Over the last few years, it’s fair to say that many changes have taken place in our education system that have transformed relationships between Headteachers.
I remember back when I was a Headteacher in a local authority (LA), whilst it was by no means a perfect institution – they understood the importance of creating structures that fostered a strong sense of collegiality and camaraderie amongst its Head teachers.
Yet sadly over the last few years, now many (if not most) LA’s have been dismantled. The increased emphasis on results and league tables has meant that Heads are now encouraged at every stage to compare and compete with local schools, in much the same way as businesses would.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to decreased levels of trust between Heads. The continuing academisation of our schools and the battle for funding has only served to compound the situation. If our school leaders continue to see and treat each other as rivals, it is unlikely that there will be any real winners in this battle. As in reality, we all lose when ego and grandiose expressions of success are put ahead of the humanitarian needs of all who work in our schools.
The truth is, in the context of the ever-increasing challenges and the ever-decreasing support afforded to school leaders, relationships with fellow Heads are vital.
Headship is a lonely job and the role brings with it the type of power that often isolates: positional power. The higher up you are in an organisation, the more your positional power means that you not only have increased pressures and responsibilities, you can also experience varying levels of distance between you and those you lead and manage. Personal and professional boundaries need to be set and this, at times, can be hard to get right. When the success of everything that you do depends on the quality of your relationships.
When you are ‘lower down’ the school hierarchy it is much easier to build relationships with those who are like you and face similar challenges in their roles. However, as your career progresses and your leadership responsibilities increase, the number of individuals within your organisation that hold the same or similar post diminishes. When you reach the top – head teacher – and look around, it can be both humbling and slightly uncomfortable to realise that you and you alone, carry the full weight of responsibility for everything that happens in your school.
Where is the support to be found?
Friends and family might offer a listening ear, but again this isn’t easy. Unless they have walked in your shoes, it can be difficult for them to truly relate to what you’re experiencing.
Having trusted Headteacher colleagues with whom you can share your feelings and talk through challenges can be a valuable life-line for many. What it feels like to be a Head teacher changes when you find that colleague or colleagues with whom you can be completely yourself.
A problem shared is a problem halved
It cannot be understated how liberating it Is for a school leader’s soul, when they discover through sharing with others, that they are not alone in the problems that they face and that others have faced similar challenges. The knowledge that others, like you, are also trying to find ways to make the load of school leadership that much easier to bear, actually helps to lighten your own load …. If only for a while.
That short respite, achieved through sharing, can often be all that is necessary to give you the inner strength and resolve to push on through. As opposed to throwing your hands up in the air and giving up.! Just remember, to make the moments of sharing a regular part of your leadership life.
Sharing also allows for new resources, new approaches, new ideas and even new relationships to be discovered. All of which can help you to overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation and further fortify the ground upon which you stand.
Knowing the types of relationships you need to foster
Where education policy continues to support the proliferation of Academies, it is not implausible to conceive of a moment in time when in-house /local Academy expertise and knowledge are treated as state secrets to be closely guarded and concealed from fellow Heads and competing Academies. Indeed, many might say, we are already there. It is my belief that such business values are not appropriate for our education system. They go against the grain and are diametrically opposite to the humanitarian values that I know are held by most school leaders.
It takes courage and a huge amount of integrity and a deep connection to one’s core values to not get caught up in this competitive narrative and to compromise your behaviours, simply to survive. This competitive narrative not only forces a separation from self, but also a separation from others. Very often it is driven by an external ‘force’ that more often than not is concerned with meeting its own ego needs, that it is with enabling you to truly flourish and succeed.
It is therefore vital that in these times, you look for relationships with others that are based on a model that can act as a powerful antidote to education’s current competitive narrative. Look for relationships with other Head teachers, other professionals, that support you from ‘within’ and you will find that you are able to lead with deeper levels of congruency and connectedness to yourself, fellow school leaders and those you lead and manage.
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…