I have witnessed many a Headteacher brim with pride on appointment to their post; whether it be a first headship, second or third, there is always a sense of something great having been achieved.
This pride often stems from an acknowledgment of the personal journey many have travelled to arrive at that place. It also stems from a hope and optimism about what they can achieve for the children and young people they have chosen to serve.
Something that I have also witnessed is how ill-prepared our system is for properly equipping Heads, with the skills and knowledge for understanding the personal growth process that accompanies Headship. Scant attention is given to the psychological and emotional terrain that all will have to cross in order to successfully navigate the many challenges of the role.
Lessons which should be shared with all Headteachers are often ignored and many Heads are left none the wiser, until crisis hits and they are forced by circumstance to ask;
“What else do I need to learn, so that I can engage with this role in a way that sustains my sense of purpose and who I am as a person?”
Through coaching Headteachers, I have identified three key lessons that are essential for Heads searching to find an answer to this question…
1. Headship cannot be survived by staying on the surface of things
My observation is that Headship takes you to places inside yourself that you have never been to before. Heads have to get used to experiencing Headship from the inside out; instead of what most are commonly used to and experiencing Headship from the outside in.
When the role of Headship is occupied with one’s gaze permanently fixed on the external, there is a tendency to adopt habits (as well-meaning as they might be) that have too narrow a focus. There is a pre-occupation with paying attention to anything that helps you to look good on the outside. This is understandable, it’s the observable aspects of your role, that cause others to make judgements as to how well they perceive you to be doing. But this is not how to survive and stay healthy and well in Headship.
To stay healthy and well in Headship you have to be prepared to go beyond the surface of things. You have to be prepared to look deep within yourself and connect with the core of who you are; what you believe, what you value, what you feel and what you think. Then bring the multiplicity of all these aspects into how you lead yourself and others.
2. Headship is a journey of personal growth
When individuals take on the headship role, they are often bombarded with numerous CPD courses to facilitate their professional growth. Rarely do CPD courses address the person in this role. It’s almost as if attention to the needs of the person have to be addressed outside of the post, but this is a nonsense. And wise Heads recognise it as such.
Wise Heads understand that their personal growth is a parallel process that is inextricably linked to their own professional journey. In all reality you cannot have one without the other.
When you suppress or deny the personal, you also negate what it means to be human. Leadership becomes functional and can lead to a distancing in the relationship that an individual has with themselves. When Heads understand this, they do all that they can to invest in their personal development, knowing that the return will be just as great for others as it is for themselves.
3. Reflection is a practise to be mastered
Time and time again the lesson that ‘Reflection is a practice that has to be mastered’ is something that Heads I have worked with have shared with me. Many have come to the realisation that reflection has enabled them to see more clearly. It has helped them to discern the lessons within the challenges and triumphs of headship. It has also helped them to be less reactive and to exhibit greater self-awareness and self-management.
Developing a practice of reflection has meant that they have been able to find their own answers to the perennial challenges of leadership. It has also meant that they have found strength, solace and courage through turning their energy inwards and learning to give unconditionally to themselves.
A Chance to Reflect
In the frenetic life of a school leader time and space are increasingly rare commodities. With a constant flow of meetings to be held, problems to solve and fires to put out – it can be very hard for leaders to find the time and space to be still and think.
However, without this chance to stop and consider what’s working and what isn’t – many leaders find themselves repeatedly making the same mistakes or simply leading on “autopilot”.This lack of space also means many have very few avenues for exploring and talking through the emotional aspects of the role, the challenges it poses and the impact is having upon them, mentally, emotionally and physically.
In turn, this can (without doubt) increase the risk of emotional ‘burn out’. When this begins to happen, not only do we experience extreme levels of mental and emotional exhaustion that can be debilitating to our ability to lead others, our health and our overall well-being. Having been a Head myself, I know all too well what this feels like but equally what must be done to prevent it!
That’s why every year we run our “Developing Headspace” Programme to provide regular reflective spaces for leaders to renew perspective, think strategically and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.
The programme is designed to develop leaders’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership, as well as provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.
Spread across three school terms, our Developing Headspace programme includes a range of activities designed to support school leaders in 5 key areas…
Vision: The programme uses processes and activities to help individuals stay anchored to their vision and purpose for leading in education.
Values: Participants are supported to identify ways of leading and managing themselves can that increase alignment with who they are and their key values.
Resilience: The programme aims to help participants to build a greater understanding of how they respond to stress. Individuals are supported to develop greater emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.
Relationships: The programme design facilitates the development of supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded colleagues.
Confidence: The programme helps individuals grow their self-awareness and an appreciation of their core strengths and unique gifts.
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…