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Checking in with Josh Vallance
We’re talking about the power of school visits and building routines with Josh Vallance this week. Josh is a history specialist who’s been teaching for 7 years. He’s an Assistant Head with a remit for curriculum and the design of the history curriculum for his schools trust.
Follow him here on Twitter.
What does well-being mean to you?
It’s about prioritising yourself and looking after yourself. Well-being for me is also linked to work and to doing well at work. I’d be feeling rubbish in my personal life if I was underperforming in my professional life, which is maybe slightly weird. Feeling like I’m doing well at work definitely makes me feel good and working hard allows me to then really clock-off. I’m quite bad at knowing what to do with myself when I have too much free time, which I know isn’t great! I’m someone that enjoys that feeling of working hard, particularly in a school environment where you see very visible, tangible results from the things you’re doing, which makes you want to invest more effort.
What’s one habit that improves your life?
I’m quite strict with my bedtime. That sounds terrible though I know! During the week I’ll make sure I’m going to bed at a sensible hour and reading my book before I go to bed. That all sounds a bit lame but it really helps me regulate, along with going for a run and cooking most evenings. I definitely like my routines and they mean I can get to the weekend having had lots of sleep, so I can then clock off and enjoy the socialising etc. that I want to be doing.
What helps you to feel healthy?
Exercise is really important. I love competitive sport and though I don’t do anywhere near as much now as I did when I was at school, I love the escapism kicking a football around can bring. There’s also a great social aspect to it that I really enjoy.
What are the most interesting challenges you need to solve in your current role?
In my curriculum role I have the big, exciting challenge of ensuring the quality of education for all of our children is as ambitious as it can be. It’s a big, daunting prospect and in some areas we’re close to the point we want to be whereas in others we’re slightly further away. We’ve got great personnel in place though so this year I’ll be focussed on working with some of the smaller departments to think really hard about their subject and curriculum. It’s exciting to be able to put time in with departments that have historically received much less attention and investment than English/Maths/Science and I think will lead to some really powerful improvements in the education we offer.
In education, what needs to change soon?
Schools need more money but you’ll hear that from everyone! It’s of course what you then do with that money but it would mean you don’t have so many people so stretched, so often. More money would allow better training and investment in people but would also help attract new people to the sector, which is key given the shortages at the moment.
The other one I often think about is behaviour problems, where in some schools you’ll see many children in the corridors or abusing teachers. It’s pretty surprising given there are now enough models of schools operating in quite disadvantaged areas doing incredibly well thanks to a strong values driven behaviour culture. I therefore find it very surprising that you see some schools where things are a total tyre-fire, as it shows there is wild inconsistency between schools. Now I don’t know what the solution is but I think there needs to be a larger focus on values driven behaviour across the country. Right now there’s an enormous focus on curriculum which is amazing and definitely suits me personally but as we’ve found in schools you can give an amazing curriculum on a plate but actually if you have 15 out of 30 kids not listening or shouting at each other then that definitely needs solving first.
What’s the best CPD you’ve done?
I’m a big believer in school visits as CPD. I’ve sent lots of our teachers off on school visits. Particularly for those who have only ever worked in our school, visiting another school where things are done differently can be really eye opening. I’ve personally had some really strong school visits to places including West London Free School and King Solomon Academy and have learnt a great deal from these amazing schools.
The best leadership CPD I’ve had is on the Exemplary Leadership Programme which has been transformative in so many ways and at a subject specific level anything by the Historical Association is amazingly strong.
What personal project are you most excited about right now?
I’ve just moved into a new house that’s unfurnished so I’m pretty excited about doing it up, despite how expensive it is! I’m touring junk shops with my mum, buying house plants and desperately trying to keep them alive and all the other joys that come with it!
What’s something people in your professional world might not know about you but find interesting?
I’m usually very coy on this! I like cooking, Liverpool and dancing - I think that’s as far as I’ll go!
What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
My dad always says “Feedback is a gift” which feels like quite a lame line but there’s definitely merit to it. Teaching’s a profession which has such visible feedback. If a lesson’s going badly, you’ll know about it. It’s such a responsive profession that you need to be so open to the fact there’ll be loads of continual feedback and allow that fluid dialogue to take place between the students and you as the teacher. And it’s not just at a teaching level but also at management levels where you’ll get feedback from both below and above, that you need to listen to and adapt to. So embracing as much feedback as possible.
Can you recommend a book we should check out?
My role in designing our history curriculum across the trust has given me the great pleasure of reading a huge amount. I’ve just finished The Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs by Camilla Townsend which I found insanely interesting and would recommend to all the history boffs out there, though it is a very accessible read for all.
And a podcast?
I like my history podcasts. History Hit by Dan Snow is one I enjoy. I also love my football podcasts, so The Totally Football Show with James Richardson and The Red Agenda with James Pearce are ones I’m a huge fan of.
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The Check-In is put together by the team at Mindfuel. Mindfuel produce fun, engaging well-being programmes for KS1 & KS2, providing teachers with everything they need to confidently teach well-being skills for positive mental health.