Interview - 'Believe in people and they will make it happen'

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Annie Renouf Donaldson, vice-principal of the Langley Academy, a new school with a science specialism, believes her staff and pupils have chemistry
  • What made you become a teacher in the first place?
    • I didn't always want to be a teacher - I knew it was something that I could do. But I was the first generation in my family to go to university so my inspiration to train came from two great teachers, Ann Starkey and Martin Barrett. They really encouraged me when I was at high school between 1969 and 1976.

      • How did you know you had made the right career choice?
        • I went on to teacher training college to study to be an English teacher and I knew from the moment that I stepped into a classroom that I had made absolutely the right decision. I have never doubted it from that moment until this. It really was the best thing that I could think of doing.

          I started in Peckham, south-east London, as an English teacher working in the sixth form. At 21, I felt no older than the girls I taught and was often mistaken for one. But it was the right kind of challenge. I was there for four years, becoming deputy head of English before moving to Warwick Park, a comprehensive in nearby Southwark, where I stayed for 20 years.

          • What made you set out for senior leadership?
            • Warwick Park had a chequered history. While I was there I brought up my own children, working part-time for a while and serving under six heads. I learnt from each in their own way and eventually I was put in charge of the English as an additional language department, which comprised 14 people.

              It was my first head who made me realise that a key thing you do as a leader is take time to speak to everyone - make them feel listened to and then support their passions, recognise and reward their successes and learn from the mistakes. He saw that in me and helped push me on to further responsibility and success.

              • What did you do next?
                • In 2003, I felt it was time for a new challenge and moved to the Charter School in Dulwich, south London. It was the first time that I felt I was working in a truly comprehensive school with pupils of all abilities and backgrounds.

                  I was lucky enough to become an assistant head and latterly acted as deputy head, which set me up well to apply for the role as vice-principal at the Langley Academy in Berkshire.

                  • What do you feel is special about the academy experience?
                    • First, I have an experienced and inspiring principal, Chris Bowler, from whom I have learnt so much and, secondly, as a team, we are able to bring together all of our best ideas from a long career and select the very best colleagues to work with us.

                      I feel it is a happy place where children feel secure enough that they can talk to teachers and tell us about their concerns and needs. I want to get great exam results but also want the children to be happy and safe in our brand-new school.

                      It is a Norman Foster building, so it is an amazing space. We have turned the main atrium into a museum in line with our science specialism. I think we can all be proud of our first year.

                      • What advice would you give others in your position?
                        • I think you have to choose your attitude; work with those that are around you and get the best from the adults and young people in your community as they are the people who are going to make it happen. Love the ones you are with.

                          If you are always looking for something else, someone else, who will do the job better - you will never be happy. Believe in the people in your school and they will make it happen.

                          • If you were Schools Secretary for the day, what would you do?
                            • Focus on the professionals who already have the best ideas to make schooling great and use their ideas. Keep it simple and then stick to that policy for a number of years. Don't keep leaping from one initiative to another. Give it time.

                              • What's the worst excuse you've ever heard?
                                • "I knew it was on my job description and I should have done it - but I wanted to see what everyone else did first."


                                  • 2008: Headteacher, the Langley Academy, Langley, Berkshire
                                  • 2003-2008: Assistant head (key stage 3), then deputy head, Charter School, Southwark, London
                                  • 1983-2003: Head of EAL, then head of year, Warwick Park School, Southwark, London
                                  • 1979-1983: English teacher then second in command (English department), Peckham Girls' School, London
                                  • 1976-1979: Philippa Fawcett Teacher Training College, University of London.

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