This blog comes from leadership consultant and visiting professor at UCL Institute of Education, Steve Munby (@steve_munby)
“My NPQH didn’t prepare me for this,” said a school leader on Twitter this week.
As a leader, I have had to deal with many challenges in my career, including gangsters, the murder of children, and the death of members of staff.
But I cannot think of anything in my whole career that even comes close to requiring the amount of bravery and dedication that I am seeing now from teachers, from school leaders and from others in public service all over the country.
No development programme can possibly prepare leaders to help them to deal with the current issues and challenges that they face. We are in uncharted territory. Evidence-based strategies that can tell you which actions are likely to be more effective just don’t apply.
The impact of coronavirus means that school leaders are being required to make decisions that could save or endanger hundreds of lives, with very little guidance to help them.
Many are feeling scared, isolated, stressed and overwhelmed. But every day they are going to work and showing the leadership that is needed from them.
In 2010, I made a speech on servant leadership. I said that servant leaders don’t ask themselves, “What kind of leader do I want to be?” Instead, they ask themselves: “What kind of leadership is wanted of me?”
They lead with moral purpose. They see it as their fundamental duty to do everything in their power to act in the interests of those they serve – in our case, children, young people and their families.
I have seen this demonstrated over many years, in all kinds of schools and settings. But, in my whole lifetime, I have never in education seen such selflessness, such courage and such service from so many.
At times like this I think we have to do three things…
1. Demonstrate optimism and resilience, even if we are struggling inside
If we appear negative and cynical, or if we come across as a quivering wreck, then that makes it so much harder for those we lead and for those who rely on us. We are the best that we can be because that is what people need us to be.
At times like this, when there is nobody else, the job of leaders is to be there – to get up the next morning and go back to work – because nobody else can do this and it is down to us.
There is a story about a wise man who always seemed to know the answer to everything. One day, a young man tried to catch him out. He decided to catch a butterfly and to put it behind his back and then say to the wise man, “If you are so wise, is the butterfly behind my back alive or dead?”
If the wise man said alive, then he would crush it quickly and bring it forward dead. And, if the wise man said dead, he would bring it forward alive. Either way, the wise man would, for once, be wrong.
So, he caught a butterfly and put it behind his back. And he went to the wise man and said: “If you are so wise, tell me: is the butterfly behind my back alive or dead?”
And the wise man said: “It is in your hands.”
At this moment, the nation’s future is in the hands of health workers, delivery drivers, shop workers, cleaners, social workers, care-home workers, teachers and leaders. These are unsung heroes whose songs we – all of us – should now be singing.
2. Trust in our instincts
Hold true to our values and make the best choices and decisions that we can, even if we sometimes may get it wrong. What matters most of all in these situations is that we are authentic and true. Leadership is a task with humanity and authenticity at its heart.
Our brave school leaders may have doubts and worries. But, along with leaders and workers in other essential services, they are currently the bearer of the nation’s countless hopes and expectations.
None of us was taught how to lead in a pandemic, and it isn’t on any NPQH programme. But what we can do as leaders is to show up, with optimism and resilience, to reach out and ask for help and, most of all, to do what is right and to stay true.
As one school leader tweeted: “We are solid! We will look after our colleagues, our kids and our communities. We feel privileged to be able to serve.”
3. Ask for help – Don’t think that we can do this all on our own
Nobody has all the answers, but talking things through with others or asking for help is essential if we are to get through this.
It has been inspirational to see leaders asking for help on social media, and receiving it from colleagues. Most of all right now, we need to ask for and value the support and care from our loved ones and friends.
Support in times of Challenge
As a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, the challenge and complexity of the Headteacher role has grown exponentially.
Every school leader in the country has witnessed an enormous amount of change in terms of what their life, their role and school now look like. Today, like never before many Heads find themselves having to sail previously uncharted waters.
These are unprecedented times, for which there are no rule or guide-books. Everything has changed! As a result, there is understandable anxiety about the current situation we are all in. Feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, isolation and stress are prevalent.
Relationships with families, pupils and staff have changed. The speed of change has been swift, with little or no time for school leaders to make sense of both the here and now and also what the ‘new order’ might bring.
In times like these, we need to be deliberate in pressing the pause button and finding time to reflect. This is a time, when different types of conversation and leadership support are needed. It is a time when we can be explicit and openly address the fact that we are all in a time of transition. It is a time that requires open and honest discussion about what this period signifies for us all and collectively, how we can assist each other to find a way through to the other side.
It is for this reason we have developed our new “Staying Connected” Leadership Support Programme to provide bespoke support for Headteachers as they navigate their way through this crisis.
This new eight week online programme has been designed to help leaders personal and professional challenges that have arisen from the current crisis, as well as explore and consider the type of leadership needed for these times.
The programme will consist of three elements:
– 4 x ZOOM Masterclass Discussions: These involve thought leaders from the education sector and beyond on topics pertinent to the current issues leaders are now facing.
– 4 x Group Coaching Circles: These sessions are so that Heads can find support, stay connected with other Heads and share expertise through these challenging and uncertain times.
– Online Leadership Community and Resources: leaders have access to various online leadership resources and the option to join an online community of support.
The purpose of the programme will be to provide safe online spaces where school leaders can:
– Stay connected and in relationship with fellow Heads whilst social distancing measures remain in place
– Be a part of in-depth discussions around what matters most, as schools seek to navigate their way through this crisis
– Identify meaningful solutions for addressing the unique challenges that have arisen for school leaders during this time
– Strengthen their own personal and professional resources for remaining well and focused on their sense of vocation and purpose
If you would like to find out more about the programme, please follow the link below…