First 100 days as Principal: Tom Street, Harris Academy Falconwood
Spring is on the horizon here at Harris and we are hopeful for the term ahead. At Harris Falconwood, we check in with newly appointed Head of Academy, Tom Street for his first entry as a leader at the academy. Like all academies and schools nationwide, the journey through the pandemic continues with an emphasis on teamwork, solidarity and community. It is no different at Harris Falconwood as Tom shares his team’s efforts and the charted course ahead for the academy.
Starting at the beginning, can you introduce yourself?
TS: My name is Tom Street and I am very proud to be Head of Academy at Harris Academy Falconwood. I grew up in Grays, Essex, attending my local primary and secondary school. I absolutely fell in love with reading and enjoyed a few subjects at my Secondary School, particularly English.
When younger, I never dreamt I’d be a teacher, let alone a headteacher, but I count my good fortune every day that I am very lucky to do this job and serve others. I had a phenomenal teacher at Secondary School - Mr Tagg. He made me feel like I could do it and I wanted to carry on to see where studying English took me. I carried on to A-levels and University to study English and American Literature. I taught and trained back home in Essex, moving on to join the Harris Federation in 2011 joining Harris Academy Chafford Hundred as Head of English. I continued onto the Senior Leadership Team at Harris Academy Chafford Hundred as an Assistant Principal, supporting outcomes and whole Academy data management. I then moved onto Harris Academy Rainham as Vice Principal, before taking up post as Head of Academy at Harris Academy Falconwood in September 2020. The continued support and development the Federation provides has helped me progress further academically as I have done numerous NPQ programmes and completed a Master’s Degree in ‘Educational Leadership’ with University College London. The support you receive is incredible.
Academies are often shaped in the vision of its’ Principal; how would you describe your vision and how it sits in the running of Harris Academy Falconwood?
TS: I have been asked a lot of what my vision is for Harris Academy Falconwood since I was appointed. It seems to be the thing you ask a new headteacher, doesn’t it? A lot of people find it strange when I reply that I really don’t have one. I don’t believe in visions. They always remind me of a pink and yellow fantasy land with unicorns dancing around in the sun. I believe in values. Values are what we are about at Harris Academy Falconwood. We asked staff and worked with them in September on what we wanted our Academy to stand for. We really dug deep into our collective purpose. Questions like: ‘Why do we exist?’, ‘What would we want for the kids we love?’, ‘How do we want leaders to behave?’, ‘Why did we all join this profession?’ and ‘What do we care about?’ were discussed in detail. All good questions that landed us on our values of: Serve, Support, Success to help summarise what we felt was important to us.
We wanted a kind, caring and inclusive community where our students and staff serve themselves, each other and our local community. We pledged to support our students and staff throughout their time with us, equipping them with the tools and knowledge they need to achieve their future dreams. Success, of course, matters. We believe students need strong academic qualifications, a currency that opens doors to their future choices. We also thought these values teach us as staff how to behave and care for each other. This is the fundamental difference I feel between ‘Values’ and ‘Visions’. By applying these values every day and living them - we believe we will make a world-class place of learning. We also don’t believe in hierarchy at Harris Academy Falconwood – we serve each other by being authentic and genuine in our own purpose as educators.
At times leadership can feel very complicated – it invariably generates debate and invites wilful viewpoints. At HAF, we are no different and not exempt from these thoughts or challenges. The positions we adopt tend to reflect us; our backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, internal biases, values, intersecting and sometimes controversial ideas. I fundamentally believe in ‘People Driven Leadership’ – instead of ‘Task Driven Leadership’ and this has been the biggest shift or attempted shift - it’s still a work in progress!
It is an unprecedented time to be living in, what can you say about the experience of Principalship since your appointment?
Yes - timing wise a very funny one to become a first-time Head of Academy! It definitely has been a challenge, but I really have to thank those I work with at Falconwood for everything they’ve supported me with since September.
The SMT are first-class and we support each other. We made many ‘natural’ changes ready for September: new school day, new staffing structure, new teaching and learning model amongst other physical changes to the site. The pandemic then continued to unfold and it meant we had to make further adjustments to what we had planned to factor in Covid-19!
Together, We Can.
The newly appointed Head of Academy goes on to share how his team has been instrumental in the first few months of the transition.
TS: Headship really allows you also to feel real human emotion and every shade of it! It is genuinely one of the most rewarding roles that I have played for the Harris Federation. I have to say, it is nice to lean on each other for support and teamwork when things are hard in SMT. We have a team with a diverse range of skills, experiences and strengths.
The teaching staff I do believe are also very kind and forgiving of my mistakes. We haven’t been in this position before of course, and I think people are naturally more inclined to appreciate some of the greater challenges the Academy face. The staff at Harris Academy Falconwood are very talented, kind and committed and I know how truly lucky I am to be working with them every day supporting them.
How did the pandemic initially affect your academy? What preparation was put in place in the beginning of lockdown?
TS: During the course of the first lockdown, we understood very quickly that these were really troubling times for so many of the families we serve at Falconwood. Education providers across the country had to adjust how they operated on a day to day basis, and we were no different. Students across the year groups were superb, they really were, as they settled into these adjusted routines. It wasn’t easy at first, especially enforcing face-coverings, but they quickly bought in to it. We are fiercely proud of all our students here and they have been remarkable in supporting the teachers through these unforeseen times.
The misson continues..
TS: The organisation or workplace we as adults choose to work in offers a lot of us a sense of structure and a great sense of personal purpose. This year has been one of much turbulence, with our regular patterns of working greatly affected. None of us went into teaching to see young people affected in the way we have this year and I am sure you would have been saddened by it. As humans, I believe we love routine and that change is uncomfortable. 2020 certainly brought us all plenty of it and 2021 has so far been one of great challenge for so many of our community we serve. For this I feel so sorry for our community as we do what we can to help, but I do believe we will come out the other side of this pandemic more resilient, thoughtful and with a greater sense of care for each other than we have seen before in this profession. Teaching and working with young people is such a wonderful profession to be in - we should be immensely proud, happy and full of energy when doing it.
Fostering and maintaining a kind and respectful community is at the heart of any school and Tom accounts that HAF is no different. Solidarity and strength continue to build at Falconwood with support and a distinct gratitude for their teachers.
TS: Mutual respect and kindness are values that we hold dear and it has been refreshing to see so many kind comments coming the way of our teachers. I remember feeling so grateful (and are still witnessing it daily at the moment) the sheer support towards so many of our teachers from the parents of our students. The understanding, patience and warmth they have shown us as we adjust to these new ways of working online has really humbled us all.
Our young people are remarkable, special and with their infectious enthusiasm, there is a real feeling at the Academy that there will be happier times ahead and we will come through this together. We, of course, recognise how it has been and continues to be a really tough time for so many of our school community members, as they cope with their own health worries, anxieties, personal family circumstances or other challenges this year. Some of our colleagues have been affected directly by the impact of Covid-19 - sadly losing loved ones. It has been an awfully challenging year for so many of our young people too. It really has been felt this year that sometimes just a smile at a colleague, or a small act of kindness is amplified given the challenges we have all faced together.
Teaching is transformative.
TS: I believe that too often the ‘education’ sector has been treated appallingly by the main-stream media. False perceptions are given over as fact, often to our detriment. However, often as teachers I think we are also guilty at times of subconsciously ‘knocking’ our own profession when telling friends, family or those we cross paths with that we are ‘just a teacher’ when saying what we do. I’ve certainly said that phrase in the past before when people ask. Maybe it has taken a global pandemic for us as a society to maybe re-evaluate what we value. It is refreshing to see colleagues in the public sector, hospital workers, amongst others, also be recognised as heroes. I attach a wonderful piece from Banksy that I think he captured perfectly earlier in the year. One small positive, I really hope to come out of 2020 and 2021, is that the word ‘just’ detaches being put before the words ‘a teacher’, but I think that starts with us.
COVID aside, what plans do you have for the academy as newly appointed Principal?
TS: We have all agreed as a staff that we want a world-class Academy. It’s now just about acting with precision. We are blessed at Harris Academy Falconwood with a state-of-the art-building, very talented and caring teachers, wonderful support staff and a supportive community. Strategy is now our vehicle forward as we feel we have the tools to be ‘world class,’ as we perceive it.
Teaching and Learning needs to be the most important pillar of our academy and is behind all that we do. Every system or process needs to support our staff and students that are at the ‘chalk-face’. That’s the next phase really.
Upon reflection, the first term was about ‘Evolution’, as we put in place many changes that were very different to how the Academy operated before. From behaviour systems, length of lessons, staffing structure and other bits we adjusted them as we felt it was the right thing to do in the new and evolving direction of the academy now.
This Spring term, our focus lies in tweaking and enhancing as we continue to listen to what our staff and students need. We must continue to embrace ‘Serve’, ‘Support’, ‘Success’ as the cultural pillars of our academy and be transparent about what behaviours or actions best serve us.
Staff are very talented at Harris Academy Falconwood. For me, it is about freeing them up to do their best work and re-connecting people to their passions of why they became teachers in the beginning. It’s getting everyone to the ‘self-actualisation’ phase of Maslow’s Heirarchy and I think this will benefit the students immensely.
What can you say about the culture and work environment at HAF?
TS: HAF is a place full of energy where teachers work extremely hard to earn and keep their students’ trust and are truly invested in the children’s performance and well-being. Our staff have been truly magnificent throughout the periods of lockdown we have experienced – the amount of phone-calls and communication our staff are willing to engage in really does make me so proud to say I work at HAF.
We wanted an Academy that focuses on the ‘right’ things and the things that benefit our students the most. Therefore, staff wellbeing isn’t a day we go home early, or we give cakes, or something we tick on a sheet after saying we care about it in briefing. It’s engrained in what we do. We treat each other with respect and believe in kindness. Human Beings first - our jobs that we perform come second. Happiness is critical to us as we believe we all do our best work when we are feeling positive. We also believe that deep thinking, innovation and creativity is important but the best leaders here find ways to simplify their work so that others can effortlessly follow. So many of our staff are externally aware, look for new ideas, and are not limited by what’s gone before. We are flexible around staff needs and look to support them as much as we can in all aspects of their work.
Teachers here are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves – this is one of the things I love most about HAF. We regularly get huge numbers of staff attend our ‘Voluntary Teaching and Learning Training’ or ‘Voluntary Leadership Training.’ They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them in a motivated fashion! They are open to feedback and we have done a lot of work around Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor’.
The best colleagues here see opportunity with the feedback they receive. They embrace change. They have a sense of humour! We see and feel we have the opportunity to build lasting relationships at HAF with each other. We really do believe that everyone turns up at HAF to do a good job. We have unconditional positive regard and see trust as the bedrock to all the good work we do. Watching staff and listening to them truly is one of the best bits of my role.
As an SMT, we promised each other we would listen attentively to staff, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. We are very vocally self- critical, even when doing so can be awkward or embarrassing. Hierarchy really isn’t valued at HAF. As human beings at HAF we are equal, we just perform different roles for the students we serve.
For those looking to join us, what can you say about working with the Federation?
TS: Working for the Harris Federation allows great collaboration with likeminded professionals. Together we really do achieve much more. I’ve always felt the Harris Federation cares about me as an individual and as such, I deeply care about the success the Federation continues to have. It’s reciprocal. The Harris Federation serves some of the most vulnerable children across London and neighbouring counties - continuing to provide real life chances to those that need it the most. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that mission? A great education really should be something that young people have access to.
What development opportunities can staff expect here?
TS: Continuous, high quality staff development will get us to the world-class level we know HAF is capable of. Our staff try to live out Richard Branson’s famous quote: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.” By investing heavily in staff development and creating bespoke and personalised development programmes for each of our staff. Through our teaching and learning model or leadership programmes, we feel we can further embed our values successfully. Staff, put simply, are our greatest resource to ensuring great things for our young people.
Closing out your first entry as Principal, do you have any reflections to leave us with?
TS: Well, after a term at Harris Academy Falconwood, I know how lucky I am to be at HAF (the purple paradise as it’s affectionately known by staff!) - not only by being surrounded with people that are great at their profession, but to be surrounded by truly lovely people who care so much about our young people.
We all need to carry on looking after each other – it’s been really inspiring to watch, witness and smile at. I’m sure there will be sunnier times ahead.
As the first check-in entry with HAF Principal, Tom Street, we echo Tom’s sentiments and wish all a community-filled, kind and innovative Spring! We hope to check in with Principal Street later in the year to share his experience since we last spoke, keep posted for more in the coming months! To learn more about the academy, click here. For any upcoming vacancies as HAF, click here.
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