What advice would you give to someone who is ‘starting out’ in school leadership?
Seventeen years ago, I started out in school leadership – 10 years ago as a senior teacher. This post offers the advice ‘I would have given to myself if I were starting out in a senior leadership role’.
School leadership is a tough responsibility, yet one of the most rewarding things you can do in your teaching career. Don’t abuse your position and remember you are working with people, not numbers.
- Staff will come to you with the most serious and trivial requests. You will need to learn to respond accordingly. If you don’t have an answer immediately, be confident enough to say “let me get back to you” and make sure you do. There’s nothing worse than false promises.
- If you see a member of staff who has ‘lost it’ with students, always intervene and offer support.
- If you see a senior leader who has ‘lost it’ with students and/or staff, always intervene and help calm the situation.
- Learn to the art of confidentially around the leadership table – to develop the art of support and challenge, to listen and when to bite your tongue takes years to master.
- Manage your exhaustion and emotions, but never let this cover the ‘real you’. Your school community will find value in your leadership if you can show that you are also human. And don’t forget to laugh, particularly at yourself.
- Take your lessons seriously. Don’t hide behind cover requests and emergency meetings. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard a senior teacher breathe a sigh of relief when losing classes or having a reason to avoid teaching. Plan and mark students’ work to a high standard. Always.
- Meet deadlines. Don’t abuse your position and then dictate to others that they have to meet the same schedules.
- You cannot do everything. Learn to say ‘no’ and balance additional work between teamwork, versus personal development and workload.
- You must be able to clear a corridor and silence an assembly. Equally, you should be able to do both in the classroom at any given call, whether this is your class or somebody else’s. To be able to do this without ‘raising your voice’ is a real talent.
- Always be on time, even when you are not feeling 100%, and if others are late or not where the should be, follow-up.
- Your vision aligns with the type of the school you are working in – this should hopefully be a reflection of your values (see section below). If it’s not, it could be time to move on.
- Have a clear vision communicated around the leadership table and reference this is all your conversations, meetings and training sessions – it vital to have a plan. Keep it simple and easy to follow.
- Allow your vision to be adopted, refined and fluent – keep an open mindset – you need to adapt to the needs of your school and you must ensure you play your part.
- Vision within a school is a shared journey – offer time for everyone to contribute and give people the space to talk and to contribute. Don’t become fixated on your terminology or preferences.
- Revisit the vision several times throughout the year – this is vital when you’ve lost your way or when the going gets tough.
- Be honest with colleagues. Make decisions and explain why you have made them.
- Keep an eye on the data, but don’t let it dictate proceedings. If you are spending hours and hours in meetings and not on corridors and in classrooms, you need to question what you are doing.
- Use external agencies e.g. Investors in People to quality assure the work you are doing. Ask ‘how could we do this better?’ rather than ‘is this good enough?’ Please do not do things for external watchdogs.
- Never underrate the importance of safeguarding – even the smallest conversation or behaviour(s) from students or staff.
- Always remember why you joined the teaching profession, and then why you wanted to become a senior leader. If you want to use senior leadership as a stepping stone into headship, then take your time to learn the ropes and consider leading on priorities outside of your expertise. This will help you to develop a wider picture of school life.
If you are new to school senior leadership, I wish you all the best for the academic year.