Someone who will never be replaced …

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One of the best things about working as a TEEP trainer (and something that makes chilly nights in damp infested hotel rooms in Woolwich worthwhile) is the extra money that comes into the school and feeds into our CPD budget. Each bit of whole school training means another course or resource we can buy. Kind of a professional development roundabout or trickle down training!

This extra money has meant that on occasion as well as the opportunities for individuals to take part in things like the NPQML or for us to send a few delegates to Cramlington’s fantastic festival each year we can invest in some big speakers. I don’t to say ‘names’ because it seems lately that the name is all and popularity is a replacement for having someting useful to say in a number of cases but you get what I mean. A couple of years ago I decided to see if we could secure some time with Paul Ginnis. I’d met Paul at Copleston High School in Ipswich when I’d been invited over by Shaun Common and his team to take part in an afternoon session and as well as the fantastic ideas that he shared so freely and openly it was the passion that he showed and warmth of the man as a presenter that made me sure he was someone I wanted to work with our staff. It was also the little things he did like spending time in the school getting know what made the place tick and fitting what he was doing to this wholeheartedly. This wasn’t someone with a standard package to be wheeled out wherever he was and wasn’t someone  – and I think he’d like the musical metaphor – who had the name of the town he was gigging in written on the back of his guitar to check before he went on stage.

We were so keen for Paul to work with us that we basically called him up and said, “What days can you do and we’ll structure our PD days around you?”

The first time Paul came to school he spent time meeting our teaching and learning group, having individual chats with myself and others including our newly appointed SENCo and the CBC team for who constructivism was at the forefront and touring the school. When he began his session it became obvious that he hadn’t just spent time getting to know us and the school to inform his work with us. He’d delved deeper and had in fact spent the morning before coming into school looking around the town to get a real idea of not just what we might need in terms of our teaching but the sort of community we were part of and how all of this contributed to the sort of education we could and should be provided.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s met or worked with Paul that at the end of the evening staff who had worked for a full term and then done a two and a half hour session were full of energy and excitement and wanted to talk more and plough him for yet more ideas and suggestions. Of course he willingly obliged.

Paul did two more days’ work with us over the next year and a half and I remember that on the second visit with the session completed the leadership team took Paul out for a curry (something we’d failed to organise first time around!) where he carried on giving. Asking each of us about our journey through education, our own backgrounds, interests and ideas and all the while discussing the school and how we could take it forward and provide all the more for our students and the community. He must have been shattered by the end of the night but I’m fairly sure that we could have carried on talking well into the night fuelled by jalfrezi and Bangla – a beer he said I’d introduced him to!

Even though I knew Paul and his work pretty well by the time we really got underway with his sessions I still recall sitting in one where he introduced some differentiation strategies and thinking that if everyone just incorporated these three things into their practice we could transform the school. And that was just one half hour from around three and a half days worth of time. A great many staff did. And while we still had some who resisted what was being suggested – I have no idea why but it’s a sad feature of the profession that some of us still feel we have nothing to learn from anyone – even the sternest arm folding, chair turning away teachers were making notes about a number of the things Paul told us while the rest were blown away and inspired to be better at what we do by the enthusiastic, larger than life personality at the front of the room wearing his cloak and being interrogated in character.

When I saw Chris Moyse’s first tweet saying that a friend and mentor had passed I didn’t know who he was referring to so it was Saturday night after an afternoon in the pub talking about music and football when what had happened and what was being discussed in my timeline came together. It felt like I’d been smacked in the face and I sat and wept. I’d known I admired Paul, I’d known that I’d become a better teacher as a result of working with him and a better person by knowing him but I don’t know that it was until then that I realised just how special his comment, “We can worry about invoices and cost later, you’re a friend,” had made me feel.

Rest in Peace Paul