4 Lessons Every School Leader Needs to Learn

“Hope … that stubborn thing inside of us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us, so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting”

Barack Obama

 
I know that if you are a Headteacher or a senior School Leader reading this, you would not have reached where you are now, if you didn’t know how to harness the power of hope. Hope not only in yourself, but in the sincerity of your vision and the future you are seeking to create for the children in your school.
 
There are times we know, when amidst the chaos of school life, hope can feel incredibly elusive.  If you are feeling like that, right now, this blog is for you.
 
Here are the four key lessons that I have discovered as a coach are essential for helping School Leaders keep their hope alive and ensuring that they perform at their best.
 

Lesson 1: Learn to keep one eye backward and another eye forward

 
The Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard has been credited with saying, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
 
In essence he is saying in order to live more fully and to make progress with our lives, we need to have a process in place that enables us to develop a greater understanding of our own life journeys. When we have such processes in place, we can continue our journeys with far deeper levels of wisdom and insight.
 
Throughout your life as a School Leader, there will be moments when you can choose to start again. In the natural pauses of school life, there will be times when you can take learning form the past to create new, more aligned realities for yourself. They are, and should be your personal times of both reflection and renewal.
 
Committing to make these investments in yourself, will pay dividends. You will experience greater clarity of thought and confidence in your own abilities to successfully overcome the challenges of School Leadership.
 

Lesson 2 – Be connected

 
Leadership does not happen in a vacuum. Leaders need people, not only to follow them, but also to help them on their journey. In school, and because of the nature of your role, relationships can often be one-dimensional, meaning that your total needs for human connection and relationship, can never be fully met while you wear the School Leader ‘hat’.
 
It might take a stretch of the imagination for you to believe this, but you do have a life outside of your school. So it is important to invest in those relationships that are beyond your life as a school leader. Actively search for relationships both within and outside of your professional context that will:
 
– Affirm your self-worth
– Provide constructive challenge
– Allow you to be yourself
– Enable you to be in a role where you are not expected to have all the answers
– Provide a space for you to be taken care of and have your needs met.
 
Remember, you are a living, breathing human being, not just your role.
 

Lesson 3: Bend do not break

 
You may be familiar with the phrase, ‘bend do not break’, which some say has its origins either in one of Aesop’s fables, ‘The Olive Tree and the Reed’, or from an old Chinese proverb that relates to the capacity of the bamboo to bend and not break, even in the severest of storms.
 
I would be lying (and indeed if you have been a School Leader for long enough, you know that I would be lying) if I said you will never face any storms. The storms will come. Sometimes they will be a full force nine gale leaving a trail of human and emotional destruction in their wake; other times they will pass as quickly as they arrive, leaving only a few ruffled feathers.
 
To survive, you need to be not only anchored to your values; you also need to know what resilience looks like for you.
 
For too many School Leaders resilience has meant putting on a brave face, while becoming detached from all feeling and emotion. They have become ‘brittle’ meaning that when the storms come, they have forgotten what it means to ‘bend’.  They have no way of knowing how to respond to or listen to what their inner self, or indeed what others, might be saying to help them survive the storm. They stand tall and rigid, only to be uprooted or broken.
 
And why does this happen? American author, Nathaniel Branden says it’s because;
 

“When feelings and emotions are blocked, and repressed, the process of implementation is physical; Breathing is restricted and muscles contracted. When this happens repeatedly, the blocks become part of the body structure – ‘The body armour’… Breathing may be so habitually shallow and muscles so little contracted that the flow of feeling is obstructed and consciousness is diminished accordingly”

 
If you want to be able to withstand the storms of School Leadership, you have to be able to bend. You have to be able to allow yourself to feel and, in feeling, be receptive to what your mind and your body are telling you – and take action that shows you have understood the message!
 
Making a conscious effort to take on board these four lessons,  will help to ensure that you have a greater capacity to withstand the trials of School Leadership and show up as the leader you want to be.
 

Lesson 4 – Learn to Give Yourself the Rest You Need

 
Our first responsibility is to be fully present every day, aware, attentive and ‘on form’, with ‘time for people’ and the wisdom to make snap judgements accurately. The energy required to do this on a daily basis is huge and needs regular opportunity for genuine rest and renewal.
 
School Leaders need a precious, calm, reflective space in which they are able to remember who we are and what really matters (and what doesn’t!) that the pace of work in school can starve us of.  Without this, School Leaders can find themselves drained and burnt-out, and in turn, less able to withstand the trials of School Leadership and show up as the leader you want to be.
 
Without 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!
 


 

Without a doubt the pandemic brought many unexpected challenges for us all. However, one of the silver linings of the past two years has been a heightened awareness of what matters most for all of us. We learnt:

– The value of community

– The need to stay connected

– The importance of being supported

We also learnt that deeper connections matter, none of us can survive alone and to thrive and overcome the challenges of leadership life we need real, deep, and meaningful connections with others.

That’s why we have launched our new “Heads Together”, a new School Leadership community, designed to connect like-minded school-leaders and to provide a watering hole for inspiration, encouragement and support.

Our “Heads Together” Community is designed to provide School Leaders with:

– A vital network of support to help individuals manage the emotional strains and stresses of the role

– Collaborative forums for thoughtful exploration around timely and important leadership themes

– Inspiration and encouragement throughout the year to help keep leaders’ passion and purpose alive

If you’d like to find out more about the community, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…

Learn more

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