What Headteachers should be told before they're appointed!

Recently, I’ve been pondering one question: How do Headteachers find the time and space to develop the aptitudes necessary to show up as their true authentic and best self, when they are in a profession that requires;
– A deeply forensic approach to the analysis of pupil outcomes
– Lightning quick responses to demands of all kinds and,
– Consistently high levels of visibility
The answer I most often hear in response to this question, is:

‘There quite simply isn’t enough time to focus on me. I spend all of my time and more [i.e. evenings and weekends] focusing on school improvement, because that’s what I’m here to do – to focus on the children and teachers, not me.”

When I hear this response, I find myself thinking, that sounds just like me when I was a Head. When I was told only one side of the School Leadership Story.

It’s all about the job description, or is it?

Before I was appointed to my first post as a Headteacher around seventeen years ago, I read and believed that I fully understood the Job description and person spec. I wrote an application form that demonstrated my leadership skills, knowledge and experience.
I performed so well at interview [despite being eight and a half months pregnant], that I convinced the panel, I could do what the job was asking of me on paper and take the school out of Special Measures…
And therein lies the rub. Did you fall for it too? Did you mistakenly believe that when you applied for the Head teacher role, all you were being asked to do was to show that you could meet what was being asked of you on paper?
No matter how long you have been in the role, I bet you know differently now!
American author and therapist, James Hollis forewarns us that when we take on roles that demand more of us, that cause us to become aware of the greater contribution to society that our roles demand,

We move into unfamiliar territory …. anxiety is activated as our constant comrade…psychological development always requires greater capacity in us for the toleration of anxiety and ambiguity”

He says this because in such roles, we are forced to step into the limelight and show that we have a propensity to be able to cope with being:
– Open to criticism/challenge
– Able to work well with ambiguity
– Able to switch modes quickly and efficiently
– Questioned for the values and beliefs that we hold
It sure would have made my life as a Head teacher so much easier, if I had been told this other side of the School Leadership Story and the impact such demands would have on my mental health and well-being.
If someone had simply said to me;

“Viv, there’s another side to being a School Leader that you need to understand. This School Leadership business isn’t only about school improvement. Yes, you have got to raise standards. Yes, you have got to achieve consistently high levels of teaching and learning. 

But…you have to understand that school development is also about emotional and psychological development. 

If you let the weight of the responsibility that you bear, prevent you attending to your own emotional and psychological needs, you might fall victim to self-doubt and anxiety and begin [falsely] to think that you are not up to the job. This is not the case. You are just transitioning and you have to attend to the emotional and psychological shifts that this post requires, so that you can move beyond surviving to thriving.”

No-one said it to me, but I am saying it to you, as loudly and as clearly as I possibly can.
Attending to your own psychological and emotional needs is not selfish. Instead, it demonstrates commitment and courage to doing what it takes to become the best version of yourself in service to others.
I know it isn’t easy, but it is a must, if you are serious about;
– Staying in this role and maintaining your health and happiness
– Keeping your passion and purpose
– Inspiring and motivating others
– Being the very best version of yourself
– Fulfilling the promise that I know you made when you were interviewed, to make better the lives of the children in your school!

Getting the Support Every School Leader Needs…

When I look back on my years as a Headteacher and now with the work that I do with School Leaders, I realise just how easy it is for School Leaders to accept tiredness, emotional overload and irritability as the norm.  
For me, the realisation came about, after a particularly challenging encounter with a parent. I had become so used to numbing out my emotions and wearing my ‘super-head’ cloak, that when my emotions did finally catch up with me, I was at a loss as to what to do. All I could do was sit in my car and cry and cry and cry! It was only when this happened and after some deep soul searching, that I realised why I had got to this place and what had been missing from my life as a Head teacher …  Support!
I’m not talking about the type of support Headteachers get from school advisors, Governors or fellow colleagues. It was a different type of support that I realised had been missing.
I needed support that was confidential and non-judgemental. I needed a space where just for a while, I could take off my cloak and be me. A space where I could show my vulnerabilities and be supported to make sense of my own emotions in relation to the demands of the role.
Sadly, some 15 years later, there is still a woeful lack of ‘proper’ support for those who are at the helm. As a result, there are many Heads for whom emotional overload is a still hallmark of the role.
It’s for this reason, why I now offer FREE “Coaching for the Soul” Calls to provide School Leaders with a safe, non-judgemental space to  talk through the challenges of the role.
This call offers a confidential space where leaders can:
–  Talk through the challenges they’re facing and find solutions
–  Receive support and encouragement in their current situation
–  Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
–  Gain clarity around their thoughts and plan a way forward

Book Your Call

 If you’re keen for support and guidance in your current situation, please do book now!


5 Responses

  1. Hi Bill, looks like we became Heads about the same time! I look back then too and i just don’t think we had the awareness in the profession or the sensitivity/language to talk about our emotional needs!

  2. Hi Viv, I’ve been a head for almost 3 years now and I’m looking for a move. I’m really struggling with how to word my next letter of application, to focus on the impact I have had. My first application letter talked about all the great things I’d done as a teacher that prepared me for headship and it worked. Now that the focus has changed, I’m unsure how to communicate impact. Is this something you can help with?

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