Coaching & Leadership Development

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


Back in September 2019, we launched our first ever Developing Headspace Programme with our 2 day School Leadership Residential in Suffolk.


After running this residential, I was left amazed at the gentle unfolding that occurred when school leaders let go of their old leadership stories and found new and enriching ways to engage with the demands of the role.


As individuals explored the narratives that had shaped their present experiences of school leadership, a common, shared themes 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 headteachers, 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 residential, 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 residential, headteachers 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.



In the frenetic life of a school leader time and space are increasingly rare commodities. With a constant flow of meetings to be held, problems to solve and fires to put out – it can be very hard for leaders to find the time and space to be still and think.


However, without this 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!


That’s why we’re now are offering a “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…


Learn more about the Programme



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