There is all kinds of advice out there about what makes a good school leader, from certifications to strategies to taking the latest seminar. But what so many people miss out on is actually the most fundamental elements of good school leadership — trusting relationships.
If you’re like most Heads in our school system, you’re incredibly under-supported. There’s no one you can talk to who really gets your job and all the stresses that come with it, leaving you stuck with coping mechanisms and busy-ness to get you through the day — not a great set up for good leadership. On top of this, school leadership can often feel like a very isolating and overwhelming role.
What is your definition of support?
For me, support is about helping another to carry a load. It is about providing non-judgemental advice and assistance to enable a group or an individual to make sense for themselves on how best to carry the ‘weight’ that they bear.
For support between individuals to be effective, the relationship must involve mutual trust and respect – the two most important ingredients of any nurturing relationship. Day after day, we see the impact that trust has in our children’s engagement with one another, their teachers and other key adults in their lives.
It is also vital as the context for school leaders will always be one of high accountability – and this combined with low trust, often makes quite the destructive combination.
When accountability is high and trust is low, an individual’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours are about self- preservation. When we find ourselves in such relationships we feel worried, nervous and vulnerable.
To protect ourselves, we place a guard between ourselves and others. This means that the relationship only ever exists at a very superficial level. This can be damaging for an individual in need of support. The effort required to keep the barrier up consumes both emotional and mental energy.
In a low trust/high accountability relationship, a disempowering dynamic exists that too often results in negative and non-aligned outcomes for the individual. Because they have been told what to do, their actions are less rooted in who they are and little meaning is attached to the outcomes. As a result, the individual derives little ownership and satisfaction from their role.
That’s why coaching is designed to create a relationship that is marked by high levels of trust. In such a relationship, individuals are free to be themselves and energy is not exhausted in trying to protect a wounded and bruised self. Rather, the energy is now used to heal and restore, and to bring an individual back to a healthy state of being.
When leaders get this support they need through trusting relationships, everything changes. They can finally step into their vision, passion, and purpose; and they can make choices from both their heads and their hearts.
When leaders are supported with relationships of trust, they are more likely to…
“Take risks, be collaborative, deal with all issues, especially human process ones, in an open way and solve their problems.”
[Cockeman et al, 2003: 269]
What’s more, leaders in turn are more able to transform their school in positive ways. When they are getting the support they need, the whole climate of their school changes, becoming open, creative, and vibrant in a way that no manual or policy can create.
Yet despite the importance of this kind of support, one of the hardest things for me as a Headteacher was finding this.
I needed support that was confidential and non-judgemental. I needed a space where just for a while, I could take off my cloak and be me. A space where I could show my vulnerabilities and be supported to make sense of my own emotions in relation to the demands of the role.
Sadly, some 15 years later, there is still a woeful lack of ‘proper’ support for those who are at the helm. As a result, there are many Heads for whom emotional overload is a still hallmark of the role.
It’s for this reason, why I now offer FREE “Coaching for the Soul” Calls to provide school leaders with a safe, non-judgemental space to talk through the challenges of the role.
This call offers a confidential space where leaders can:
– 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!