As anyone who has been a Head will tell you; becoming a Headteacher requires a huge amount of steel, resolve and self-confidence. The accompanying learning curve is more a like a steep incline up the side of Mount Everest and it is an ascent that cannot be achieved alone.
Many assume that those who occupy the role, need no further professional development, that they are fully equipped to deal with the challenges of school life, but nothing could be further from the truth.
There are an array of challenges that you will face when you become a Headteacher, that must be managed effectively if you are to stay in the profession for the long-haul and fulfil the vision that you hold for yourself and those you lead and manage.
Headship is a lonely job, and without the right support you can become incredibly isolated. As a teacher, no matter what kind of challenges you’re facing, you’re still surrounded by a group of people, in your school, who are undergoing similar challenges, but as a Head, you’re on your own.
As a result, when you become a Headteacher, it’s hard to find people who are not only are willing to listen to you but are also wiling to suspend judgement; individuals who are in your corner, simply seeking to understand what your truth looks and feels like. As a result, it can be extremely difficult to share openly with others; even fellow Heads can at times be reluctant to open up about what’s going on beneath the surface.
This sense of having to keep everything, your true thoughts, feelings and emotions under constant lock and key can be exhausting and exacerbate the loneliness and isolation that often accompanies the role.
Finding a healthy outlet, can help school leaders to engage with the demands of the role in a manner that expands their emotional and cognitive literacy and lessens any reduction, or shrinking of these skills. Which is often what happens when individuals feel isolated and retreat to the assumed safety of their own thoughts and emotions.
2. The Weight of Responsibility
When you become a Headteacher, the buck stops with you in a way that you couldn’t possibly have imagined either as a teacher or a Deputy! The aspects of school life that were shielded from you when you were in your other roles, now come hurtling at you at full speed.
Even with time, as you develop your skill and dexterity in dealing with what comes your way, there is always, always, something that comes along, that knocks you for six and reminds you just how heavy the weight is that you bear.
When moments like this arise, stop! Take a breather, go outside, talk to a friend, anything that will help you regain perspective and to remember that you are ‘only human after all’. It is impossible to think or believe that you have the biggest and broadest shoulders in the school. You are not super human. You are you! So, when your shoulders begin to feel they just might break under everything, remind yourself of the myriad of ways in which you can make your load that much lighter to carry.
The educational landscape has changed so much now that many Heads soon come to realise that they have be ‘political’. It isn’t a line that many find easy to tread. It speaks too much of ego and self-service and there are too few good role models around. Yet, to survive, many Heads have to find ways to navigate this new terrain. They have to build new types of networks, forge relationships with organisations and bodies that previously may have had little to do with education.
Those that work successfully with the new politics of our current education system, are the ones who keep in alignment with their own values. They know even in the face of the most extreme challenges not to compromise on who they are or what they stand for.
They know that with compromise there is often a very heavy price to pay; whether that be hidden feelings of guilt and remorse or a diminishment of the way in which they are seen by others. Hence, they develop personal practices that keep bringing them back to their core and the reasons as to why they are in education. These practices keep them sane and prevent them from betraying their values and what they believe in.
4. Managing the Personal and the Professional Balance
Besides the pressures of school leadership, many Heads often struggle to create balance in their lives because of the nature of the job.
It’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in the role of being a Head, to the point that your private life simply drops off the schedule as you work on autopilot, just getting through the day. You ruminate about your school at the dinner table. You think about it in bed or even find yourself dreaming, or more accurately having nightmares about it.
When talking to friends, you can lose track of the conversation because you’re worrying about something that’s going on at school. However, the truth is that as much as we may treat our work lives and personal lives as separate, it is rare for one to go on completely unaffected by the other. More often than not, it is our relationships with those dearest to us that suffer.
Navigating these Challenges
If these challenges go unaddressed, it’s virtually impossible to thrive as a school leader. Survive, yes, but thriving is a different matter. To thrive we need to be supported to think and feel differently about the roles we occupy as leaders. To thrive we need to be supported to:
– Find meaning, even amongst the most challenging of contexts
– Really understand how to harness our strengths in service of those we lead and manage
– Let go of archaic ways of thinking that limit our progress and makes us averse to new ways of doing things
– Come to know ourselves differently and at a much deeper level, that we may ever have thought possible
The big question many will ask at this stage is “How?” One of the best ways I know is through talking and getting support. I’m not talking about the type of support Head teachers get from school advisors, governors or fellow colleagues, but a bespoke, person-centred, non-judgmental type of support. The type of support commonly provided by coaches.
A coach can be an excellent source of assistance, since they have no agenda except your own and can see the light in you, even when at times you may feel that it has been dimmed by the pressures of the role.
Without this type of professional relationship, the loneliness of life as a Headteacher can feel overwhelming. Progress can be slow and in extreme cases stunted; neither the individual nor those they lead seem to be able to reach the level of maturity necessary for sustained personal effectiveness.
This isn’t how school leadership should be. That’s why I offer free Headteacher support calls to all those who may benefit from a confidential space where they can…
– Talk through the challenges they’re facing and find solutions
– Receive support and encouragement
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around their thoughts and plan a way forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!