As a head teacher, you will know that when the prospect of an OFSTED inspection is looming, you and your staff can easily feel overwhelmed. It can seem as though there is never enough time to complete the endless list of pre-OFSTED tasks, that will enable you to feel prepared and in control should you receive The Call!
As a result, it may often feel as though your every waking moment is filled with thoughts of OFSTED and your nights are no better! Sleep seems to evade you and provides not the slightest hint of relief. When you close your eyes, you find your dreams invaded by your own anxieties about OFSTED and potential outcomes of their visit.
With the weight of OFSTED inspections and the related horror stories that abound, it’s easy to understand why inspite of recent ‘myth busting’ initiatives from OFSTED itself, that many head teachers still feel stressed and anxious in the lead up to an inspection.
Sadly, this can mean that for more than a few they unconsciously adopt a fixed mind-set as a coping strategy. They become risk averse for fear of being proved wrong. Their creativity and ability to think outside of the box becomes severely limited too; as they rely more heavily on their left frontal part of their brain [the rational, logical, reasoning part] to carry out the leadership functions of their role.
In this ‘head space’, not only do leaders become detached from themselves and the promise of what their leadership could mean for them and their school, they also become detached from those who are looking to them for inspiration and support.
Because … as author Carol Dweck explains:
“They put everyone into a fixed mind-set. This means instead of learning growing and moving the school forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged. It starts with the leaders’ worry about being judged, but it winds up being everybody’s fear about being judged. It’s hard for courage and innovation to survive a school wide fixed mind-set”
You are more than your school’s OFSTED rating!
Unfortunately, OFSTED categories themselves can become labels to which individuals attach their own sense of self-worth. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.
We need to acknowledge that for as long as this continues to happen, individuals in schools with ‘low’ OFSTED categorisations of worth, will struggle to adopt the behaviours necessary to move them and their schools to higher feelings of self-worth.
As Butler and Hope (2010) point out:
There is nothing so disabling as a sense of worthlessness. People, who feel they are worthless, feel that they do not count. They also feel that they have nothing to contribute. They hold themselves back and the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling.
It is not impossible to stop this from being the case; we know that there are schools all over the country that find the inner resolve necessary to improve their OFSTED rating. But we also need to be honest and admit that the road to OFSTED success is often laboured and heavy. And for those school leaders who have to direct the footsteps of others, the journey is made even more arduous by the amount of emotional baggage – theirs and others – that they are forced to carry.
So, what can leaders do to help safeguard their self-worth, maintain their leadership effectiveness and ensure that they don’t allow the pressures of OFSTED to diminish their confidence and sense of agency?
1. Keep your vision at the very centre of all you do: Your vision is the core of all that you are and what you stand for. Without a clear vision it is easy to lose your way and ultimately struggle if/when Ofsted come knocking. Make time to revisit your vision on a regular basis. Doing so will help to keep you focused and maintain an inner alignment with your values, the way in which they shape your behaviour as a leader and the influence that you have over others.
2. Time Management: Make ‘me’ time. Ensure that somewhere in your working day or week you make time for you. As a Head, it is all too easy to make time for others and not for yourself. When you do this, you run the risk of burn out! Making time for yourself, will help to ensure that you remain as effective as possible both during and beyond times of stress.
3. A Good Team Ethos: Surround yourself with like-minded, positive individuals who can bolster your stamina and self-belief. You will be surprised how effective this can be, not only will these individuals motivate you to keep heading towards your goals, but they will also help to make your working life as a leader that much more rewarding and enjoyable.
4. Acknowledge Achievements. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate all that is good in your school! Doing this will allow you to see that every cloud has a silver lining. The challenges will always be there, but always remember to look for the good and the lessons learnt. Your achievements are your milestones. Some will be easily gained, but more often than not, many will be hard won.
Nevertheless, they are still your achievements. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for others to acknowledge them. External validation can sometimes be a long time coming! Be sure to make acknowledgments and celebrations a part of the rhythm and seasons of school life. Doing so will create an energy that will help to sustain all members of the school community through the bad times and the good.
5. Self-reflection. Identity what you, as a leader, have done to bring about those successes. This will help you see and understand the key qualities that you bring to the leadership of your school, breathing a new air of self-confidence into your vision and everything you do.
Overcoming the Pressures of School Leadership
When you become a Headteacher, it can feel like you have to carry the full weight of everyone’s expectations on your shoulders. No matter how diverse their expectations might be, from parents to politicians, you are expected to shoulder everything.
On top of this, you now have a myriad of responsibilities, that require you to demonstrate additional expertise as a social worker, child psychiatrist, politician and community worker, all within the space of a day – even though you’ve never been trained in these areas.
Amidst these challenges of Headship, I believe it’s vital that our leaders are properly supported, strategically, operationally and emotionally to ensure they can successfully pursue their vision and hope for every pupil.
Social workers have supervision to help them process their toughest cases, and corporate executives have space for “lessons learned” and continuous improvement between projects.
However, in spite of the fact that the business world has now embraced the benefits of coaching for leadership development, few in our education system have been afforded the opportunity to reap the benefits of this form of support.
That’s why I offer completely free Coaching calls to give leaders a chance to experience first-hand the benefits of coaching and the role it could play in supporting both their well-being and their personal performance.
This call will provide you a confidential, safe, non–judgemental space to spend 30 minutes to help leaders…
– Achieve a greater sense of clarity about your direction as a school leader
– Gain a clearer perspective on any challenges that you may be facing
– Identify positive steps for moving forward
So if you feel you’d benefit from a call like this, please do book yours now!