You are not Superman.

Superman's_classic_pose.pngThe Headteacher of a high-performing school was once telling me about expectations he had of his staff and he mentioned how he wasn’t there for the staff, but of course he was there for the kids, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world.

I paused at the time in my head, thinking, whuuuaaat? But nodded politely, wondering… is it just me?

Turns out it is just me. I’m the weirdo. Because no one really agrees with me on this one. Everyone should always be there for the kids – apparently.

Except that when you’re a Head, you shouldn’t be, at least not in the first instance. You should be there for your staff. If your overarching motivation is the kids, then that’s fine. In fact, it would probably be a little weird it that wasn’t the case.

But you can’t be there for hundreds or in some schools, thousands of kids. You aren’t Superman. Or maybe you are, but I know I’m not. I depend on my staff to bond with the kids, to look after them, to make them smile, to be called ‘Mum’ by mistake instead of ‘Miss’, to help them with their homework, to give them thousands of motivational talks, to connect with them in lessons and to never relent, even when it would be so much easier to do so. And for my staff to do that with joy, as the Head, I need to put my staff first.

The answer is never, well you can look after everyone – everyone is the same. It can’t be. You are not Superman. The point of leadership is to prioritise, to make hard decisions, to figure out the most efficient and most effective ways of fulfilling your vision for the school, which presumably has something to do with the kids.

Focus on your staff and your kids will fly. I guarantee it.

Saying you put staff first doesn’t mean you don’t like the kids or you don’t care about them. It means you know that the best way of doing what is right by the kids is by looking after your staff.

It is the job of the teachers to be there for the kids. It is the job of the Head to provide an environment where the teachers can do their jobs. And that means as a Head, it is wrong to focus on the kids, unless of course you are Superman, which means you can focus on everything.




Rowing Together

title-and-quotesI love working at Michaela. I love it because I work with the best people on the planet and we all work as a team. Today was one of those days. Everyone was in their own spaces, living their own lives, doing their own thing… But there we were, connecting in cyberspace. Why? Because we appeared in The Sunday Times today.


That’s how it all started of course: in cyberspace. I wrote a blog. It was called To Miss with Love. I then got myself in hot trouble and the blog disappeared…

Then started the very long journey of setting up Michaela. So many of Michaela’s staff have found us through social media.

I read our tweets and I laugh, giggle, smile… always. Once some blogger out there spoke about how he thought there must be a microchip in everyone’s shoulder because we say such similar things.

Yes, we do. That’s why, after all, we all gravitated towards Michaela and why we are all so proud to work there. We look around at our colleagues and think, boy am I lucky to be working with you.

It is such a great feeling when you’re walking to work on a Monday morning, with a skip in your step. And given where we are in Wembley, wading through the mountains of rubbish, passing the drunkards asleep on the benches outside the school gates, the short walk from the station isn’t the most glamorous of walks. But none of that matters.

No green in our playground. It is just a car park with asphalt and we don’t have a car park because otherwise the children wouldn’t have anywhere to play. But none of that matters.

Sure our building is right next to the train tracks where the trains make so much noise, only 360 children shouting poetry could possibly ever drown them out. But none of that matters.

And when staff are boiling on the train side of the building in the middle of the summer, in their hot classrooms, desperately switching on their fans which only serve to move around the very hot air because they cannot open their windows thanks to the noisy trains, yet never complain…

You know that none of this matters to them because they just love being at Michaela.

And I love it too, thanks to them, our incredible staff, who row so perfectly together, day in, day out, loving our kids, every step of the way.

Our book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers, written by us all, once again, a real lesson in teamwork, comes out on Saturday 26 November. In the meantime, you can read about it in The Sunday Times or listen to this ED Files podcast with me, talking about the school.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers

Finally… our book has gone to print. Phew. Except that now a whole new battle begins.

I am bracing myself for impact.


So sometimes, when in my deepest thoughts, I think, is it fair to do this to the rest of the Michaela staff? The book was my idea after all. But more than 20 of us have written it.

I know what it is like to be hated. But my staff, or at least some of them, didn’t sign up for any of that nonsense. They are teachers, doing an extraordinary job. And when their boss asked them to write a chapter of this book, they said ok.


So where does that leave me morally speaking? Is it right to drag a bunch of young teachers… yes, some are actually 20 years younger than me, if that is possible, which apparently it is… into a world they don’t necessarily know?

The hope is always that our detractors will leave us alone, that they’ll stop with the threats, the personal insults, the hate mail/tweets.

That’s the hope.

But I’m taking a risk with the peace of mind of some of my staff. When they joined Michaela, did they know what they were getting into?


I hope so.

Tin hats on everyone. May God forgive me.

Scientific inspiration

CvD-7qMWEAAIU4p.jpg-large.jpegHere is my Head of Science holding up a new quote for my office. Richard Branson joins Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, Thomas Sowell and Mahatma Gandhi. He has large shoes to fill.

The wonderful Olivia, Head of Science, picked up the poster to pose. Why? Because I asked her to. Where did it come from? Another scientist DSGhataura (at another school) mentioned the quote the other night because Doug Lemov wrote about Michaela valuing staff and reducing staff workload  here.

DS is also a scientist. Told him to come see what we do at Michaela. Science is really different. The other day, when Michael Gove visited, I took him into Olivia’s lesson. The kids answered her questions, one after the other, covering so much… with 80% of hands in the air… on science I may never know…

Michael Gove was incredulous. So was I. It was unbelievable.

Today, we interviewed a science teacher. She did her tour, taught her lesson, met the kids. I sat with her in my office and I asked her why she wanted to teach at Michaela. “Because the staff are so happy,” she said. “Really? How do you know?” I asked. She mentioned a few she had met, the things they had said, how thrilled they are to be working at Michaela.

I smiled.

“And the fact that all the staff help each other!” she suddenly shouted. “They’re all there for each other… One was doing a countdown and then another jumped in and continued, like it was nothing…”

Again, I smiled. “Yes, we try to row like a team,” I said, “all rowing together.”

Why did Olivia pick up my silly poster and pose for my photo?

Because I asked her.

Not a day goes by when I don’t thank my lucky stars for my extraordinary staff, who row in synch day after day, smiling all the way.

A postcard

Cu-slG2XYAE2P1b.jpg-large.jpegWhat I miss most about being a teacher is the relationship you have with the kids. I used to love how they would mistakenly call me ‘mum’ instead of ‘Miss’. As a form tutor, they would gather in my room after school, especially the oddballs, looking for a safe place to hide.

As a Head, it is different. You play the part of the Wizard of Oz, to give your teachers the opportunity to bond with the children, just like you used to do…

But then, this is Michaela. And at Michaela, miracles happen: like this little girl who bounded down the stairs today, singing, ‘Bye Miss! Have a nice evening!’ with a huge smile plastered across her face. Her form tutor Fadila later gave me the postcard above.

She’s in Year 7. I don’t know the Year 7s well enough yet. I’m not sure I deserve such a well-crafted card. I can’t wait to hear what this little Year 7 girl dreams about. I wonder if her dreams are the same as mine.

To Miss with Love died in 2010. Now it is back.

I haven’t written a blog post in 6 years. It used to be just Old Andrew and me. Who could have known that blogging would take off so well?

To Miss with Love was an online diary of my thoughts which I must have started in about 2005. I loved writing. There was something cathartic in it. So here we go, I’m writing again. Miss Snuffy, which became the name I used on my blog is still what I use on Twitter. It is always  embarrassing when I tell people in a professional context that my twitter handle is Miss Snuffy… short for Miss Snuffleupagus, which I chose as a name to signal the elephant in the room.

Before 2010 I was a normal teacher/head of department/assistant head/deputy head, just like anyone else. Then I gave a speech at the Conservative Party Conference which caused a bit of a storm. Now a lot of people hate me.

It isn’t easy being hated. But any amount of hatred is worth tolerating in order to have our extraordinary school Michaela with our dedicated staff and delightful children.

Staff at Michaela do a brilliant job of blogging about our different systems and methods so I won’t be doing that here. These are just my thoughts. You may find them very dull, or, as is often the case, I might say something that I think is perfectly obvious, that will make others very upset indeed.

The educational landscape is so different to what it was 10 years ago. How exciting that so much can happen in such a short space of time.

I wonder what the next 10 years will bring?