Coaching & Leadership Development
Isolation, stress and tears … the truth about being a school leader

Isolation, stress and tears … the truth about being a school leader

My parents were part of the Windrush generation of migrants from the Caribbean, and I am a child of the inner city. At school in the 70s and 80s, I was taught by more than a handful of teachers who had low expectations about what a young black girl could achieve.   I’d like to think that I confounded their expectations when, around 17 years ago, I became one of the youngest headteachers in the country to turn around a failing primary school.   It was a one-form entry school in Stockwell, south London, and had challenges, but I was determined that none of the children would fall victim to low expectations from teachers, as I had.   I was putting my all into it, and while I received nothing but praise and plaudits for the school’s improvements, inside myself another story was unfolding. After a few years in the post, I wrote in my diary: “The job is all consuming and I feel so alone. There seems to be no one I can go to when things go wrong, to talk through difficult situations. I love this school, I love my staff, and I love the children, but does leading have to be at such a great personal cost?”   In 2001, when I wrote this, the school was out of special measures, I had received accolades from Ofsted and the local authority, but at the end of each school week, I felt isolated, afraid and full of self-doubt. The emotional toll of dealing with challenging behaviour from vulnerable children, and sometimes staff, was vast. And I felt...