Coaching & Leadership Development
September 27, 2017

How to Move from Surviving to Thriving as a Headteacher

How to Move from Surviving to Thriving as a Headteacher

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style’

Maya Angelou


Every year in early autumn, we gather with a small group of school leaders for our Leadership Development Retreats in a beautiful part of the Suffolk countryside.


Every time that we run these retreats, I am left amazed at the gentle unfolding that occurs, when school leaders let go of their old leadership stories and find new and enriching ways to engage with the demands of the role. This year was no different.


As individuals explored the narratives that had shaped their present experiences of school leadership, a common, shared theme began to occur. The stories that they had inherited and were living day-to-day were of leadership as:

– A battle

– A fight

– A struggle


A role in which you always have to be on guard, strong, invincible and ready to fight the good fight. Battle fatigue was a syndrome common to all and experienced by all.


For head teachers, archaic narratives that have served their time, can be difficult to dispel, particularly when the majority of professional relationships that you have seek to confirm ‘old war stories’ as undeniable truths. Conversation after conversation confirms the fact that school leadership is a role in which you have to do everything possible to survive.


It seems impossible to think of it as role in which you can thrive. Yet… it is! All it takes is a willingness to engage in the inner work of school leadership. When you do, you realise that time spent looking inwards, is just as valuable as time spent looking outwards. It enables you to face the world with courage as opposed to bravado. You show up authentically and begin to see that with a new inner disposition, when challenges arise, rather than shrinking back in fear, you can grow to meet them and thrive in the process.


What does it take to learn to thrive?


As we found with the Head teachers on the retreat, one of the first things that you can do is learn to identify and let go of the leadership stories that no longer serve you. How? Well one of the common ways in which these stories show themselves is in the language that we use when challenges arise.


Do you use words that suggest dread and foreboding? Do you always think of the worst possible outcome? If you do, then it’s very likely that you are always going to be feeling as though Headship is a constant battle that you can never win. You will have an internal script (that probably has a strong negative slant) that will have developed well before you became a Head, about how to respond to difficulties. Now, maybe the time to challenge that script and actively set about writing yourself a new one.


It ought to be a script that is based on your achievements, your strengths and attributes that have shaped the leader that you are now and the leader that you want to become. It should have a deep connection with your own vision and values. It is essential that you believe that you can become an active agent in the creation of your own new, empowering leadership story.


Ask yourself are you being the Head YOU want to be?


When you are a Head teacher, there are many individuals that you have to work with, who will have their own perspective on the Headship role and how you should inhabit it. But for many of them they will never have walked in your shoes, they will never know your full story and why you chose to be a Head. Yet, if you are not careful, you can expend far too much energy trying to meet their expectations rather than your own.


It is your expectations that you need to consistently meet in order to thrive. When you do, to paraphrase the words of Parker Palmer, ‘your inner truth becomes the plumb line for the choices that you make, about your life, about work and how you do it, about the relationships that you enter into and how you conduct them’. Life in general becomes more fulfilling.


Find your ‘Tribe’


In an educational landscape where isolation and loneliness are such common features of headship, finding others for whom school leadership is not just an egotistical endeavour can be an essential step in learning how to thrive. When you find your tribe, the people to which you belong, the inner work and learning to thrive no longer seems untenable. There is a common understanding and a desire to be in deeper, more meaningful relationships; Relationships that seek to edify the and enrich the experience of being a school leader.


And the result…?


When, as we found on the retreat, head teachers write a new leadership story, consistently meet their own expectations and develop professional relationships that have meaning and depth, they are able to re-enter the world of school leadership from a new perspective. No longer the battle weary solider, they instead re-enter the school leadership arena as humanitarian peacemakers with a deeper sense of conviction and purpose than ever before.



We believe that if School Leaders are to not only survive but thrive, they need regular opportunities to reflect and re-energise.

They need a time and space (amidst the emotional toll of the leading) in which they can reflect on their leadership and lessons learnt, reconnect with their values and re-focus on their strategy for securing outstanding results for themselves and their school.

It is for this reason that Integrity Coaching delivers these leadership retreats specifically for Head teachers. These getaways are 2 days long and involve journaling, discussion and walking and a series of structured discussion to allow you to explore important questions for you as a person and as a leader.

The retreats are facilitated to enable you to get the most of the experience and based in a location that lends itself to talking and walking whilst considering the important themes that guide you in your role as a headteacher and are designed to ensure you leave with…

– A clear understanding of how to lead without sacrificing your own well-being

– A way forward for overcoming the challenges of your role and remaining confident in your ability to achieve your goals for yourself and your school.

– An understanding of how to communicate your vision, drive strategic leadership & empower all pupils & staff to flourish.



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