Back in June 2017, I was moved to tears. Why? Because I read ‘Out of the darkness’.
Not some a novel by an up-and-coming new writer, but Tom Sherrington’s poignantly, heart-rendering account of what happens to Heads when OFSTED decides they are not good enough.
“You feel like a fraud, that you’ve let everyone down, that you shouldn’t have done this and should have done more of the other. Regrets? Oh yes, just a few! Anything good I ever did feels like it’s been shredded, tarnished if not erased … and that is hard to reverse.”
It is rare to be as open and public as Tom was about his story of pain, loss and regret.
In this age of high public scrutiny and personal accountability, it’s understandable. Heads worry. They worry about their reputations, what other people might think of them and whether they’ll ever be able to get a job again.
But Tom shared his story and I genuinely believe in doing so, he helped to remind us all that School Leadership is a humanitarian endeavour.
When Tom talked of feeling, ‘isolated, trapped, drowning…tired; so deeply drained and tired”, he reminded us that Heads are not super-human and their well-being must be properly supported, if they are to fulfil the dreams that they hold for themselves and the communities they serve.
In sharing his story, Tom has highlighted what I also believe is a great universal truth and is a pertinent message for our education system today. In the words of American author and researcher Brene Brown;
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness”
What Brown and Tom shared through this blog encourage us to realise is that:
– Vulnerability is very much a part of what makes us human
– We build deep, meaningful connections when we can show/share our vulnerabilities and the truth of what we are really feeling
– Emotional ‘nakedness’ is nothing to be ashamed of. It defines our shared humanity
– True bravery, true courage only arises when we look inwards and seek to find answers to the questions that we have long try to avoid asking of ourselves
– Strength is found when we face up to fear, doubt and uncertainty
The system has to learn to recognise that when our emotional needs are not met, we feel dehumanised and alone. We feel as though our humanity has been pushed to one side. The ability to feel, laugh, to cry, to hurt can all be seen as hindrances to one’s ability to lead effectively and this is not healthy for the individual, their school or the system.
In a time when our education system seems to be painfully oblivious to this, we need to become braver about sharing our stories about what it really takes to be a school leader. As Tom said;
“Our system or culture – or both-don’t seem to allow the figurehead, overpaid Head teacher to raise a flag; to say I’m struggling here!” Or to take a stand and say things shouldn’t be this hard; give us a break.”
He is right! We can no longer hide the truth that as much as the job is rewarding in great measure, it can be equally as stressful. Talking openly about the stresses and the way in which they impact on our overall performance and well-being can serve to strengthen the profession from the inside out. But it has to start with us! Former Heads and current Heads, being willing to share our stories, being willing to say, “I am human too!”
Sharing Your Story
I truly believe that if we are to overcome the often overwhelming feelings of isolation that many School Leaders feel, then we need to get better at sharing ‘true’ stories about the cost of School Leadership. As when we do so, it helps to remind us that we are not alone and others may have shared similar experiences to our own.
The best way we can begin to do this is when we have a listening ear, someone who we can confide in and talk openly and honestly about the challenges of your role.
One of the hardest things for me as a Headteacher was finding someone to speak to like this. What I needed back then was someone impartial who really understood the challenges I was experiencing, 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.
If our leaders are to sustain consistently high levels of effectiveness and develop as leaders amidst the growing emotional cost of leading, the complexity of the role and heightened pressure of being a School Leader, 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 endemically under-supported and, as a result, many leaders 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 for School Leaders to ensure that no School Leader finds themselves in the same situation as I was as a School Leader.
– Talk through the challenges you’re currently facing in your role
– Get support in locating next steps and solutions to help you overcome the issues you’re experiencing
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they have had on you as a leader and as a person.
– Gain clarity in your thoughts and your current situation
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!