Stepping into a new school leadership role can be one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do – but it can also be one of the most challenging and the first few weeks can feel daunting as you adapt to the demands of life as a school leader.
To help you manage the transition and help make this time a little less overwhelming, I’ve decided to put together 5 key tips for all those who are embarking on a new school leadership role.
It is my hope that these act as useful guidance and encouragement as you come to terms with your new position and begin to make the role you’re own.
1. Remain connected to your values
Your values are going to be your rock throughout your Headship. They’re what drives your vision, passion and purpose and they’re where your leadership behaviours stem from. People are going to be looking for consistency from you in this new role, and that’s something you just can’t fake — it only comes from being very clear on what your values are, and actively living them day by day.
What’s more, when you’re in crisis (and I know sometimes Headship can feel like one big, years-long crisis!), your values will keep you steady, sane, and committed to the fulfillment of your vision.
2. Get Clarity on your professional and professional vision
Similarly, you need to get some real clarity around your vision, not only for your school and your career, but for your life as a whole. The only way that you will ever get people to follow you is if you can get them to buy into your vision, so think about it carefully.
What do you really want for your school? A good way to answer this question, is to imagine what a child might say when they come to the end of Year 6, if you are in a primary school, or Year 13 if you are in Secondary school. What are the memories that you want them to cherish? What do you want them to say about what it felt like to be a pupil at your school? What do you want them to be recall as being special about your school and only your school, because you made it so?
It is so easy in headship to forget that you are a person in the role and the role is not your identity. It is not who you are. If you are going to remain grounded, balanced and assured in the headship role, then getting clarity on your personal vision is just as important as getting clarity on your professional vision.
Make time to reflect on the life that you want for yourself outside of school. What do you want the quality of your relationships to be with your loved ones? How much time will you invest in your hobbies and doing things that are solely for you? Getting clarity around questions such as these will help to ensure that you occupy the Headship role with a good degree of self compassion and care and will help to prevent burnout!
3. Acknowledge that the role is going to be a stretch
This is going to be a tough transition, no matter how much you’ve prepared for it. You may have tried to “study” for the role beforehand, or feel that being a Deputy Head has prepared you for the role, but the truth is, you can’t transform yourself into an experienced, confident Head any way but through experience. You have to live this transition, you can’t skate by on theories and academic study.
When you acknowledge this, you give yourself breathing room, and in the first few years in post, you won’t continuously be caught by surprise by the shock of the new. Instead you will be able to see each new challenge as an opportunity to stretch, as an opportunity to grow.
If you’re still feeling anxious about this stretch, remind yourself that you have experienced transitions like this before, adapted to the circumstances and grown.
Think back to when you first became a teacher, to your very first class, your very first parent’s meeting, your very first assembly. No doubt you will remember those very first feelings of fear, anxiety and worry as you sought to get to grips with new experiences.
Hopefully, you will also remember when those feelings began to subside and you were no longer so worried and fearful; the time when you began to operate effectively within your comfort zone. As you grew in confidence about your skills as a teacher, so too did your ability to manage your classroom, your interaction with parents, peers and colleagues.
With time, this will almost certainly be the case for this new transition – so know that whilst it may seem tough at first, it will get easier as you come to terms with your role and achieve what is asked of you.
4. Face your fears
Along those same lines, you have to face your fears to really come into your own as a Head. Don’t pretend your fears are not there or armour up and try to become “Robo/Super-Head”; you’ll just de-sensitize your self to life, both the ups and the downs. And that’s not living!
You will become more fully yourself as a Head teacher, when you learn to work with your full range of emotions. When you do so, your confidence will grow, as will your levels of emotional resilience.
When facing your fears, it can be helpful to ask yourself, “What are these fears trying to tell me? Who are these fears calling me to be?”
When you make it a practice to get curious about your fears and address them anyway, you learn for yourself what it truly takes to become a courageous school leader. You learn that it is about developing strength through embracing your own vulnerabilities.
5. Looking after Yourself
No-one said this to me when I took up my first School Leadership role, but I am saying it to you, as loudly and as clearly as I possibly can.
You Matter! Your Emotional Well-being and Mental Health matter!
It sure would have made my life as a Head teacher so much easier, if I had been told this given the impact such demands would have on my mental health and well-being.
If you let the weight of the responsibility that you bear, prevent you attending to your own emotional and psychological needs, you might fall victim to self-doubt and anxiety and begin [falsely] to think that you are not up to the job.
But you are up to it and you are just transitioning. But so you can ensure that this transition is as positive as possible, you have to attend to the emotional and psychological shifts that this post requires, so that you can move beyond surviving to thriving.
Attending to your own psychological and emotional needs is not selfish. Instead, it demonstrates commitment and courage to doing what it takes to become the best version of yourself in service to others.
I know it isn’t easy, but it is a must, if you are serious about;
– Keeping your passion and purpose
– Inspiring and motivating others
– Being the very best version of yourself
– Fulfilling the promise that I know you made when you were interviewed, to make better the lives of the children in your school!
Surviving and Thriving as a School Leader
When you are working in a school, engaging day-to-day with children and their families, teachers, support staff, governors and other adults, you quickly learn that in addition to expending great amounts of mental and physical energy, you expend equal (if not more) amounts of energy meeting the emotional needs of others.
If you don’t invest the time in meeting your needs, you can end up carrying a huge emotional debt and become increasingly emotionally overdrawn, with no readily identifiable means for bringing your emotional account back into credit.
This is particularly dangerous if you’re like most Heads in our school system, you’re incredibly under-supported. When you are ‘lower down’ the school hierarchy, this is not such a problem as it is much easier to build relationships with those who are like you and to share problems with those who will have had similar experiences.
However, as you climb, the number of individuals that hold the same or similar post diminishes until, finally, you reach the top – head teacher – and look around to find that there is no one in your setting who holds the same position as you.
Without support, life as a Head Teacher can be both lonely and limiting. Progress can be slow and in extreme cases stunted; neither the individual nor those they lead seem to be able to reach the level of maturity necessary for sustained personal effectiveness. You can also run 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, but we also can begin to derive less satisfaction from our lives.
Having been a Head myself, I know all too well what this feels like and equally what must be done to prevent it!
It is for this reason, that I now offer free “Coaching for the Soul” support calls, for Heads who feel that they could benefit from a confidential space that will allow them to:
– Talk through the challenges they’re facing and find solutions
– Receive support and encouragement in their current situation
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around their thoughts and plan a way forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!