“School Leadership is a hard emotional labour, especially when fuelled by love…and/or when the school faces extremely challenging circumstances.”
A day in the life of a Headteacher can be very different, depending on your school situation, the way you lead your school and above all, what each day presents.
Not least because Heads now have to perform a myriad of responsibilities in the space of a typical day and act as social workers, psychologists, politicians, data analysts and a whole host of other roles that are conspicuously absent from any formal Headteacher job description.
Under the intense public scrutiny and personal accountability of leading in education today, you can also be faced with a whole host of emotional challenges that can push even the most headstrong leaders to their absolute limits.
Yet very few leaders are trained to deal with these challenges and the support afforded to many Heads can be minimal.
I know that back when I was a Headteacher, there were a number of days that proved to be deeply emotionally challenging – days on which I needed someone with whom I could explore openly and honestly these challenges and the impact they were having on me, as a person and a leader. Yet for me, I felt there was no-one I could turn to.
So I thought I’d share one of these challenging days with you to give something of an insight into life as a Headteacher and why I believe it’s so vital that our School Leaders are properly supported amidst such challenges…
A Day in My Life as a Headteacher
I arrived at school feeling exhausted. I’d only had four hours sleep. My mind simply couldn’t rest. Endless questions searched for answers that my tired mind simply couldn’t find:
– How could I prepare a community for the death of a child? (when I’d only just become a mother myself?)
– How could I come to terms with my own feelings of grief and loss?
– How would find the words to tell his teacher and class mates about the tragic accident that has occurred?
By the time I got to school, I could barely think straight. No-one was in yet. It was around 7.00am. Most of the staff didn’t arrive until 7.30pm. So, I knew I had at least half an hour to myself. I walked numbly into D’jon’s classroom. The classroom, I’d taught him in, before I became Head.
I picked up his books and leafed through the pages. I chuckled at the innocent spelling mistakes only a year 2 child could make. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I didn’t allow myself to give full expression to my feelings. I didn’t want to face staff, children and their parents, red faced and puffy eyed.
D’jon was killed in a road accident, a few weeks into the start of the autumn term. I had taught his older brothers and sisters. He was the youngest. Small and skinny, but with huge round eyes and a smile that pierced your heart.
By 7.30, staff had arrived and I had made the decision that I would speak to them all individually before the children arrived. That was my intention anyway. It was a mistake to pick up the phone as I passed my office on my way to speak to the reception class teacher.
Normally, I’d know not to answer. Whoever it was could either leave a message or wait until the office staff had arrived.
But that day, I picked up the phone. No, it wasn’t OFSTED (thankfully), but I still felt waves of anxiety ride over me, when my Chair of Governors reminded me that today was the day for the exclusion appeal panel meeting.
It had completely slipped my mind and I knew there were a few things that I needed to attend to make sure the school’s case was watertight.
We rarely excluded, but this child and his family had been particularly difficult to work with. So much so that I had found myself having ‘minor’ panic attacks whenever I saw the mother in the playground.
Putting down the phone, I logged on top of my already hefty ‘to do’ list, what I still needed to do for the appeals panel and then made my visits to each of the classrooms.
By 8.45, I had met with all of the teachers and told them the sad news. When things like this happen, you become much more of a parent, a mother/father figure and so I found myself holding the space for each member of staff, so that they could safely express the feelings of sadness, grief and loss.
By mid-morning break, I felt as though I had already done a full day’s work. Some way, somehow I’d managed to pull together the last bits of paper work for the appeals panel, that was taking place after school.
The rest of the day was spent in a bit of a fog. I visited classrooms and made sure to go out into the playground at break times. Being with the children and laughing with them, helped me to process my own feelings about D’jon’s death.
Of course, we held a special assembly that day to tell the children about his death and how we planned to remember him. But as I stood at the front of the assembly hall, I was hurting, just as much as the children and teachers were hurting.
Meetings went on through-out the rest of the day, as ‘normal’. My school improvement advisor still needed the data we’d promised her, my ‘under-performing’ site manager still needed to have his performance management meeting.
I still needed to follow up with social services on the referrals we had made. But for most of the day, I was not really ‘present’. My mind was elsewhere.
Why was it, I asked myself that when you become a Head teacher, no-one tells you about this other side of school leadership? That side that is to do with meeting the needs of your school community at times such as these.
That side that commands that you expend huge amounts of emotional energy, providing a place of safety and refuge for others. No-one ever tells you about that! No-one ever tells you about the days that rock you to your very core and cause you to re-think what headship is truly about.
But these days come and it would seem to me that they are as much a part of Headship as they are the dreaded OFSTED call. These days come and they test us.
They ask us; “What are we made of?”, “How emotionally resilient are we?” “Are we prepared to face our own vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities of others, when faced with the fragilities of human life?”
There are no easy answers and each person finds their own. But if we are to keep Heads in the profession, then we have to properly equip them for their roles.
Being able to write school development plans and analyse data is only one part of the role for which they need support.
However, above all if they are to maintain high levels of personal performance and consistently deliver the best possible outcomes for their pupils, amidst the tough emotional challenges of Headship, they need support now and again.
They need support so that when the going gets tough (as it always does), our leaders can get back up again and, with renewed focus and energy, carry on towards their dream. This involves affording our leaders opportunities to reflect, gain clarity and find solutions with someone who is impartial and understands the challenges they’re experiencing.
Considering the often stiff emotional challenges of Headship, such trusting and supportive relationships aren’t just helpful – they’re 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. However, often support can be one of the hardest things to find as a Headteacher.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls for school leaders to ensure that no School Leader would have to struggle to find the support they need, whatever challenges they’re facing.
This Free 30-minute call with me will provide you with a confidential, safe space where you can:
– 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
– Explore what you want out of life as a School Leader
Places are limited – so if you are determined to take charge of your own well-being, book today to avoid disappointment.