35 Things Great Headteachers Do

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Leadership Team

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Is your headteacher a people person?

Not all headteachers have their heads screwed on. But those that do, make their staff feel valued. They put relationships first and they get the most from everyone.

Can your headteacher communicate?

We’ve all worked with different types of headteachers who adopt a range of leadership styles but there is one constant. Of all the leadership skills used in headship, communication is the most essential. Sir John Dunford, the former general secretary of ASCL, said that successful leaders at all levels need four Hs: hope, humanity, humility and humour and someone that knows how to “water the plants.” A headteacher who is a “people person” stands out a mile and for all the right reasons. They don’t go out of their way to be liked but they do go out of their way to get to know everyone. They are visible,  they know their school and as such, they are often well-liked and highly respected.

Does your headteacher have their own car parking space?

A headteacher who can’t relate well with others is not going to receive much discretionary effort. Those that craft relationships with their team bring about this “Buck’s fizz” effect. A headteacher is the Chief Energy Officer (CEO) who mixes rigour and vigour to create conditions of growth and buy-in. These aren’t the sort of headteachers who have their own car-parking spaces or heads in the clouds either.

Head and shoulders above

Being a ‘people person’ can simply mean being friendly and getting along with others. But it goes much further than that. A closeness to people at every level of the school community is important so that everyone feels valued. They see every member of staff as a teacher too. An effective leader won’t distance themselves from the people they work with either professionally or personally. You don’t achieve champagne moments in a school without brilliant relationships and being a pogo-stick player.

On a professional level, the “Buck’s Fizz” headteacher creates the conditions for staff to grow and bubble. Everyone is clear about what they need to do and they know there is a standard expected of them. They know they will be supported. Headteachers want their staff and pupils to succeed so they do their best to ensure that everyone in their school gets the very best deal the school can offer. They focus on impact and happiness. So what do these “people person” headteachers do?

Do you work for a ‘Champagne headteacher’?

Heads that put people first and value relationships:

  1. say “Good morning” with every member of staff
  2. talk to colleagues about the work they are doing and listen!
  3. check on progress and find out what support people need
  4. work to remove barriers so staff can do their job
  5. motivate and keep everyone in the positive zone
  6. say “we” rather than “I”, set team goals and let everyone know “we are all in this together
  7. retain respect for colleagues in difficult and challenging discussions
  8. start from the assumption that colleagues always try their best
  9. are genuinely interested in their colleagues as people
  10. chat about and share interests
  11. remember family situations and respond to them
  12. are sensitive to personal issues and circumstances
  13. laugh, joke and banter but never gossip
  14. will go the extra mile for those that need help
  15. are able to distinguish between someone’s worth as a colleague and their worth as a person
  16. keep a cool head when dealing with problems
  17. meet things head-on and get things done
  18. are tenacious and don’t give up on people, even toxic staff
  19. keep an open door
  20. socialise with their team
  21. prize and prioritise  their wellbeing and ensure staff are happy and in the ‘blue zones
  22. possess confident fallibility allowing others to trust in them
  23. aren’t heroic superheads but share the responsibility and the glory
  24. realise which members of staff might not be getting on with each other
  25. know which teacher who is under pressure from a parent
  26. understands who has the heaviest workload and who is putting on a brave face
  27. work their staff hard and are honest with them
  28. follow a 24-hour rule of feeding back to their team
  29. nurture but let their best teachers go
  30. say that good is good enough and don’t expect anyone to be outstanding
  31. create fellowship and followship
  32. seek confidential and non-judgemental support for themselves
  33. recognise that communication is a two-way street
  34. coach, don’t tell
  35. facilitate, influence and empower

How do you keep your head?

Great headteachers can read the magnetic field of their school to help them navigate the currents that sweep the corridors and classrooms. They also seem to possess the infrared vision of snakes and the ultrasonic hearing of dolphins. Okay, that might be going too far, but what I’m saying is that headteachers know their school and know their staff. They are resourceful, know how to reach a variety of people in many different ways and lead by example. They have unconditional positive regard for their pupils and as @southgloshead  says, they “Don’t wait for staff to struggle.”

If you have a good head then you’ll want to work your socks off for that person. If that head really is a good one then they won’t let you. They’ll put you first and tell you to “Go home early and spend some time with your family, or take the dog for a walk.”

A good headteacher cares.

7 thoughts on “35 Things Great Headteachers Do

  1. Enjoyed this, John – thanks. In last week’s slow #SLTchat, one of the questions was: ‘What do the best leaders do?’ My response was ‘The best leaders lift us rather than ground us down’. I kept thinking of that as I read your post.

  2. So lovely to read this!
    I’ve worked with two Heads and they have both been brilliant. Caring, supportive, kind, motivating and they really know to lead a school. #EmmaNicholls #LisaWilliams

  3. Lovely to read an article which is so true and not just a tick list of do and don’ts. Loved it and totally agree.

  4. Reading this articIe is encouraging.I have work with a headteacher who is always seeing the bad side of me,

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