*The author of this blog has asked to remain anonymous and so the name has been change to protect their identity
My name is June and I have been in my current role as a Headteacher within a three-form entry Academy since the summer of 2013, having previously been the head at the infant school since 2003.
At the time, the junior school had sadly gone into special measures and the previous Head teacher had retired that summer.
I’d say that my biggest challenge was bringing the two schools together. I had to bring cohesion to two very diverse organisations. Emotionally, I had to deal with all the infant staff which thought that I’d abandoned them. Meanwhile, I also had the junior staff who didn’t know me and felt that I’d made their life harder.
On top of this, because the junior school was in special measures, there was huge pressure on me from the academy chain to rapidly improve. I tried to separate the pressures of the role and keep my daily focus on what really matters but it was becoming increasingly difficult to do so.
As even when I thought that we were doing a good job, I had so many people telling me how they wanted things done. I started to feel that this was an Academy Trust that only cared about things on paper, rather than the children at the school. This was not for me.
My health started to suffer
This all took a serious toll on me personally and my life outside of school. I found myself working 85 hours a week and frequently taking my work home with me. I worked every Saturday.
When I wasn’t doing work, I was worrying about work. I never felt able to go out in term time, nor was there really ever opportunity for down time. If I was at home, I usually had my laptop on my lap, pretending to be in the same room as my husband, but actually keeping an eye on the e-mails and on the things that I wanted to get done.
The job made me become a very fractured sleeper. I was getting up every hour worrying about the school and the day ahead and then coming to work, absolutely exhausted. I found myself riddled with self-doubt, which ate away at me and my enthusiasm for the role. I found myself questioning and fretting over every decision I had to take.
I felt battered. So I decided to contact my professional union to try and get support from the local union representative. However, the support they provided was more about “Do you think your job is on the line yet and if it is then we come and step in, but if not, we won’t”.
I kept on saying “I did not want to let it get that far, I want to deal with this now” but that wasn’t good enough for them.
After two years of this, I was fed up to be honest, I was ready to leave. So much so that it got to the point that driving to work became a misery.
“I felt coming in and trying to put a smile on my face was becoming such a burden that I had genuinely made plans to sit on a till in Sainsbury’s, just so I could do anything other than carrying on in this role.”
I spent all my time thinking about my staff and children but I never properly considered what was happening to me, I’d just kept on putting on a brave face and forcing myself through it all.
That all changed when I read Viv’s article in the Guardian in which she talks about her experience as a Headteacher, her struggles and the value of coaching.
“I was almost thrown off my chair when I read it! I suddenly realised this was completely what I needed!”
So I organised a meeting with core group of Governors and presented them with the Guardian article and said “it’s do or die really.” I told them that either we try this for the following year or they should start advertising for my replacement.
I informed them that I’d written my resignation and whilst I’d rather not have given it to them just then, it was prepared and ready to go. They were horrified, absolutely horrified. I was very fortunate with my governing body because many worked in the city and had personal coaches, so they agreed.
I never had coaching before and I must admit at first, I was slightly apprehensive, as I had the perception that it was self-centered to spend an hour and a half to two hours just talking about yourself and how you feel. I was even slightly concerned I wouldn’t have enough to say in that time.
Coaching allowed me to be totally free, totally open and totally honest like I’d never properly had the chance to do so before. You feel like you can be completely yourself with someone who isn’t going to report back to your local authority, your academy chain or your school improvement partner. It gave me an environment and the space to examine my motivations and my thoughts.It was just such a positive experience.
I’d bottled so much up inside, as I felt I couldn’t offload every doubt or concern to others. If I offloaded to my husband, it might depress my home life. Also, I couldn’t say to my Governors or academy chain that “I’m feeling a bit doubtful this term” because they’re my bosses, and they might construe that as meaning that I’m not up to the job.
So it was just such a wonderful relief to be able to speak absolutely honestly without being judged and knowing that I could examine my own thoughts out loud and not get into trouble for doing so.
Viv helped me reflect on why I do the things that I do, in the way that I do them. In doing so, she was able to bring me back to what motivated me to do this job in the first place. She showed me how if you can regain your confidence, it will impact on the rest of your school, from your SLT, the children to the Governors. That was the first thing that we did together and it showed me how to get back in control, renew my purpose and zeal for my job.
Re-gaining my confidence and self-belief
I quickly developed more confidence and self-belief. All that doubt which drained me so much when it came to making decisions, began to disappear. It was such a wonderful thing not just hoping, but knowing that you are doing the right thing.
Such that when OFSTED arrived earlier this year, I felt I was able to lead the OFSTED team this time with confidence and form a very different relationship with them. Because the criteria are very tight now with OFSTED, I felt self-assured that I could demonstrate enough evidence to prove that we are “good” and I was determined to prove it. As a result, we really took charge of the inspection, I showed everything to them in terms of “you need to see this”, “you need to see that” and “let me show you how well we have done this”.
Sure enough, that helped get us the “good” rating which I was so determined to achieve and the impact, well, it has just been enormous.
My husband’s noticed a significant positive change in me. I now put serious limits on when I look through my e-mails, when I think about work or when I read work documents. I now do things like trying to go out one night every week and don’t think about work. Sleep has become far easier to attain, so I’m no longer turning up to work every day feeling exhausted which helps me perform at my best.
For me, ultimately, I always think you have to consider the opposite of what would be the cost of not getting that support. For me, I know that I wouldn’t be still be in my role. If it wasn’t for coaching, I would have really resigned. So the cost of not doing it is a loss, not just the leadership team but to your school as well.
Very often it can feel as though you are carrying 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 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.
In light of this, it’s understandable why many Headteachers struggle with feelings of self-doubt. It also makes me believe that it’s vital that our leaders are properly supported; strategically, operationally and emotionally to ensure they can keep going.
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 such support for leadership development, few in our education system have been afforded this.
That’s why I’m now offering 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.
The calls provide a confidential, safe, non–judgemental space to spend 30 minutes exploring ways to:
– 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
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!