My first year at Farlington

Frances Mwale reflects on a year as headmistress of Farlington Prep

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. – Plato

It is hard to recall with clarity, one year on, how it felt to come to work on that first September morning in 2014, still using my satnav to ensure safe arrival, then periodically getting lost around what is actually an easily-navigable site. I think this says more about my poor sense of direction than my ability to settle into a new working environment. But how and when do we really start to feel we belong? 

I think the most difficult part of coming in to lead, as opposed to joining, a team is in the making of decisions at a time when you have barely assimilated all the salient facts. I remember those first few weeks as a fraught mix of re-training my brain to remember names and details, listening and tuning in to the messages – explicit and subliminal – and trying to be in the right places at the right times. 

First impressions count for a great deal: I was very aware of this and so tried hard to be on my best behaviour! I think it is also human nature to be a little guarded too, playing cards close to your chest rather than striding forth and causing casualties along the way. However, seeing what was working well, what were people’s irritations and what could obviously be made better somehow paled into insignificance compared with dealing with the grillings that came from our girls! Was I going to wear fancy tights? Did I like sport? How many children did I have? What was my favourite this and that? Do you know my name yet? The girls did not hold back in wanting to get to know me. 

A new job is full of firsts: first Harvest Festival; first parents’ meetings; first tour with prospective parents. Most of these went swimmingly, but there were awkward moments too. When I travelled up to Leamington Spa’s IAPS Headquarters to meet with other new heads for some induction, one of the sessions involved sharing our biggest ‘ouch’ moments. Mine was undoubtedly when, during a half-term break and seeing a set of parents for the first time, I managed to set off all the intruder alarms but was unable to switch them off again. I’ll be glad not to re-live that day!

The times when I really began to get to know the Farlington family were when there was some ‘tilting at windmills’ to be done. In such a large, dynamic and diverse family as this, not everything always runs smoothly. Moreover, we all imagine those dratted windmills from different viewpoints with our particular clouds variously shifting across the skies, bringing the problems in and out of the shadows. It has always been my best intention to be a good and a wise listener, deliberately not rushing in but weighing up possibilities in order to seek out best solutions. Ultimately, we all want the very best learning experiences for the girls here and working hard to bring those about has been the most rewarding facet of my job.

The past year has undoubtedly been a busy one. I have taught all the girls at various times, spoken at conferences, gone away on training days, contributed to inspections of other schools as a team inspector and enjoyed a whole range of Farlington experiences, including the wonderful Dog and Fashion Shows. It has truly been a learning curve, punctuated by fabulous moments of sharing, laughing and getting to know everybody. It has been through those more relaxed ‘hours of play’ that I have steadily and steadfastly been grafted into belonging. I have discovered much and am very grateful for all those times.

And so what of the future? I am immensely proud of the staff’s commitment, expertise and generosity of spirit. We all have so much to learn from one another, so making time and space for that to happen is important. The girls’ warm, resourceful natures, with so much to share, make them passionate about learning. We must build on this, continuing to provide a breadth of opportunity, helping them discover their talents and shoring up their weaker areas. 

Horsham is a thriving market town, and continuing to develop the prep school so that more girls in our area can benefit from the education on offer here has to be a vision worth striving for! It is a privilege to be Farlington’s Prep Headmistress. Here’s to the next year…

www.farlingtonschool.net

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