The importance of collaboration and keeping children at the centre

Andrew Black reminds us of the importance of collaboration and keeping children at the centre of everything we do.

I recently retired after a 38 year teaching career and as I embarked on the adventure all those years ago I had little thought of where it would end…A long-haired, fresh faced 18 year old left the land of his birth, Scotland, to journey across the border to Loughborough University. Clad in the traditional African Violet track suit, four years later my career started in Hampshire.

At the time it was a wonderful county in which to work – their schools were ‘on the up’ and the CPD was very advanced.

They gave teachers opportunities to attend courses during holidays and weekends and it soon became an addiction, to further advance my knowledge and skills for teaching and coaching in the classroom and on the sports field. Surrounded by like-minded people on these ventures was not only great fun, but an excellent opportunity to share experiences, see others in action and link with people that were genuinely prepared to go the extra yard to make it better for the pupils they were working with. I arrived at a school in it’s second year of formation.

The day I started

On the day I started twelve other NQT’s started their careers too.

We came from all over the UK, from many different backgrounds but we all had one thing in common: we wanted to be the best! Every day was exhausting and exhilarating because we were learning so much and getting immediate positive feedback on the new methods we were trying out in the classroom. I was fortunate to have a Headteacher who boosted my career through Teacher, Assistant Year Head, Pastoral House Head, Year Head, Head of Department and then allowed me scope to create a role working in the feeder Primary Schools.

In 1984 that was forward thinking. Late one evening the Head arrived on my doorstep and I immediately thought I had done something wrong; in fact it he asked me if I would consider joining his ‘succession’ programme to become a future Deputy Head and Head! I thank him still for his drive and enthusiasm and for this early support. My plans changed a few years later whilst skiing in Kitzbuhel – I met the woman I was to marry and she lived in Staffordshire!

A new career chapter

My letter of resignation was greeted with pleasure because of the circumstances but I was asked to delay my decision in order to help mentor a new teacher in the Department… and to oversee the person taking over the Head of Year… oh, and could I coach the new Primary link worker? Of course, I agreed and in those two terms I learned much about management – working with new people and the importance of coaching and mentoring. I am still in touch with the young PE teacher who took over my role and who also went on to become a Head in a huge Secondary school in the south of the country. Eventually I took a position at a Secondary School in Tamworth.

At the time I lived in Ashley, near Market Drayton which meant a drive of at least one and a half hours. When a position became available at a Residential Special School nearer home I took it. The thought of new learning also increased my motivation to move. Advisors and Heads at that time gave me advice, steer and direction and to further my new learning I undertook a part time MSc in Special Education. It was during this period that I developed a special interest in the ‘Special School’ system and behaviour management.

A year later I was appointed Head of a Special School in Newcastle and spent a very rewarding 10 years of Headship there. The need for fresh challenges hit me again and for the last 10 years of my career I was the Head of a wonderful Junior School, working closely with an inspiring group of teachers that made every day a humbling and rewarding experience.


As retirement approached I took time to reflect a great deal on the previous 38 years; What has been the essence of my career? What changes have I seen? What differences have I made? The answers are wide and varied and read like a ‘history of education’ lesson. I have seen the advent of computers in schools and then in every classroom, iPads almost becoming the slate and chalk that were used in classrooms when I started writing 55 years ago.

The 11+ exam and judgements made on pupils abilities in Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, the National Curriculum introduced and then changed, Ofsted and their annual changes of criteria and judgements, Levels in, Levels out; CSE’s, GCSE’s, IB; an excellent Rose Report that was never adopted, Child Protection, Safeguarding, Prevent, Social Services’ involvement in schools and serious case reviews impacting on the nations psyche…the list is endless! However, as expectation grows, so does the opportunity for teachers to rise to the challenge. I believe you can make a difference and that teachers can lead and inspire the next generation, helping them get ready for 21st Century innovations as well as help them become happier, more fulfilled and better citizens, appreciating life in Britain and having a cultural awareness of society and our world.

I also believe some things will never change.

My mantra

My mantra over the years has always been ‘keep the child at the centre of your thoughts’. They are the reason we come to work every day. The enjoyment of working alongside youngsters, seeing their naturally inquisitive minds and taking them on their own learning journey is the greatest reward of all. Tough some days, sad some days. But listen to the sounds of learning that you create and enjoy the difference you make in children’s lives. Summing up 38 years as a ‘learner’ – Share your knowledge and expertise.

Ask questions of those around you. Link with people from other schools and the classroom next door.

Work alongside your school leaders and keep learning from them…and them from you.

And keep smiling…it’s the best job in the world!

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