It truly saddens me to say this, but it is my belief that one of the unfortunate legacies of recent educational reform has been the fuelling of egocentric approaches to school improvement.
Government policy has enabled investment that has assisted the creation of personal power bases, rather than an education system in which all truly flourish.
For those heads and school leaders who have sought to maintain an altruistic approach to their roles, the constant question many have struggled with is;
“How, within the current realities of the education system, can I maintain my original ideals and lead with true authenticity?”
The school leaders who ask this question are the brave and courageous ones. They are the ones who are prepared to do the ‘inner work’ of school leadership and ask the deep questions that will ensure that they remain rooted in their values and what they know to be true. They are the authentic leaders.
And, make no mistake, like never before, we need these authentic leaders. We need them at the helm of our schools for 3 key reasons:
1. Every child has the right to flourish
For this to be true our school leaders need to flourish. School leaders cannot and do not flourish when they are leading from a place that is a lesser version of their true/best self. It simply isn’t possible.
Within us all there is a desire to reach forward, to grow. However, when this is thwarted, whether through fear, the misuse of power, etc., individuals adopt behaviours that keep them and their aspirations small. Our schools need to be places in which the human spirit thrives, and which all succeed because they are led by those who understand the conditions necessary for individuals to fulfil their potential
2. Schools need to be fuelled by the leaders, “Why?”
Vision, passion, purpose, the school leader’s ‘Why?’ are the fuel that power the engine room of any school. When the pressures of school life cause a leader’s vocational vitality to wane, there can sometimes be little energy left to power the engine room.
Schools can become soulless places and individuals begin to operate without feeling, connection and emotion; as if they are simply cogs in some-one else’s wheel. This is not what our children need and it most certainly is not what we need from our school leaders.
Authentic school leaders know this, they recognise that just as the external landscape of education keeps changing, they must also keep abreast of the internal changes that they experience as a result. These leaders are the ones that create soulful places of learning for our children.
Because they have understood that they facilitate the best in others, when they have fostered a deep connection with what matters most to them, and this is translated into every fibre of their school.
3. Leaders need to have ‘real’ conversations
As the stakes continue to rise for school leaders, so too does the need for them to have courageous conversations. The conversations that invite people to come out from behind their defences, be real and to be held accountable for their actions.
As any head teacher will tell you, this is one of the hardest tasks of school leadership. Yet school leaders do it day in and day out, because they want the best for our children. And it is the authentic school leaders who do this best.
They are the ones who don’t pretend to be perfect, who don’t pretend to have it all sorted [because let’s be honest how many of us ever do?] They are simply the ones, who in the words of Brene Brown, ‘have the courage to be vulnerable’.
They are the ones who is the midst of the chaos of school life, find the private spaces to address their vulnerabilities. So that when they hold others to account, there is alignment between their private and public self. The challenging conversations are had when necessary. They are done in ways which are respectful of both parties, and at the end of the day ensure progress is made for the sake of our children.
These are the truly ‘good’ schools, not simply because of attainment data on a spreadsheet, but because they are led by individuals who are authentic and who lead with heart and soul.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned since leaving Headship is that no school leader should have to live their life as a lesser version of themselves, for fear of what others might think or say, if they really saw you.
Yes, the current education landscape, can at times feel harsh, brutal and a very unsafe place to show up as our True selves, but it is necessary. Our schools, our young people need to be led by leaders who understand, as in the words of American author Brene Brown, ‘You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.’
I know that this is hard. One of the hardest things for me as a Head teacher was finding the courage to ask for the help that I needed. What I needed back then was someone impartial who really understood the challenges I was experiencing. I needed someone with whom I could “drop the leadership mask” and talk openly and honestly about the issues, questions, doubts and feelings I was having in my role.
And it is the same today. If our leaders are to sustain consistently high levels of effectiveness amidst the growing complexity of the role, this form of support is not just helpful – it’s vital.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects.
Yet school leaders remain woefully under-supported and as a result, many are left without anyone to turn to when they are in need of support, clarity, guidance or even just some encouragement to keep going.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was in as a Head.
These calls provide a safe, confidential space for school leaders to:
– Talk through the challenges they are currently facing
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help overcome problems
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around how best to move forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!