This blog comes from former Secondary Headteacher and local authority assistant chief executive in Scotland, Isabelle Boyd.
Dear New Headteachers,
It can seem a daunting task to be responsible for a large school of perhaps 1,000-plus young people, 100-plus staff, not to mention being accountable to the local authority, families, communities and inspectors.
But looking back on my experience as a Secondary Headteacher, I’ve learnt it doesn’t have to feel that way. Here’s my advice to you…
1. Be clear about what kind of school you want to lead
What defines your school? Create this vision for your school – know it, live it – and make everything you do be a step towards it. Every decision must be aligned with it. The full school community will be watching when you make a decision, therefore consistency is crucial.
Walk the corridors, be in the social area, be available. You know that you want your school to be one where people feel happy to say “yes” and where decision making is shared.
2. To make progress, you have to take risks
Ideas that teachers or pupils present may seem a little unsafe and crazy, but say “yes” and sweat the detail of how to make it work later. Policies, processes and procedures, although tedious and unexciting, are necessary drivers for innovation and change. So, devise processes and procedures to give all stakeholders confidence in the basics and in the direction of travel.
3. Being headteacher is not a one-man/one-woman show
Create and nurture alliances and networks within your school but never underestimate the authority of your office; learn to live with and accept your new persona. Ensure clarity when consulting with stakeholders so that everyone knows the parameters of their influence.
You want to avoid Napoleon’s “veneer of democracy”, so work to consult stakeholders in real decision making early on, to demonstrate the vision and your willingness to collaborate and build community.
4. Do not waste energy on those who do not want to participate
Instead, reach out to those who are willing to get involved. Do not be hidebound by an individual’s status, positions held or job titles.
For example, if you want to drive curricular change in a particular way, and the volunteers are un-promoted class teachers and not curriculum principal teachers, grab these volunteers, nurture them, grow them and they will be the future of the school for the benefit of all children and young people – and their own colleagues.
5. Consensus is overrated
Some evidence suggests that 20 per cent of people will be against anything. When you realise this, you avoid compromising what really should be done because you stop watering things down. If you always try to reach consensus, you are being led by the 20 per cent.
The cynical corner of the staffroom will eventually dissipate in influence and membership. The reluctant and the cynics will come along when you either hit on the idea that speaks to their heart – or when they realise they are out on a limb while colleagues are making progress and feeling satisfied.
6. Do not neglect yourself, family or friends
Keep in mind the five balls of life speech by Coca Cola’s former CEO Brian Dyson, where he says:
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.”
Crucially, don’t apologise for taking care of your own health and wellbeing, for taking care of your own professional learning.
7. Nurture alliances and networks outside your school
Go to the headteacher conferences and programmes because everyone there will be grappling with similar issues and it’s a great way to collaborate and grow ideas. This is what will see you through the rough times – and there will be rough times – and help you celebrate the successes.
It is my belief that in order to sustain high levels of personal performance, confidence and motivation (particularly amidst the challenges of School Leadership), our Heads need supportive and collaborative networks that can allow them to connect and share experience with other.
That’s why we offer our “Developing Headspace” Programme, consisting of a 2 Day “Transforming Leadership” Residential in Suffolk, Group Nurture Meals, coaching calls and a half day “Review and a Reflect” session, all designed to support and enhance Headteachers’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership.
The programme hopes to offer a space for reflection and active, informed listening, for Heads to renew perspective, think strategically, build lasting networks of support and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.
Spread across three school terms, the programme includes a range of activities designed to provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.
Above all, it is our aim to ensure that the programme supports school leaders in 5 key areas…
Vision: Central to all aspects of the programme are processes and ways of working individually and collectively that keep individuals anchored to their vision.
Values: Heads are supported to identify ways of being that increase alignment with themselves and their key values.
Resilience: As Heads develop a deeper understanding of how they respond to the stresses of the role, individuals are supported to develop greater degrees of emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.
A Values Network: The programme design facilitates the development of new supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded peers.
Confidence: As individuals experience a growth in self-awareness and appreciation of their core strengths, they also experience a growth in personal conviction and increased confidence in their own abilities.
If you’d like to find out more about the programme, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…