When did School Leadership lose its heart?

It was once common for education to be described as one of the ‘caring professions’.
Lately, however, we have become used to hearing teaching described as wearisome, hectic, draining and bureaucratic. Rarely will you hear educators state that they are in a profession that is caring, that nurtures the soul and enables everyone to be the boldest, brightest and best versions of themselves.

So this begs the question,

“When did this caring profession, and more over, when did School Leadership, become such that it hampered the growth of the human spirit and in so doing lose its heart?”

Many will, and indeed have argued that it is the heavy accountability culture and heightened levels of public scrutiny that is the cause for this malaise. That with an over-emphasis on results and league tables, individuals and School Leaders in particular, have over invested in behaviours that have caused them to play safe and become risk averse. The return on investment has been stunted personal growth and leaders who live day to day, as diminished versions of themselves.

To quote the American author and social activist, Parker J Palmer,

“In our rush to reform education we have forgotten a simple truth; reform will never be achieved be renewing appropriations, restructuring schools, rewriting curriculums and revising texts, if we continue to demean and dishearten the human resource called the teacher on whom so much depends.”

It’s not hard to understand why this precious ‘human resource’ our teachers and School Leaders have become so disheartened and de-humanised. If you regularly have to give account for yourself, and of course, as a School Leader you do; there is a part of you that quite naturally says, not out loud so that everyone can hear, but quietly inside, so that only you can hear;

“If I am going to have to defend myself, this means I am also going to be judged, and if I am going to be judged I need to protect/defend myself”

As a result, in your speech, in your behaviours and relationships with others, you place an invisible shield around yourself. You don’t wish to be wounded. You don’t wish to show your vulnerability; after all you are the leader and everyone looks to you to be strong to be ‘super human’.

But you are not. As long as the pretense of the super human leader is allowed to continue, the system will be ‘heartless’ in its response to schools. School leaders in return will remain disheartened. Having to operate in a system that appears to regard compassion and care as being mutually exclusive to high standards and expectations.

Is there another way forward?


I’d like to believe there is.  Parker J Palmer also argues that:

 ‘We will not transform education if we fail to cherish and challenge the human heart that is the source of good teaching.’

I not only believe; I know he’s right! How do I know? Because I have seen first-hand what happens when you ask School Leaders questions about ‘what matters most in School Leadership’? That is to say questions that do not require them to:

– Justify

– Defend

– Argue

An inner re-alignment begins to take place. When they are encouraged to participate in a cogent dialogue with the deepest questions of their soul, a re-awakening of what it means to be human occurs. Individuals discover what it’s like to step out from behind their masks. They discover what it means to embrace their vulnerabilities and re-connect with their original passion and purpose.

The questions that individuals are invited to explore are not the archetypal school improvement questions that most School Leaders are used to answering. Instead they are the type of questions that enable School Leaders to reconnect with the core of who they really are.

Only when School Leaders are engaged in a deliberate and regular practice that invites reflection on such questions as:

– What facilitates my growth in this role?

– What activities support my integrity as a leader?

– What sustains me?

– How do I know when I am acting in/out of alignment with who I really am?

So why are these questions not being asked?


In my opinion there are a number of reasons as to why Headteachers and School Leaders do not regularly engage with questions such as these. One of the key reasons appears to be guilt. The guilt that many feel about investing money to meet their own emotional needs as leaders. There’s a perception that there’s something self-centered, something self-indulgent about receiving support that is totally focused on them.

However, what individuals often lose sight of is the cost of NOT having this type of support in their lives. They have not recognised that there is a significant price to pay when the ‘soul in the role’ is neglected.

What many fail to realise is that we are but like trees, when the very core of who we are (the roots) is nurtured, this enables us to flourish on the outside (leaves) to grow and bear fruits. However, when our roots are cut off from any form of nurturing the leaves slowly begin to wilt and die, and the fruits of our labours are rarely harvested.

Ultimately, we cannot nurture others without care for our inner most selves, it is only through meeting our own needs that we truly can meet the needs of others. 

Exploring other ways to lead

This blog was a part of my exploration into the “Bigger Picture” of what it means to be a fulfilled school leader. This series culminated in my webinar on “Meeting the Deeper Needs of Teachers and School Leaders”.
In the webinar, I looked at how overwhelm, anxiety and stress can be overcome, and in so doing how School Leaders and Teachers can develop strategies for:
– Supporting their own growth and development
– Maintaining their ‘vocational vitality’
– Finding ways to answer the deeper questions
– Living the role with deep authenticity and integrity
– Remaining resilient and optimistic

If you would like to watch the Webinar or Download the Slides, please follow the link below:

Watch the Webinar


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