Reflections: September 2015

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When I wrote my last column I was about to embark on the adventure of my lifetime – climbing Mount Elbrus in Russia. I’ve now been home for two weeks and I’m surprised by the impact that our trip has had on me. Physically I feel fine, and that comes as no surprise given the way our trip unfolded: but psychologically I have noticed that this trip, more than any other, has had a profound impact.

We headed off from Heathrow and via Moscow to Pyatigorsk, a city in the south of Russia on the Georgian border. This was our first expedition led by a company – normally we go alone but getting into Russia is very difficult and the difficulty of our expedition was new territory for me, so it seemed most sensible to go with a company with vast experience. Our team of twelve met in Heathrow and travelled through the night to our destination, slowly getting to know one another: the teachers, lawyer, tree surgeon, engineer, financial expert, banker, architect…the team had diverse experiences, both in working life and expedition accomplishments, and it was really interesting to learn from them all. We spent a short time in Pyatigorsk and were then taken via a jeep-style minibus to the base camp, some four hours away. I’ve never seen such a vehicle drive through a river, I’ve never been in a bus traversing a steep mountainside and driving down stream, so that was certainly a first for my #40Challenges bucket list!! We arrived at Base Camp safely and began our acclimatization phase of the expedition.

Within forty-eight hours we were preparing to leave Base Camp and carry all our equipment up to High Camp. We had chosen to tackle the more difficult, north side of the mountain and were to spend six days at High Camp. We carried as little as possible, meaning that despite carrying a minimum of 20kg each we knew that we would be wearing the same clothes for the next week. As we ascended the mountain we were rewarded with the most wonderful mountain views, the snow topped Elbrus peak ahead of us and beautiful valleys around us. As we climbed we spotted a helicopter overhead and joked that they were dropping off supplies to High Camp of fine foods and toilet roll…we knew that what we would find up there would be more basic than you could possibly imagine.

After a long climb the twelve of us settled into our new accommodation- a very small, hand built hut, made of metal and containing twelve beds. It wasn’t the time to be shy, sharing living quarters with relative strangers, and so we each set about preparing ourselves for the next few days. We spent two days practising and acclimatising, using our crampons and ice axes on the steep ice faces, and learning to use the roping systems that would keep us safe on the mountains. Our summit day was to take place on day four and we spent considerable time eating: with the summit trek departing at midnight and taking up to nineteen hours, we knew that many calories would be burnt so we were determined to have our bodies well fueled for the challenge.

Day three was a rest day and we used that to sleep, eat and pack our rucksacks. By 8pm it was evident that the weather was against us – strong winds at the summit had led our guide to believe it was too dangerous to attempt the summit. Disappointed, we returned to our bunks for another night of sleep in the hope that the following day might bring us better luck. On our fourth and final day, the weather looked good. Blue skies and low winds meant that we prepared, albeit with mixed emotions. The acclimatisation trek to 4818m, higher than Mt Blanc, had been very challenging, and a fall I took had knocked my confidence. I had begun to realize that this really was a huge challenge for me, both mentally and physically, and the doubts set in. Could I really do this?

By 6pm on the fourth day we were in our third meal of the day. As we emerged from the hut with full tummies, we were greeted with snow…falling fast and thick from the sky. We went for a short sleep, hoping that when we woke at 10pm to eat our final meal, the snow would have stopped and we could depart for our challenge. However, our guide woke us at 9pm to say that the summit was off. We had been beaten by the weather and it was too dangerous to attempt the climb. Game over.

I must admit that my emotions were very mixed. Much of me was disappointed that the challenge and our time, energy and excitement had been dashed by soft, white snow. But on the other hand, the relentless hours of walking in zigzags up very steep, icy slopes had been physically and mentally draining. I didn’t know if I could really achieve the summit, and I was finding that this type of trekking wasn’t as enjoyable as other treks we have completed, such as Everest Base Camp. I love not only the challenge but even more the views, the wonderful mountains surrounding us and their tranquility and peace. Watching the back of someone’s crampons for eight hours had been tough enough on acclimatization day. I am left wondering what nineteen hours of mental and physical ascent and descent would have done to me.

And so, the team returned to Base Camp with heavy hearts the following day. We each knew that our guide had made the call with our best interests at heart- safety first. It wasn’t until we retuned to the city that we learnt of the true tragedy on the mountains. The helicopter we had joked about, bringing up toilet rolls to High Camp, had been there for a much more serious reason. As we had climbed up the valley, three Polish climbers had successfully summited the West peak of Mount Elbrus. Tragically, they had been blown from the summit in the high winds and died on the mountain, the helicopter coming to take away their bodies. Such tragedy is sadly common on the mountains, where climbers risk their lives to take part in the sport they love. I have never ever considered that such an event could happen to us. We are relatively experienced mountaineers, well equipped and cautious where necessary. It was sobering to learn of their fate and a sharp jolt back to the reality of our trip. It was dangerous, yet we returned safely down the mountain, albeit without summit success. But sometimes, the summit isn’t the place to be. We didn’t succeed but, in my mind, for good reason.

And so, we returned to the UK and to work. It was glorious to welcome our students in to the UTC last Monday, their excited chatter filling the corridors. I was reminded of how much I love my job, working with talented staff to teach enthusiastic and committed young people. I shared my tales with them, glad to be standing safely at the front of the auditorium. My morning drive to work each day has been ever brightened by the gentlemen on the Dunham Bridge. I don’t think they realise how much I appreciate my daily, double dose of cheery smiles and I think this is the first time I’ve really appreciated their kindness.

On reflection, this is the first time I have been faced with such a difficult expedition. We make measured decisions to take on such adventures, calculating the risks involved. Where risk lies, challenge begins and without challenge, we cannot grow. Each adventure I have undertaken has helped me to find my limits. When failure occurs, for whatever reason, it is so important to accept the failure as being a valuable part of the learning experience. I learnt much about my physical and psychological limits this summer and I look forward to stretching them in different ways through my next adventures.

And so, my mind is set to the next of my forty challenges. I’ve booked to climb Mount Toubkal in Morocco in late December, taking in three peaks in the eight-day trek, seeing in the New Year atop a glorious mountain. The crampons and ice axe will be back out for use and my training has begun once more. In the meantime, I’ve still got around £2k to raise…and twenty more challenges to achieve before the year is out. This is going to be a busy few months!

 

Professional Development

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I’m in the process of preparing for Professional Development meetings this forthcoming week. Every line manager has their own way of structuring and delivering the meeting but I’ve been considering how to ensure that we create a core structure that staff can utilise of they wish, or ensure they meet the essential criteria as they design their own meeting structure.

I have decided to locate my meetings in front of my trusty, monstrous whiteboard – a perfect location to scribble down thoughts, ideas and reflection as they tumble from the reviewee. It takes away some of the intensity of a 1:1 meeting, enables us both to draw / add / erase ideas as they emerge and captures the essence of the meeting without formal minutes needing to be taken.

In terms of structure, I plan to hang the meeting around the following areas (draft one of structure):

  1. Tell me what a great year would look like for you.
  2. How will you know that it happened?
  3. What strengths and areas of expertise do you already have that will help you to succeed in achieving your ‘great year’? (Refer to Teacher Standards Audit, where applicable).
    1. How could you use these strengths to support the development of other colleagues or the wider development of the UTC?
  4. What do you need to develop or do differently to achieve your ‘great year’ goals? (Again, refer to Teacher Standards Audit and any other relevant information the member of staff has provided).
  5. How will you develop these areas? (i.e. CPD, training, coaching, mentoring, personal reflection, reading, colleagues to learn from or collaborate with).
  6. Who else might influence your success in your targets? Do you need to collaborate with other staff to enable success?
  7. How will you reflect on your development through the year? How will you format / structure your professional learning ‘journal’ (PLJ)?
  8. How can I assist you in my role as your line manager?
  9. Would you be comfortable sharing your PLJ developments with another colleague informally so that you can share, reflect and develop your thinking? If so, who do you think you would like to collaborate with? (Ask staff to set these informal relationships up).
  10. Is there anything we haven’t considered in the meeting that you would like to explore?
  11. Run through the plans for the remainder of the year:
    1. Informal PLJ collaborations in Term 2 CPD sessions.
    2. Formal interim review of progress in Term 3.
    3. Informal PLJ collaborations in Term 4 CPD sessions.
    4. Formal final review of progress in Term 6.

I’ll share this outline with my colleagues this week to see if they have any ‘marginal gain’ development points.

Reflections: August 2015

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It was two years ago this month that I first met Daniel Ionescu to discuss the new Lincoln UTC and initiate my relationship with his very successful online newspaper. This is my twenty-fourth monthly article and I continue to enjoy the opportunity to stop and reflect on the events around me. Much has changed in the last two years and, as I predicted last year, I find myself reflecting on huge change.

This year our students, like many others across the county, are enjoying a quiet month with the UTC being ‘out for summer’. Staff and students are enjoying a very well earned break after a busy and fruitful year. Having devoted so much energy to their work, this month of rest is very important – a time to recharge the batteries, spend quality time with friends and take part in activities they might not normally have time to enjoy.

Whilst I was glad to see them head off for the break, I did take the opportunity to challenge all my students to try something new this summer. My 40 challenges are progressing well, with a gliding challenge enjoyed yesterday under glorious blue skies and our Mount Elbrus trek in Russia commencing next weekend. I challenged our older students to try skydiving and last week three of our Year 12 students joined me at Langar Airstrip to skydive with the Red Devils. We had a superb morning with perfectly clear skies and the very best instructors who took us up to 13,000 feet. We jumped from the plane with great excitement and anticipation and it is fair to say that by the time we had landed on the ground we were all keen to get back up there and do it again! The Lincoln UTC Skydive Team has been created and we have decided to make this an annual event…I cannot wait to see even more staff and students up in the skies next summer!

Whilst we have spent this month moving the UTC to our permanent home on the Lindum Road, I have enjoyed looking back at all that we have achieved. When we embark on such a huge challenge as opening a school, it is easy to forget how far we have travelled and how much we have achieved. Our Interior Designer reminded me only last week of our first ever meeting, held in a coffee shop two years ago. At that time she shared design ideas and it was the first time that the interior of the UTC came alive. Since then, our designs have been tweaked and adapted as our thinking has developed. On Saturday I had the honour of welcoming the North Hykeham Twinning Association’s German visitors to the UTC and as I toured them through our building and told the story of our developments, I felt enormously proud. So many people have worked exceedingly hard to ensure that we have a first class educational home. Much as the successes of a GCSE student is the culmination of their hard work and also of their family, teachers and friends, the UTC is a result of the hard work of tens of people from various fields of expertise. They have come together with a shared goal: standing back to look at the finished article of our collective efforts, I can say that they have achieved far more than I could have dreamt of. As individuals we can only achieve so much – as a team, we are significantly stronger and ultimately more successful: it is true, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

August might be a holiday month for many but it is also a time for change. The week ahead sees many sixth form students across the country nervously receive the results of their summer examinations. On Thursday we will receive our first ever results; nervous yet exciting times ahead, for teachers and families as much as students: the pressure of expectation is equally shared.

A week later we will be opening our doors to welcome in our new Y12 students, to share in their GCSE successes as they confirm their Post 16 choices. Like them, many other students are heading to pastures new. Whether that is to employment, apprenticeship, to embark on post-16 studies in a new institution or indeed to change school at 14 to join the UTC, such opportunities provide excitement and can be equally daunting. Important decisions are made and futures begin to take shape as career pathways become more refined and considered. This is a pivotal month – it is good that for many it is a time of rest, as such decisions need to be made with an uncluttered, focused mind.

And so, I will leave my colleagues for a short time to embark on my next challenge – to summit Mount Elbrus. Trekking provides me with an opportunity to challenge myself physically and to unclutter my mind of the demands of work. Fresh air and beautiful scenery are a perfect backdrop for my idea of a restful time, and will help me to recharge my batteries, refine my thinking and return to the UTC prepared for the challenges for the new academic year. We have achieved so much, yet have so much more to look forward to attaining.

Reflections: July 2015

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It’s been a busy month not only at the UTC but also in the completion of my 40 Challenges. As we enter the final fortnight of term and prepare to move from Chad Varah House to our new, stunning premises on the Lindum Road, our daily working lives are a mixture of teaching, packing, removals and preparing for our first ‘Formal’ awards ceremony. We are honoured to have Nicola Gilroy hosting the evening as 31 awards are presented to some of our magnificent students. To be honest, it has been difficult for our Marketing Officer, Holly, to keep us to only 31 awards…if we had it our way, it would be a gala evening of awards for all! Each of the awards is sponsored by a business, reflecting the immense support we have received from our Industry Partners this year. The nominations have been finalised, awards sent out for engraving, formal dresses and suits purchased and food and drinks ordered. It will be a spectacular event in the grounds of our wonderful home and then at the Assembly Rooms. We will undoubtedly be all over Twitter and in the Lincolnite: please do take a moment to see how amazing our students are and share in their successes.

It is the first time I’ve ever worked in a Grade II listed building during a heat wave. I thought the winter was interesting, when the building struggled to retain any heat and we wore extra layers to keep ourselves toasty warm. This month there have been pockets of hot and cold throughout the building – my office being a hot pocket, with a window that doesn’t open and the usually welcome sun pouring straight into it! It hasn’t done us any harm and, to be honest, I’m glad it has already happened. I need the temperature to drop remarkably by the weekend, if it would be so kind.

This month has been a busy one for my 40 Challenges. I have milked a cow, helped feed week old calves, taken a friend’s 8 year old on a high ropes adventure, completed a 3 and a half hour adventure race and narrowly missed attending a Foo Fighters concert due to an unfortunate broken leg…not mine, I hasten to add! However, this weekend marks the occasion of one of my two ‘big’ challenges. And I need the weather to be cool and dry to help us out!

It is the ‘Race to the Stones’ – a 100km race across the Ridgeway, the oldest path in Britain. It is heralded as the UK’s finest Ultra marathon and my husband, who flies home from working in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, and I will be lining up on the start line on Saturday morning. It’s a complicated affair – we have to take the car to the finish at 5am on Saturday morning, be transported to the start line 2 hours away, and then start the race at 9am. We intend to finish in under 24 hours, closer to 20 all being well, meaning that we should stagger into the finish line around 4am. And then, we jump into the car and drive home ready for work on Monday morning!!

And the reason for these challenges? Anyone who has read my column before will know that I was 40 in January and decided to challenge myself to 40 new experiences or challenges. The main driver is to raise money for charity – four charities. They are detailed on my blog at www.drronamackenzie.com. I chose these charities because they have special meaning to me. I work in the Chad Varah House, Chad Varah being the founder of The Samaritans, so I am fundraising to support them in their efforts to support people in crisis. We know things can go wrong at any time, to anyone, so their work is vital.

I work in Lincoln and also went to school here as a child. A PE Teacher by trade, I know the value of sport in the lives of children. The Lincoln Football Club Sport and Education Trust combine my two passions and are helping to create better futures for young people.

My husband was fortunate to be a Headteacher in Kathmandu, Nepal, for two years and I have spent many happy school holidays trekking in the Annapurna and Everest regions. There you see young children who truly understand the value of education – yet it is so often unavailable to them. Classroom in the Clouds is a charity who enable children in the Khumba region to have access to high quality education, to make a difference to their lives and their futures. They do amazing work, especially now when those villages have lost so much to the devastating earthquakes.

My fourth and final charity is Arrhythmia Alliance. Two people who mean the world to me suffer from cardiac arrhythmia, and this charity is doing all it can to find cures, treat patients and help them with their quality of life. They are doing amazing work and I am keen to support them in any way I can.

And so – this weekend will see us race across the 100km in pursuit of money for charity. I know it will be painful, I don’t expect to have healthy looking feet at the end and I am sure that walking into work on Monday, albeit it just from the car park, will be a painful affair. I am doing this to raise money for people who are less fortunate than me. So please do help me – don’t buy that bar of chocolate but donate a pound…don’t buy that weekend treat but instead donate a fiver. You will be contributing to the health and happiness of many others – what could be more rewarding? The links here are safe to use online and I’d love to see the money piling up for charity before we set foot on the start line. It would be a real boost…and help us in the middle of the night when my eyes want to close and legs want a rest! Thank you, in anticipation, for your generosity. Do keep an eye on twitter for our pictures of victory next weekend!

For Classroom in the Clouds:

https://www.justgiving.com/Rona-Mackenzie-Nepal

For The Samaritans:

https://www.justgiving.com/Rona-Mackenzie

For Arrhythmia Alliance:

https://www.justgiving.com/Rona-MackenzieHeart

For Lincoln Football Club Sport and Education Trust:

https://www.justgiving.com/Rona-Mackenzie-Sport