A while back, I attended a well-being conference for school leaders. An OFSTED inspector was one of the guest speakers. As the school leaders who were present aired their feelings about OFSTED and whether it was really fit for purpose, this inspector’s demeanour changed.
Initially, he confidently told the audience what he believed they should be thinking and feeling about OFSTED. But he became nervous and agitated when the audience asked him to listen to their actual thoughts and feelings.
It seemed that he was uncomfortable with the level of emotion in the room, and to have acknowledged that depth of feeling would have left him exposed and vulnerable. It is my belief that if he had dropped his guard – if only for a moment – he would have shown a more human side to OFSTED, which is what the delegates were desperate to see. Like all of us, they just wanted to be listened to.
The consequences of emotional insensitivity
When our emotional needs are not met, just as in the scenario above, we feel dehumanised and alone. We feel as though out humanity has been pushed to one side. The ability to feel, laugh, to cry to hurt can all be seen as a hinderance to one’s ability to lead effectively.
Sadly, for many Heads, spaces where they can feel, laugh, and cry are few and far between. As a result, many lead from a place of inner dissonance. Their basic emotional needs to feel accepted, appreciated, believed in, respected, listened to, valued and supported are ignored. Many suffer in silence and from a place of hidden inner turmoil and self-doubt.
When the emotional needs of Heads are not met, it is their vulnerable self that suffers. Locked away behind a wall of self-preservation and sometimes fear, individuals end up neglecting that part of themselves that needs to be truly listened to, nurtured and encouraged; that part of themselves that needs support so that they can grow fully into the vision that they have for themselves as a leader.
Making the change
As things currently stand, it may seem to many that meeting the emotional needs of Heads is an insurmountable hurdle; Heads seem to be leaving the profession in their droves, new appointments are becoming increasingly harder to fill and more and more deputies have no desire for moving further on in their careers. The message that the system appears to be sending out, is that it is incapable of meeting the human needs of the individual. It is the role that matters more and not the person inside the role.
For things to change, Heads must be supported to share more openly with one another. And by sharing, I don’t mean complaining and sharing war stories. This type of sharing only exacerbates the situation.
By sharing, I mean having quality conversations with one another about what matters most. Having conversations where individuals support one another in connecting back to their original vision, passion and purpose. Such conversations feed the soul and bring a collective strength and energy to the Headship role.
When such conversations are missing, there is a gap in the leadership discourse. A gap which more often than not is filled by the voices of those who have little understanding of the inner life of school leaders but yet by their very presence, do much to quell its flourishing.
When Heads are supported to share with one another and have conversations where the opposite is true, they are emboldened in their quests. To coin a phrase, used by the author Simon Walker, they become “Undefended Leaders”. Individuals who have learnt what it takes to find their own voice and speak truth to power and to themselves.
This is what our system needs more of; amidst the enforced fragmentation and separation, we need Heads who are bold enough to share and bold enough to care – not just for their own integrity, but for the integrity of the system as a whole.
Building Supportive and Collaborative Networks
It is my belief that in order to tackle the isolation of Headship, our Heads need supportive and collaborative networks that can allow them to connect and share experience with other school leaders.
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…