A bbc Interview with @raesnape

My name is Rae Snape, I am the Headteacher of The Spinney Primary School in Cambridge which is a Whole Education Partner School and an Ashoka Changemaker School. I am a National Leader of Education and lead The Kite Teaching School Alliance Cambridge. I have been a member of the Primary Headteacher’s Reference Group at the DFE since 2010. I am a Regional Advocate for the Chartered College of Teaching. I initiated an Arts Council’s Cultural Education Partnership called My Cambridge and am on the Arts Mark Levelling panel for Arts Council England. I am the CEO designate of Cambridgeshire Innovation Trust a new trust for collaborative, innovative and creative schools in the Cambridgeshire area.

What made you become a teacher?
Being a teacher runs in the family! My Mum, Deirdre was a section 11 teacher, I am very proud of her. Her work made a huge difference to thousands of children in Staffordshire that were newly arriving into the country and who were new to English. One of my earliest memories of “teaching” was aged about 13 and sitting in a circle on the grass at Nelson Hall, an old teacher training college in Eccleshall in 1979 with a group of Vietnamese “boat children” sharing picture books with them. I always feel a bit bad when I remember this, it was of course my Mum, her teacher colleagues and the volunteers that were doing the important work but it was me that ended up being seen on the ITV news! Both of my sisters are teachers, but in Secondary. Sarah is a Head of Languages in a very successful secondary school in Shropshire and Naomi is an Assistant Head in an excellent trust in Sheffield.

What is your favourite part of the job?
Everything! But most of all it is the children and the variety of the work! I have been in education since 1994, and have been a Headteacher for ten years. No two days are ever the same! The opportunities and responsibilities of the job are exciting! I remember hearing quite early on as I was moving on from being a Deputy to being a Headteacher that with Headship “The good days are the best days in the world, the bad days are the most important.” I still find this to be true!

What has been best thing you have done at work this year?
Besides keeping a balance across all the different parts of my work, and my home life, I would have to say probably bringing the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education into a reality. The idea for an Optimistic celebration of education started from a twitter chat one morning with @MattGovernor @nataliehscott @thatboycanteach and @HopeStreetBlues we were talking about how much negativity there is about education and yet it is really such a wonderful inspiring profession to work in. We felt it served no purpose to talk down the amazing job that teachers do everyday instead we should be optimistic about it and that’s when @OptimisticEd_ started and #OptimisticEd

A few months later as I observed an email exchange amongst others spiral into impossibility, I thought that instead of being lemmings of despair we should be “flamingoes of hope for the sake of our children our colleagues and communities” and that’s where #flamingoesofhope came from and the flamingo motif for the CambsEdFest.

What is the most frustrating thing about teaching at the moment?
The pendulum swing of policy every 5 years from one government to the next on the biographical whims of ministers infuriates me! David Law’s article in the Guardian also backs up my suspicion that they are not very good at policy either. “The Quality of Education Policy Making is Poor!”

However, as an optimist #OptimisticEd I am hopeful that teachers who are by nature brilliant, creative problem fixers, will resolve this. Through unity and solidarity we can be the antibacterial/lemon juice to the GERM.

Because of this I feel absolutely thrilled and privileged to have written an article for Flip The System Uk edited by Lucy Rycroft-Smith and Jean-Louis Dutaut which is coming out in January 2018. There are many amazing contributors to this book including Professor Alma Harris who has just written a book with Dr Michelle Jones called Teachers Leading Educational Reform - The Power of Professional Learning Communities.

What songs would be on your driving to work playlist?
Music is very important to me and I sing and play in a (dodgy) Cambridge based ukulele band called The Misspent Ukes! We’ve busked, played in pubs and even played at weddings! I often find that the songs I am humming reveal a lot about what’s going on in my unconscious mind (Thanks Freud!) When I first became a headteacher, The Killer’s Song Human was in the charts and I would be singing it ALL the time because of the Lyrics “And I’m on my knees looking for the answer, are we human or are we dancer.”  On my office door it says “Headlearner” because I am always looking to connect, to read, to meet others,  to explore, in order find the answers to the optimal ways to teach and to learn . . .

On the good days when I walk around the Spinney and I can feel, as Steven Munby used to say that singular compelling “cohesive narrative” in the school, then my happy song which I always find myself singing is Simon Smith & his Amazing Dancing Bear! I never know if I am the boy or the bear but because I get such a proud feeling of JOY when the school is working in harmony, I think the give away line isOh who would think a boy and bear
Could be well accepted everywhere, It's just amazing how fair people can be!”

My taste in music is fairly eclectic. The CDs in my car at the moment include ones by Nicki Minaj, Pixies, Jimmy Webb, Kate Tempest, Pink and Regina Spektor. But to finally answer the question, the song that I really find uplifting on a drive to work would have to be “Firework” by Katy Perry

What is the funniest thing a child has ever said/written in your class?
I think children are brilliant! They say marvellous, wonderful, inspiring things. I love talking with the children in my school there’s lots of humour and respect for everyone at The Spinney regardless of size, age, background. We aim to be a very egalitarian school. For example, we don’t have a staff room, we have a TEAM room that can be used by anyone, grown-ups, children, volunteers. One thing I can not stand is when for example in assemblies adults laugh at little children just because they are “cute.” It’s just so patronising. We were all young once, and just because we are now older does not give us greater value or status. Malaguzzi’s piece The Image of The Child - is useful here.

That being said I can think of a lovely thing that two of my pupils said to me recently.

It was just at the end of the summer term which is always a busy time for everyone. I had my head down ploughing through emails when Josh and AJ came in. “Mrs Snape, Josh and I have been thinking. With you being a headteacher we think you must be pretty rich and so if you sold your Ford Focus you could get a Lamborghini or a Bugatti. We think you would like a red one. Which one do you think you would prefer? Josh thinks you should get a Bugatti and I think you should get a Lamborghini? Shall we take a look?” And it was at that point that the emails were happily interrupted and we started Googling to see which one would be better. I’ve settled on the Bughhatti and my birthday is in October in case anyone would like to help me out on this!
AJ and Josh have also decided that they would like to come out with me in my new car when I get it and I am pleased to say that both of them have checked with their Mums that it would be Ok!

What is your guilty pleasure?
It’s not so much of a guilty pleasure, but perhaps a semi-secret pleasure is to go to ComicCon with my family and to dress up! ComicCon is a great day out and it is always fun to pretend to be someone else for the day! This summer I was The Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, the time before I was Bat Woman.

If you weren´t a teacher, what would you be and why?
That’s easy! I would work in the theatre either as a Director or a Stage Manager.

What are you passionate about (teaching-related or not)?
I am passionate about the transformative power of arts, creativity, culture and connection as I know from my own experience and have seen from my own children’s experiences (Charlie 16, Esme 13) and that of other young people that the Arts have such a positive and transformative impact on young people’s lives. In 2014 I co-initiated a Cultural Educational Partnership called My Cambridge, and I am a member of the Arts Council England’s Arts Mark Levelling Panel.

If you had to pick one subject/topic to teach on a loop forever, what would it be?
Having been “out of the classroom” for 10 years, when I do teach lessons it tends to be whole class Ukulele, or French, or Art.

I am blessed to work with the best colleagues ever! So I trust them to do a much better job of teaching lessons than I do! If I do cover a more structured lesson my lovely colleagues, who are just so thorough and dedicated such as my fabulous colleague Emily, are very kind and write out a proper lesson plan for me! Which is adorable because I never require them to do that for themselves!  

What is the most effective resource/technology/app you use in the classroom?
The most effective resource I use as some of you may guess, is Twitter!
Lovely John Bishop from Evolve suggested that I am possibly the most active Headteacher on Twitter, which I don’t think is accurate but I appreciated it as a compliment and I certainly do use it frequently! I love the egalitarian, “Cat may look at a Queen” nature of it! You can connect with everyone and anyone across the globe and I have learnt SO MUCH through it! I also think that most if not all the speakers and workshop leaders that presented at The Cambridgeshire Festival of Education came via Twitter.

What is the most effective routine/method/system you use in the classroom?
I would like to think that what we aim for is kindness, compassion and unconditional positive regard. When we had our last OfSTED we were described as being “forward thinking and outward reaching.” I really liked that expression and feel it was a gift to us. Our outward facing ethos coupled with being “on our way looking for the answers”, means we have a very creative, innovative, connected curriculum which is constructed through a number of programmes and partnerships. We are very proud of these and our results balanced with the happiness and well-being of our pupils suggest that the system works! Please feel free to visit if you would like to know more.

If you had to pick 4 people (Twitter or otherwise) to invite to a dinner party who
would it be and why?
I am struggling to keep it to 4 so in addition to my marvellous hubbie Guy who is a fabulous cook, I would invite a number of people to a dinner party. If we bring in the piano stool which sits two, as well as the chairs from upstairs, the chair in the study, plus the 4 garden chairs we would have to enough for at least ten people which is a very good number for a dinner party! I love dinner parties!
Top of the list would be Frida Kahlo, because I would really like to understand more about her relationship with Diego Rivera, I would also invite Jackie Kay because she is one of the world’s loveliest people ever. Jackie came to The Spinney a couple of years ago and worked with the children and Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination on a poetry project in The Spinney Wild Wood. I would also invite Seamus Heaney and ask him to specifically talk about his Bog Poems as I am quite interested in anthropology and prehistoric art. Jackie Kay would bring along Ali Smith which will be nice and then halfway through the evening Carol Ann Duffy will turn up which will be very nice indeed as she and Seamus will take it in turns to read us poetry while we drink Whiskey late into the next morning! Maggie Hamblin would also be on the list holding court and being fascinating and a bit frowny. I like her art but LOVE her style! She’d be very nice to Frida, and they would talk painting techniques.  I will also invite Muhammad Ali because he is a mesmerising orator (and supremely beautiful) as well as my friend Michelle Larbey, because she is wonderful and sociable, she has a wicked sense of humour and is also kind and thoughtful and would help everyone to feel included while I am bringing dishes in and out. Everything would be going very nicely and then suddenly Maya Angelou will turn up a little later with a box of delicious chocolates! Everyone will clap their hands in rapture and just listen to her talking in that exquisite velvet voice of hers. Danny Boyle would have been at the party from the start! He would have turned up early and having a very practical mind would have been very helpful opening packets of wasabi peas and putting out the crisps. We would have talked films and I will have said that I thought that Trainspotting 2 was surprisingly brilliant!

The evening will be beautifully convivial with lots of chatter, sharing of stories and much laughter. About three-quarters of the way through the evening Danny will announce, “Do you know what, I think I shall make a film of this, and call it “The Dinner Party” what do you think?” Everyone, will agree this is an excellent idea until he says, “And perhaps it should include Einstein?” At which point everyone will groan and say “Not Einstein, again!”

What is the best and worst advice you have been given as a teacher?
I don’t think I have every had any bad advice, I know there is the cliche about not smiling before Christmas but I would never not smile! Smiling is very important, withholding smiles from young people is unconscionable unkindness!

One of the best things I learned on a Deputy Heads course though was about metaphorically having the skin of a rhinoceros! When the going gets tough I remind myself that “My shoulders are broad and my skin is thick, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”  

If you could choose one person who you´d love to have the bbc interview treatment, who would it be and why?

It would be Jonny Walker @jonnywalker_edu

I invited Jonny to lead a workshop for us at the Cambridgeshire Festival of Education. He did a talk on #Hopemongering which I could not attend because I was busy elsewhere, but everyone, everyone who was there said it was extremely thought provoking and brilliant. I am so sorry that I missed it but because he was such a hit I have invited him to come back and be a speaker for us next year!

Thank you very much for this interview. I hope you have a lovely day and that you will join the #Flamingle @CambsEdFest next summer



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