Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Leadership can be lonely

Its been a while since I've had any time to be able to upload some of my thinking onto this site.  I moved jobs at Easter and have spent the last few months getting used to the ways and mechanisms of a new school.  Its been fun.  Its been busy.  Its been a steep learning curve.  Its been a real privilege to get to know some new students and teachers.

But, leadership can be lonely.   I'm used to being part of the craic.  I am used to being the person cracking the jokes and making people laugh.   Its odd losing that role (to some extent!)  Colleagues don't call me by first name anymore.  It is very weird to get used to that.  To my students I have always been Mr Manson and to my colleagues its Tim.  Now, everyone calls me Mr Manson.

I suppose the biggest difference is how quickly people expect me to make decisions and fix things.  You have to change gear fast  - from a pastoral issue to a question about timetabling to a question about risk assessment.   Teachers and kids both want instant answers.  Not great, when I like to mull and think . . .

I am so fortunate to have moved to a school that I already love and enjoy working in and everyone is lovely but you still feel a little different, a little bit of an outsider.  Something that I guess you have to get used to . . . .

 . . . or do you?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Leadership via the West Wing

I don't really watch a lot of TV.  But, when I do I can get very absorbed into the way that shows work and portray different situations.   When the West Wing came out a few years ago I was a BIG fan.  I used to love watching it and talking about it and then waiting for the box set so I could watch them all again.   I really don't know how many times I have watched the series through from one end to the other.   I think the last time my wife and I did this - the kids were very little.

The weird thing is and the testament to the way the show was made, is that we have been watching the West Wing again with our kids and they love it as much as we do!  We have been steadily working our way through the box sets for about 6 months now (and we have just started series 6)  and it has been very interesting to watch their reaction to the show.  My 12 year old daughter just loves it and she likes to identify with the strong female lead roles.  Josh has always been my favourite.  Loyal, energetic and sometimes misguided - he is often the voice of optimism to counter the grumbling pessimism of Toby.

I remember back many years ago when this first came out and together with some colleagues we used to compare the leadership attributes of the West Wing characters compared with what happens in a typical school.  Who would be the grumpy Toby?  The organised and efficient but firm Leo etc.   There 's still a lot of learning in the West Wing and I'm glad to be able to share it with my kids!  

and its a goodbye from me . . .

The dust has finally settled  . . . the boxes have all been packed up and are ready to be transported to the  'new place' - just as soon as they finish doing up my office.

In my last post I talked about some of the challenges that I thought I was going to face.   No one really prepared me for the emotional and psychological roller coaster that leaving Slemish college was.   I want to spend most of this post saying thank you to the students, staff members, colleagues, friends and parents who made my last few weeks in Slemish so memorable.  It truly was difficult to leave.  17 years  is a long time - but I felt that the timing was right both for me and for the school.

I have to admit that the last few weeks have been some of the busiest of my life - I am used to working long hours but over the last few weeks I have been working late nearly every night to make sure that I am leaving things the way that I want.   I have pushed through my teaching so that I completed the courses for my Year 12, 13 and 14 classes.  They are ready for their exams (which is just as well as they are kicking off in about 2 weeks), I wanted to leave them with full confidence that they were ready to face these exams!  I have been making sure that all the coursework/ controlled assessment and portfolio pieces that I am involved in marking are ready (and in fact I spent most of today working on these).  Add to that the gradual dismantlement of my room and office - and making sure that the right people had the right information to continue on when I went  . . . .

It has been hard to say goodbye.  My students have been great - I was totally caked out and surprised by lovely presents - ties, sweets, pictures and prob my favourite is the flying lesson that my year 13 and 14 students got for me. Its been emotional.  Its been hard sometimes.  As students have tried to steal a quiet word to say thank you or to leave a wee pressie and a card on my desk without anyone else seeing.

I have the cards all round the house.  Its nice to have been appreciated and to have people tell me that I will be missed and that I will be hard to replace.  In many ways it has reminded me that its sometimes too late to do that when people are going - but its something I want to try to remember in the future and to make sure that I can help to appreciate people in the here and now and not wait for them to go.  I like reading the wee messages that people sent me and I wrote a few as well and I hope they helped.  I'm not someone who likes people to see the 'real' emotional me.  Its not the type of attention that I usually like and certainly my heart was filled with dread about the traditional Slemish leaving ritual where there was a party in the staffroom with a speech from Paul (the Principal) and from my buddy Mike (the VP) and then from me.   Both Mike and Paul were lovely in their words as they recalled some of my exploits in the school.   I can;t quite remember what I said but hopefully it struck a chord.

I loved working at Slemish College.   I always say that my finger prints are all over the school.  But, my mind and my heart is starting to turn towards the challenge that greets me at the start of next week.  I move to Cullybackey College - and I am excited and looking forward to getting to know some new people - new colleagues, new students and a new community.   I hope that I can continue to help make a difference in the lives of the people that I come into contact with and help them find their identity and fulfilment.  I'm nervous but so far everyone I have met has been lovely, supportive and excited too.   So, its a big step and I look forward to see what happens next  . . . . . . I might let you know  . . . .

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Moving school is a bit like moving house . . .

In case you missed the news, I am moving schools.  After 17 years at Slemish College teaching Geography (mostly) and leading faculties, doing exams admin, managing the curriculum, leading Houses, being a Head of year etc  . . . it is time to move on to another school and to new challenges and opportunities.  I'm sad to go - I have made great friends and hope that I have made a little bit of a difference to the people that I have met along the way.  

I'm not moving that far - its about another 5 minutes in the morning drive and I am going to be the Vice Principal at Cullybackey College.  I'm excited.  I'm nervous.  I'm looking forward to making new friends and to bringing some of my experience and wacky ideas to this school.  It's a big change for someone who does not really like change.   It's not that I am scared of change - and its not that I don't like change, I suppose - its just that change is all well and good when it is all theoretical but when you do finally make the jump - its amazing how distracting and petrifying even the smallest things look.

I can't emphasis enough how much I am looking forward to the new opportunities - I'm going to be leading aspects of the school as it develops teaching and learning and the curriculum - something I am passionate about!

But, the one thing no-one told me was how hard the transition was.   Writing and handing in my letter of resignation was really difficult.   17 years does not sound that much but as I often say, my fingerprints are all over Slemish College.   When I arrived there were 80 students and only one Year 8 group.   I watched a school grow.  I developed systems and wrote policies and watched a small insignificant field become a centre where amazing learning was taking place and students were challenged and celebrated for their achievements.  

I get to start building again.  With a different team.  Hopefully I can continue to make a difference in the lives of the students, staff and parents that I meet at Cullybackey.  I hope they see me as someone who is interested in them and who will always try to do what is best - even if sometimes that means that we don't agree.  I'm excited.

So the packing starts now.  I am starting to scour for boxes and starting to think about what goes to Cullybackey, what comes home and what stays at Slemish.   Teachers accumulate tat.  We always hold on to things and wonder if something might be useful again in the future.   I have stuff stored all over the place - so it might take me the next 2 months just to find my stuff and decide what to do with it.   I get to strip away 17 years of memories, 17 years of learning,  17 years of challenge, 17 years of laughter, 17 years of watching boys grow into men and girls into women, 17 years of celebrating in the good times, 17 years of being a support through the tough times, 17 years of friendships and 17 years of  listening, waiting, watching, thinking and shaping.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

So that was 2013

Altogether 2013 has been one of the busiest and most eventful years of my life so far.  You’d think that after 40 years of growing on this planet that I would have learnt how to work efficiently and maybe to slow down some.  Nope.  So what were some of the most memorable things of the year

  • ·      My daughter became a tweenager and made me feel very old (and went to big school making me feel even older)
  • ·      My wife and I turned 40 and celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary (not all on the same day)
  • ·      I finally got to see Sigur Ros live in concert  . . . in Glasgow and it was fantastic
  • ·      My wife and I celebrated our birthdays and anniversary by going over to Iceland for a few days  (my wife had always wanted to do this)
  • ·      We bought a caravan. 
  • ·      My good friend Mark Weir left Slemish to be Principal at Strangford College – I am missing him!
  • ·      I managed to complete writing and see my very first book in print – my GCSE textbook for the CCEA GCSE in geography is selling well (why not treat yourself to a copy on Amazon) – I’m very proud of my achievement and have since been working on my next 2 books – two AS Geography revision guides for the CCEA course in Geography.  The manuscript is in with the publisher and we are hoping to see these in print before the summer. 

2014 is already shaping up to be a busy one – I am speaking at a few conferences and am hoping to organise a special conference for geography students in the near future, I am working on a couple of new books including one which is not going to be a geography textbook!!!!  More news on that later in the year. 

I like being busy and I like relaxing with my family and working hard the rest of the time – it’s a good way to live and work – lets hope that 2014 is as industrious as 2013.  I also met some new friends and people this year which was fun and something I want to repeat into next year. . . . 

Have a great celebration of the new year and maybe I’ll see you about some time  . . . .

Happy 2014 and best wishes


Monday, 30 December 2013

Reflections on the musical year of 2013


It’s been an odd year for me in the music world.  I have found many of my old fashioned ways have been turned upside down – I used to like nothing better than buying a cd or making a phat purchase on itunes but this year I have probably spent less and listened to a lot more stuff online through spotify and soundcloud.  I have downloaded more free music from noisetrade – its good for my bank balance but I do wonder about the impact that this type of musical consumerism has on the music industry.    I have found myself going through a bot of a singer/songwriter funk this year – I have been writing all year so nice mellow tones and voice in the background seems to suit what I need to get into ‘the zone’. 

So heres the list of tunes / of runners and riders of what makes it to my special playlist at the end of 2013

10 -   Providence by the Foals (on Holy Fire)
Driving drumbeat and crying guitar playing merry with the stereophonic sounds  . . . yes please!  Holy Fire is a great album filled with well-rounded songs but this is my stand out track from the album.   I listen to it a lot. . . . .

9 –   Pompeii by Bastille  (on Bad Blood)
“I was left to my own deviiiiiices.”
My daughter will kill me for having this dong and album so LOW on the list – this is her favourite album of the year and this song has been played 52 times (followed closely with 41 plays of Things we lost in the fire).   It’s a good, well rounded album with a few good songs and certainly created a few great sing songs in our car over the year and lets face it  . . . . who else tries to get the drum solo bit near the end  . . .  

8 –  You carry me by Martin Smith  (on God’s Great Dance Floor)
I always know when I like and have engaged with a song when I start doing harmonies  - this is a gorgeous slow and dramatic builder of a song that questions our faith . . . 

7 –  Your way is the way home by Tired Pony (on The Ghost of the Mountain)
My fav artists include Snow Patrol and Iain Archer so it is pretty natural that I love Tired Pony.  The songs are slow, melodic and often tell great stories – this song is just one amongst many that I love from this album  (though I could just have easily gone fro The Beginning of the end) 

6 – Brennisteinn by Sigur Ros   (on Kveikur)
Its been an Icelandic year for us this year.   I took my wife off to Glasgow to see Sigur Ros in concert (which was a dream of a lifetime) and then we were in Iceland over the summer – when you go driving around Iceland it is required (by law) that you play Sigur Ros.   This is the most recent Sigur Ros album and it is a bit more rocky than previous albums which I quite like as I like my Sigur Ros loud and fast  . . . . . a return to form. 

5 –  The one that got away by The Civil Wars (on The Civil Wars)
Its pretty typical of me that just as I get heavily into a band they go and break up.   I had started getting into the Civil Wars towards the end of last year and then downloaded most of the stuff that I could get my hands on – this album came out in the middle of the year though they had broken up and so were not touring the album – much to my annoyance.   

4 –   Contact by Daft Punk  (on Random Access Memories)
When I first downloaded the Daft Punk Album I thought I had made a terrible mistake.  One listen through and I thought that this was one I would never be playing again. . . . what was I thinking.   But I did play it again and the more I played the more I got into the sound and the vibe – though I still don’t understand the whole Giorgio by Moroder thing.  

3 –   Different People by Biffy Clyro  (on Opposites)
This is probably the stand out album of 2013 for me – its been played a good 30 times and oddly – the song count is pretty much the same for each track on the album – its one of this albums that is quality from start to finish – there are no weak points. Though, to b fair I could have easily have also put ‘biblical’ on this list as well! 

2 –  Here comes the night time  by Arcade Fire  (on Reflektor)
Arcade Fire are a bit of an acquired taste though I think their last album brought them a lot more mainstream fans.  This is a bit of a mix of an album – it combines some upbeat dance tunes and some more bizarre almost abba-esque tunes like Joan of Arc and then this ‘here comes the night time’ is a more traditional Arcade Fire fare  . . .  This is one that you really need to pump the bass up and play loud   . . . . oh here comes my son ‘Dad, turn that down I can’t hear the tv’ .  I’m such a rebel. 

1 -  Closed Hand, Full of Friends by Foy Vance  (on Joy of Nothing)
I am a huge fan of Foy Vance and have loved pretty much everything he has done.  It was odd to hear him back with a full album with a full band and full sound – different from the usual man alone on a stage that we have become used to.  But this album hits you with a bang between the eyes and then sucks you in with the haunting melodies and voice that continues from beginning to end   . .  reminding us with the final song ‘Guiding Light’ of what happens at the end of a Foy gig  . .  you get your phone and stand swaying and singing into the night   . . . when I need to get home you’re my guiding light  . . . .

What nearly made it?
Dying Inside by Gary Barlow  (on Since I saw you last)
I’m not really a Gary Barlow fan.  I got the album for my wife and daughter and found this on one day when I was writing and the song just stopped me.  Rarely have I heard such a big artist write and sing so honest a song.  Its about the time when his daughter died and how he dealt with this in the full public glare.   Not a typical song that I would have on this list but then it hasn’t been a typical year. 

Another cracker of a song on the Foals Holy Fire album is Inhaler which nearly sneaked into the chart as well  . . . .  another song from Martin Smith’s God’s great dance floor album was Back to the start  . . .  oddly I quite like the Gareth Malone album Voices  . . . . again, this was a purchase for the daughter which somehow got played a bit more than I anticipated.   I could have put some Ram’s Pocket Radio but as he got to slot last year I thought I woud leave it.  Though his album Beton was released this year and is a good listen  . . . . .     my new discovery of the year is Josh Garrells  . . .

What disappointed?

I bought the Les Miserables soundtrack hoping that it would inspire but this was a bit of a bad purchase!  Very disappointing – mostly because I cant get it to play in order on my itunes  . . . Another disappointing album was Lightinin Bolt by Pearl Jam  . .  not quite what I hoped for and it seems like PJ have lost it a little  . . .  Jamie Cullum’s  new albums usually inspire but I thought his latests collection of tunes was pretty sad and tired and lacked his usual imagination  

Sunday, 15 December 2013

In the bleak mid winter

It has been a very odd week weather wise in the Middle East this week.   A Champions League football match was abandoned in Turkey - which was an odd event to begin with.  But then, this morning I started to see images of the dump of snow which has covered parts of Egypt and Jerusalem with over a foot of snow.   What odd weather.  I don't actually remember hearing about snow in Israel . . ever.

Apart from that is from that carol that people insist on singing at Christmas time - In the bleak mid winter.   I have to confess that I loathe this carol.  I detest it.   I refuse to sing it.  I will stand at carol services with a scowl on as everyone moans about the frosty winds and about how the climate was so much worse long ago.   I used to rant and rave that the baby Jesus did not have to endure the snow falling snow on snow those many years ago . . . so why should I?

Geographically my argument was sound.   Until today.   It looks like this year I am going to have to join all those people who enjoy singing this carolling version of a weather forecast as the fact is that the weather is warmer and better in Belfast today that it is in Bethlehem.   Bah Humbug.