James Marriott: Welcome to the Primary Knowledge Podcast brought to you by Cornerstones Education. I’m James Marriott. Today we are talking about creating networks and very pleased to be joined by Jonathan Coy from Head Teacher Chat. Now Jonathan has a background in primary headship and is now the director of Head Teacher Chat. Thanks for joining us today, Jonathan.
Jonathan Coy: Morning. Thank you for having me.
James: Tell me what inspired you to set up Head Teacher Chat if you would do.
Jonathan: Well, it’s a bit of a long story, really, so I’ll do a shortened version. About eight/nine years ago we set up Head Teacher Chat on Twitter to just find out more information about what was going on in the world of education. And we were really curious, and what we found out from asking other people questions, it was a wonderful platform to get new ideas and connect with people. And at that time, we connected with some fabulous educationalists like Dame Alison Peacock, and she shared loads of knowledge. And it actually got my wife, who is the other part of Head Teacher Chat, to actually do some work with Dame Alison on her book Creating Lessons, Setting Without Limits. And so, it was a very powerful tool. And what we found out, if we are asking these questions, other people might be asking those questions as well. And there’s no such thing as a stupid question, is there? So, we opened up the platform so other people could start asking us questions and say, “OK, could you ask your followers about HR issues or what sort of product to do?” So, it developed from there, and it’s really exciting. And so about 18 months ago, we set it up to I stopped being a head teacher and deputy CEO of an academy trust, and we set up Head Teacher Chat.
James: What was the point then that you realised that this was going to work, that there was a need for this?
Jonathan: So two, two and a half years ago, we were getting loads and loads of questions about loads and loads of different topics. And also, we were getting some wellbeing issues as well from some senior leaders in schools. And we felt actually that was a time to say we could do different and help a load more head teachers if we made it as a business to actually help and support people. So we have three sides to our business. We’ve got the coaching and wellbeing side, which we actually support headteachers in many different ways, on coaching, we give them counselling support, we show them, signpost them to where they need to go to because we get two or three messages every day about someone who needs some sort of help. We also do the Edu network, which is linking up with businesses. Because when I was a headteacher, I was very time poor, and I just didn’t have time to find out what was out there. And we have the time now to actually go out and find out some brilliant companies, what they’re offering schools, how they offer in the schools and any new updates that they’re doing. And actually, then we can say, have you looked at this company because this does what you want it to do? So we sort of like support schools in that way, and we do that with Cornerstones as well. They’ve got some brilliant new systems that actually nobody knows about, so we help say “Have you seen this system?” And then we also have time saving resources and we have a planner that we design and publish and that is used by loads of headteachers around the country and basically trying to help them focus on what they need to focus on in a day. So, you’ve also got some wellbeing tips in it, and it gives some notes on how to support themselves and loaded leadership information as well. So, there’s three different main ways that we support headteachers at the moment. And yeah, it seems like it’s working. And we’ve created a lovely network and very supportive network. And hopefully we can make a difference to school leaders in the country.
James: You use the word network there, which is interesting. So, is there an opportunity here for headteachers to effectively provide each other with support?
Jonathan: Very much so. As I said, we get loads of questions to us direct messages on Twitter and Facebook messaging, and we put those questions out onto our platforms. We’ve got about 27,000 followers on all our platforms. So, if someone who’s in from a small school hasn’t got many followers, they can say, “Can you actually help us out and find out an answer to…”? We had someone who wanted, their servers had actually broken down the other day and wanted to find out who could actually come and fix them or replace them. And so, we put it on the platform, and we shared the idea. And actually, four or five companies came up and said, “Look, we can come and support you” within like half an hour. So, it’s that sort of thing that we do. We do a whole load of other things as well, but that’s mainly what we do. It’s a strong network and very, we do sort of conversational posts as well. So, trying to get wellbeing within head teachers, so we say we say things like “make sure you have made time for yourself in a day and what sort of things like go for walks” or things like that. So, it’s not all about education, it’s about actually the whole person that we’ve done all our feeds.
James: That’s great. Obviously, what we’re I mean, specifically, what we’re talking about today is creating networks. You’ve obviously been there yourself in terms of, you know, your past in primary headship. Just how valuable is it for a headteacher to have this level of support and this kind of network to fall back on?
Jonathan: It’s so valuable. It’s a lonely job being a headteacher in a school. And you probably hear that a few times. But actually, when you’re a teacher in a school, you have loads of people to actually bounce ideas off, share ideas. But when you’re a head, actually, there’s not many people that has all that information that, all that knowledge that they’ve got to actually how many people don’t share in a school. So, in some ways, they need to release it some other way. And actually, we find on Twitter you can be anonymous, but actually ask some questions are really troubling you and get a response from experts in the field who have actually tried these things and actually worked out these things. So, it’s so valuable. We’ve seen some people come to us and actually say what we do is a fantastic service and actually really helped them out of a sticky situation because it gave them some, it gave them a load of views on something and actually they could actually just pick the right one. They wanted to choose and move forward with it. So, yeah, I think it’s very good.
Jonathan: It’s very different from when I started teaching, when you didn’t really have anything, you had books and you didn’t have the internet or anything like that. Basically, all you did about finding out about the latest ideas was conferences or books. And actually, that was it. Nowadays, we’ve got so many options out there and actually to find different things and actually find things that people have tested and tried in schools is so important. And headteachers are very, they listen to recommendations from other headteachers, probably more than anything else nowadays. And actually, that’s why we tried to bring out that network and say, “Actually, have you tried this one, this idea? It worked at my school. It was really brilliant. “ So, they might have more hope for doing it. We’re trying to save people time and money and supporting people as best we can because in my experience of a headship, I was time poor. I never had time to go and find things. I just needed someone to go and say, bounce ideas off that wasn’t just in school. And I found our network could do that.
James: That’s brill. So what are the kind of the key issues that you’re seeing, you know, kind of mentioned time and time again by headteachers at the moment?
Jonathan: Well, at the moment, there’s lots going on in schools and there’s a lot of stresses. Attendance is a big one. So, at the moment, we’ve got attendance of children and of staff that are trying to, what solutions are other schools doing to actually cover classes when the teachers are not there? And actually, at the moment, there’s not many supply teachers out there. So, they’re trying to think of novel ways of actually doing that, but actually keeping the learning going. So that’s a key one at the moment. Ofsted was on the radar a couple of weeks ago to saying actually they’d come back in schools, so people were asking what tips they have for off their Ofsted and how does that work in their schools has anyone had an Ofsted? What were the questions they asked and things like that? And then we have wellbeing ones that actually, how do headteachers cope in a particular situation? What do they have to do? And then we have ones like, “I’m thinking of leaving the profession. What could I do otherwise?” So, there’s a whole range of different questions that we can do and those are the topical ones at the moment. I’m not surprised really, it’s a tough time out there.
James: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, what about the future, then for Head Teacher Chat? What does the roadmap look like?
Jonathan: The roadmap is exciting because we are starting to plan a physical conference, so we’re starting to put together ideas that actually get… we want to do it slightly differently and have much more focus on each of the sort of like, the delegates, and the suppliers and actually try and make it much more engaging for everyone involved. So, we’re working with some people at the moment to see how we can actually develop this physical conference and hopefully for the late summer or autumn term that we would be doing that. It’s exciting time. I can’t wait to do that, but it’s, yeah, a physical conference. So, I didn’t think I’d be doing that 18 months ago.
James: It’s been a long time coming hasn’t it, after so much time where we’ve not been able to do stuff like that. So, if there’s if there’s someone listening to this who is a headteacher who’s maybe hearing about what you’re doing for the first time, what should they do if they want to get involved? What’s kind of the process from a headteacher perspective?
Jonathan: OK. The process would be come to our website. We’ve got loads of information on our website, which is headteacherchat.com and also come to Twitter and find us @headteacherchat and join in the conversation, just see what we do. There’s loads of questions that go out there from head teachers most days actually joining those conversations. Yeah, say hi, direct message us if you’ve got a question. Those sort of things, you can do it on Messenger, on Facebook as well. We’ve got Facebook groups join the Facebook group and join on Twitter. Really easy and just say, Hi, we’re here. We’re real people. We know what it’s like to be a head teacher as well. So, yeah, come and talk to us and that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what Head Teacher Chat is all about really.
James: Well, Jonathan, thank you very much for joining us today. It’s been brilliant to chat to you.
Jonathan: You’re very welcome. Thank you for having me.
James: I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. We have handpicked some extra resources and content which we think that you’ll find useful. So just head to the show notes for this episode to find those links. There’s loads more information, and you can find all our other episodes at cornerstoneseducation.co.uk. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
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