Working With The Best Head Teachers

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How do you know if you’re working with a great head teacher?

Some of the following attributes are found in good human beings, with one or two qualities that make people exceptional leaders.

I’ve worked in close contact with several head teachers throughout my teaching career and over the last five years, worked with many more! There are some qualities that make some stand out from the rest. Considering the complex nature of working in an educational institution, whether this is a one-form entry primary school or a  college with a student population of 3,000 students, here are some of the hallmarks I believe make a great school leader.

1. Is a model of integrity and fairness.

Fairness is modelled in everyday discussions, team meetings, public assemblies and even in difficult circumstances. Whilst all leaders need to balance their personal and professional lives, they remain humane in all of their decisions and most of all, put their hands up when they are wrong.

This is something worth witnessing.

2. Sets clear goals.

When the vision is clear, every decision made is benchmarked against whole-school priorities. When things are working at a high-performing level, those priorities are tailored to suit teams and individuals. Most importantly, those priorities are generated from the floor and regularly communicated to keep everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.

3. Has high expectations.

Great leaders make clear their expectations from the outset. This is communicated and adapted to suit all stakeholders in all situations, from pupils, parents and prospective employees.

On a personal level, they also let you know when things don’t go according to plan, and when they do, they don’t make you feel like you’ve behaved like a ‘dogs dinner!’ They reset the benchmark, offer advice and encourage you to try again.

4. Encourages others.

We all know that when we respect someone, their encouragement is enough for us to try something new or go out of our comfort zone. This could be anything in our professional lives, from speaking publicly in assembly for the first time to stepping up to a new job role.

If I think about all the head teachers who have given me encouragement to take a risk or try something new, this is on the premise that we have a good working relationship already, and that I know they trust me to do the job well.

Having this relationship in place unleashes great potential!

5. Provides support and recognition.

Great leaders never fail to acknowledge everyone involved in making things happen, including background support. They often shun the limelight and provide countless hours of support and guidance behind the scenes.

You know this, so does everyone else.

6. Stirs the emotions of people.

Have you ever been in a school assembly and heard your head teacher speak and wondered why the ‘hairs on the back of your neck’ were standing on end?

Yes, that is a leader who is a great communicator. It’s these moments that remind you why you signed up…

7. Gets people to look beyond their self-interest.

Great leaders facilitate the people around them to look beyond their role. I remember this well when one head teacher asked me to deal with something outside my remit. It made me realise that my role was the sum of all parts of the school, not just the life of my job description.

No teacher wants to be a ‘jobs worth’…

8. Inspires people to reach for the improbable.

How many times can you turn to your head teacher in a time of need?

Whether positive or negative, great leaders are always available to offer words of wisdom and challenge in your personal and professional life. The one thing I’ve learned is never to ‘bottle things up’ and don’t communicate how you are feeling or what you are thinking. You will feel better about it, and your head teacher will appreciate your honesty.

The 8 qualities that make some head teachers stand out from the rest.

Inspired by Leadership (Macgregor-Burns, 1978)

4 thoughts on “Working With The Best Head Teachers

  1. This is very helpful!

    I am actually a teacher in an international school in the Philippines ( and I totally agree with this! Being a teacher is actually a hard but very fulfilling job. It takes a lot of patience, understanding and skills to do this job. This kind of articles are very touching and it makes us be proud of being a teacher. Hope you can share a lot more articles like this! More power to your blog!

    1. Thanks for the comment Jen. Did you know, that the teachers reading my blog from the Philippines are my 5th largest audience?! Perhaps I should write/share a resource about something that can suit your context? Hope to visit one day!

  2. worth of reading. Qualities will make them standout from person to person. The 8 qualities that make some head teachers stand out from the rest is a grateful thought which helps everyone.

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