Jo Facer is Principal at Ark John Keats Academy based in Enfield, North London. Having trained as an English teacher with Teach First, she’s worked in several schools as Head of Department, Assistant and Vice Principal. Jo’s first book, Simplicity Rules, was published in 2019, and we caught up with Jo as her latest book Culture Rules: Creating Schools Where Children Want to Learn and Adults Want to Work is out now. Jo is the latest in our #ArkPeople series.
Jo’s journey into teaching
In 2006, I had a Saturday teaching assistant job at a camp for gifted children. During one of my breaks, one of the teachers asked me if I knew anything about drama. I thought my colleague was making chit-chat, so I said yes; I used to do school plays as I enjoyed acting. They asked if I could teach a drama lesson in 25 minutes, so I went to teach this lesson that I made up, and it was so much fun! The drama teacher left a few months later, so they gave me this fantastic position rather than recruiting externally. I stayed there for a few years, also teaching creative writing.
I had different part-time jobs and thought I wanted to go into politics, as I was also working in an office at the Irish Senate. Despite being a dream job for any graduate, I couldn’t do office work– it wasn’t for me. The thing that I loved was my Saturday mornings teaching those children, so I said to myself, ‘I need to be a teacher’, and joined Teach First.
Teaching is the best job in the world, with the opportunity to work with young people who are endlessly fascinating, hilarious, warm, funny, resilient, and unique. When I was doing my teacher training, I was near Ark Globe Academy and had friends who worked there, so I was delighted when I had the opportunity to work at the school for a while before accepting another teaching role outside the network. When I saw the headship post at Ark Soane Academy, I knew I had to get back into an Ark school as I had a great experience and Ark’s mission resonates with me.
Learning from great leaders
Setting up Ark Soane was an incredible opportunity. It was wonderful working with Peter Haylock, my Executive Principal and Jerry Collins, the then Regional Director. When setting up a school, you get a lot of investment, so I felt very supported. During the week, I also worked with Ark Charter in Portsmouth and Ark Burlington Danes in West London. Working with them made me feel part of the network.
Sadly, when Covid-19 hit, we had to defer the opening of Ark Soane. None of us could have predicted last year. I thought we’d be back to normal after a few months. However, here I was, sitting at my kitchen table while my colleagues were on the front line dealing with the greatest crisis of our generation. I felt that I needed to be there with them because we needed staff on the ground in schools. When I heard about the opportunity to lead at Ark John Keats, I had to apply. The community deserves a great school, providing an excellent education, and while I’d never visited the school, I interviewed in lockdown and already loved the school. There have been many challenges to get to this point, but I’m proud that we got through the past year and made some real improvements to an already exceptional school.
Rules for teachers
My first book ‘Simplicity Rules’ focused on planning, teaching and curriculum, and ‘Culture Rules’ looks at building a school culture that leads to the school’s success. The book considers how we recruit the right teachers. How do we make schools a place where teachers want to stay for the long term and develop teachers? I look at how we help our children get to where they need to go and some of the soft skills necessary. The final chapters look at what do to when school cultures decline and how to improve them. I also included case studies of my favourite schools in and outside the network I’ve visited in the last few years.
I’m impressed with the integrity of Ark school leaders and the leadership team, and the care and kindness that resonates throughout every interaction. Everyone lives Ark’s culture and values. We all have good intentions, and I believe Ark hires people who have an absolute duty of care to children, coupled with incredibly high expectations. As a principal, I’m held to account, and if I’ve made a bad call, I’m asked what support I need - you’re never on your own. It’s an incredible feeling, with people rallying around you, like a metaphorical tough hug.
Ark deliberately thinks about how to build relationships between people. When I look at my school, I find many people staying for a long time because of those relationships. They love the kids, the school and are happy in their job. Good school culture is all about getting brilliant people to meet high standards.
I love running Ark John Keats and can see myself doing this for many years… but as an eternal English teacher I do like to think I’ve got another book in me, maybe a novel, so watch this space!