We believe when our school leaders grow, learn and flourish, our schools and pupils are supported to flourish too.
However, sadly the reality of Headship and the way that the education system is today can, at times, fail to properly support the flourishing of its leaders.
The life of a school Leader can easily become all-consuming and if leaders don’t take steps to support themselves in the role, even the most talented school leaders can lose themselves in their role and struggle to survive in the profession due to the intensity that comes with the complexity, public scrutiny and high accountability of being a Headteacher.
So what can we do to keep ourselves in the profession, make leadership more sustainable and above all, enable ourselves to grow, learn and flourish?
Well we posed this question to Co-Founder of WomenEd, Headteacher Designate of Aureus Secondary School and Leadership Matters Associate, Hannah Wilson and she explains that there are three main challenges that all School leaders have to overcome if they are to flourish in their roles…
1. Your Values being Challenged
The education system can at times, seem to push our school leaders to think and behave in ways that challenges their values.
I know that I’ve certainly had to draw on all my professional integrity and courage to whistleblow when I have begun to feel my values are being compromised.
Equally, when I have found myself in the wrong role, at the wrong school, in the wrong culture – I’ve had to walk away.
Some in the system seem to place more importance on results, OFSTED grades and league tables than the people behind it all.
So more than ever, as school leaders, we need to be strong, resilient and to have the time to reflect on our values as individuals and as communities. We need to be deeply connected to who we are to stand up for what we believe in and ensure that the values that motivate and guide us are ‘lived, not laminated’.
This means fighting your corner when you’re asked to do things which aren’t ethical and making your decisions based on your values.
My experiences emphasised to me that I needed to work with a school/trust that shares and supports my values and offered the opportunity to pursue a vision I was truly passionate about.
That is why I decided to take up a role with GLF as the visions and the values of the trust were strong: ‘to grow, learn, flourish’. On top of this, the chance to design a values-based education really resonated with me.
The role offered me an opportunity to begin to design a values-based education, pursue a vision that would involve educating the whole child; to nurture both their ‘hearts and minds’.
On top of this, being a founding Headteacher has also given me the chance to recruit my own team, ensuring that they are aligned with my vision and values for the school.
Having this shared vision and values is important as it not only means that my own values will be nurtured but it also ensures that everyone is working off the same page and are motivated to help make the goals of the school a reality.
2. The Workload
Workload can seem like one of the biggest challenges as a school leader. Throughout my career, I have witnessed a lot of Heads in the profession struggling to survive and keep their head above the water line, just trying to keep up with the workload.
We still have a lot of traditional systems and practices that no longer serve our leaders and which can often seem like “paperwork for paperwork’s sake”. There are so many things that are not time nor energy efficient that need reviewing or changing.
Even though I am not yet in the full role as I have no staff, students or parents, the role still presents serious workload challenges. The role can feel like it is 24/7, as with no team to delegate to, I am accountable for everything and everything is medium to high priority because our opening is imminent.
I have especially felt the impact of this with communications as I have no one to streamline the flow and interface with all of the stakeholders who want to talk to me/ meet me.
It is important to look for solutions and try to find new ways of leading that support you in your role and recognise when you need to delegate or seek help. That is why I have employed a virtual PA to support me as I could not keep all of the balls in the air at one time.
Having the right approach is also crucial along with being able to accept your own limitations. I have had to learn to be realistic about the fact I am a one-woman-band and cannot do it all. I have had to accept I can only do what I can and not to beat myself up when I miss deadlines or make mistakes.
After all, like all school leaders – I am only human and so when things go wrong I apologise, make amends and move on. I believe being able to do this as a Headteacher is really important.
3. Ensuring our Well-being is a Priority
I have been somewhat reassured by the fact that there appears to be a renewed focus on well-being. However, it seems to me that with some schools, the focus is on student well-being at the expense of staff well-being.
We need to have a systemic focus on positive mental health and well-being needs for everyone in our school community, not just our pupils.
Crucially, we need to include ourselves as school leaders, as we are responsible for the culture of our schools and the behaviours of our teams, but we are also responsible for our own well-being. As if we are not healthy, happy and well, then how can we look after the well-being of others?
So I have been determined to ensure that in the role that my well-being remains a priority.
That is why as well as my professional plan for 2017-18, I have also set myself personal goals to support my growth and well-being. I have made pledges to myself to develop a routine once the school is open in which time is ring fenced for me.
In leadership it is so important to practise what you preach. My school’s ethos is to ensure that my staff and students ‘grow, to learn, to flourish’, I recognise that I also need to ensure that I commit to and model this as the Headteacher. This involves looking after myself to ensure that I can stay at my best.
Likewise, as a school – we are also seeking to nurture the whole person and so we will be offering holistic activities to develop the mind, the body and the soul, such as yoga, mindfulness and martial arts. If I am to really preach the importance of this holistic care – I need to also build such activities into my working week too.
One of the biggest challenges to our well-being as Headteachers can be the possible isolation of the role. There are leaders who I have come across who feel that they cannot discuss how they are feeling in their role with staff or other stakeholders.
This is why having a strong support structure is key. Ahead of the new school year, I now have both a coach and a mentor, who I can contact to seek help and advice from and who help to keep me sane.
Having this support is so important if we are to make school leadership sustainable and to help our leaders build resilience and safeguard that well-being.
I have also been endeavouring to live the #10%braver mantra of #WomenEd – so when I am overwhelmed, stressed, unhappy, I make sure that I articulate it. As leaders, we need to find our voice and use it when we are struggling as the truth is we cannot do it alone.
“Education for the Soul” Conference 2017
How can we support the Flourishing of our School Leaders?
On the 19th October 2017, we hosted Headteachers & School Leaders from across the country for a new type of School Leadership conference; an “Education for the Soul” Conference designed to help leaders answer this question and tackle some of the other biggest issues facing Headteachers and senior leaders today.
By doing so, we provided an opportunity for school leaders to explore and discuss what matters most to them (their values, hopes and passion) and locate ways of leading that are aligned to who they are, their goals, their vision and above all, don’t require them to sacrifice their own well-being.
It is fair to say, the day was a very special one indeed, and for me personally, it was deeply humbling to see so many school leaders and education professionals who were prepared to:
– Take a risk
– Ask of themselves challenging questions
– Think about school leadership differently
– Go on a deeper learning journey with themselves and others
It was so wonderful to watch these individuals drop their leadership masks and come together, in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools.
As a result, the conference became a place where discussions about the relationship between well-being and school leadership could be discussed openly and candidly, and real solutions could be found.
Above all, the day confirmed to me three vital key lessons that I’ve learnt from my time working with School Leaders….