I have just spent the last seven days with 40 students from two continents, four schools and three countries on a Comenius Engagement in South America.
It was brilliant! From start to finish it was a most enriching and re-energising experience which reinforced my belief in the benefits of school visits for both staff and students.
As anyone who takes students on residential visits will tell you, they are incredibly rewarding but also very hard work, and the same applied here, as in order to gain as much from our days as possible we had to endure early starts and late finishes – with even longer days for the lead teachers.
It only took a few hours after we set off down the M1 for me to be back in the routine of the teacher taking a trip! Counting them out and counting them in, keeping an eye on those who looked a bit green around the gills, checking the admin side of things – with passports and vaccination cards being key documents.
We met our German partners at Orly Airport and spent the first night in a hotel before flying out early the next morning.
The students knew each other from previous visits and had kept each other up-to-speed via Facebook, which was a real bonus (and one of the many positives of social networking as they had been able to collaborate in terms of their work as well as keeping in touch with friends).
For me, the trip was an incredible experience on so many levels; what I really enjoyed was having the chance to work closely with colleagues and students in a teaching capacity without having the usual day-to-day work of a headteacher.
Of course, this trip was only possible as I knew I was leaving a very capable team in charge back at school and had the benefit of wi-fi so that I could keep my email inbox under control!
This meant that I was able to be fully involved in the classroom sessions and the work in the field, which was fantastic as I am a biologist by trade.
On day three, as we walked into the Amazonian forest to carry out stream-sampling studies, I realised just how much I missed having that teaching contact with students, joining in their conversations and being able to answer their questions as well as pushing them to think and develop their knowledge, skills and understanding.
This is the reason I came into teaching and also what kept me in the profession when many of my peers were leaving.
Ironically, it is also what led me on the road to headship, as I knew that some of my colleagues didn’t enjoy their time in the classroom as much as I did, and I felt that by taking on leadership responsibility I could be in a position of trying to help them to develop their skills or to support them with more challenging students.
This is also what is at the heart of headship – trying to find the best solutions to issues and to run our schools in the best way possible so that all benefit.
However, headship can be a very lonely place – no matter how dedicated or supportive senior leadership team colleagues are.
Over the years I have realised how important it is to take opportunities to work with students and staff in situations where you are not “the boss”, but simply a team member. Doing this means that I don’t forget what it’s all about at the end of the day and it was fantastic to be able to join this trip and take some time to enjoy that most important role of all – being a teacher!
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.