steps towards personal statements and out in to the wider world.

On Monday, together with many more across the country in Summer Institute and slightly different roles, I join Teach First as part of their Curriculum team – hoping to bring a bit of my Geographical understanding to play a small part in helping build forward in to new and exciting directions. I’m delighted that my next move will keep me in the subject – and subject community – that I’ve loved for more than two decades, and am looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead, and the complexities of how we train, develop and mentor the next generations of Geography teachers under the umbrella of the Early Career Framework.

There are plenty of things I won’t miss about teaching. TAGs, for a start, and the high-stakes, short notice nature of the pandemic world have taken huge amounts of joy from teachers – and students and their families – over the last two years. I struggle with witnessing the mental health crisis that our students confront daily, and know that their strengths and courage will continue to be inspirational.

But what I will miss, more than anything, are the people. Students and colleagues become like a family to you – perhaps more in a crisis year than any other. Like the old war movies, “you don’t know man, you weren’t there” might well be uttered by teachers of the COVID years, or in whispered thousand yard stares when “TAG” is mentioned at some distant unknowable future time. The friends I’ve made have lifted me in the tough times; have shared joy in the best times, and for all others in between, have been the source of hilarity, wisdom and friendship.

To JJ, Sam, Rebecca, Rob and Mike – who taught me how to be a Geographer and a teacher; to Joe, and Mark who took a chance on an NQT and let him fly; and to Sara and Liz, who taught me how to care and look after everyone. To Esmond, Grove, Ben, Jason, Rich and Ted – who taught me to coach, lead, fly and officer.

To Nick and Andy – who supported my first steps in to leadership; to Nick F, Jade and Alex who helped the Sixth Form & UCAS dreams be enabled, to Rachael and Peter and Emily who were the best team I could ever ask for; and to Robin, Hilary, Debbie, Dave, Patricia, Gareth & Bex, Jack, Nicola, Emma, Amelia and Tim, who made life, crosswords and the world a bit brighter by allowing me to share some of their light!

And to all those who I’ve been luck to work with virtually – thank you for your inspiration, support and friendship. I’ll see you around, as I stay in this wonderful subject, mentoring and coaching community that we occasionally call Twitter…

So to you, my friends, to you.

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