I have now officially been a headteacher for 18 months and been through one Ofsted, two sets of SATs results (one crushingly awful and one we’re much happier with) and countless other tests and judgements of my leadership. Below are some of my thoughts on becoming a head and some things I’ve found useful to reflect upon as I come to the end of my first full year in the hot seat.
Creating my Vision
When I received the invitation to interview for a headship, the list of tasks included outlining my vision for the future of my school. Naturally, I began to scour the internet for ideas but nothing I found seemed right for me. And that’s exactly as it should have been. My vision had to be mine or I wouldn’t have sounded authentic at the interview or on my first day in post (INSET Jan 2016) when I stood in front of my new team trying to make them believe I could be a head.
To work out what my vision was, I made a list of what I felt were my core values and the values I thought should be at the heart of every school aiming to its best for their children. Words like respect, dignity, honesty, communication and high expectations all made my list along with a number of others. From my own personal vision and with input and discussion with staff, parents, governors and of course, children, we created our new school vision.
As well as this being a real way of bringing everyone together, it was also an important statement of my leadership, letting everyone know where I was coming from, what was important to me personally and important to me as a headteacher. It has really helped me refocus in the last 18 months as I’ve had to make decisions about the school. It has also been great to see staff using the language of our vision when they are planning or discussing ways to approach their own teaching and leadership.
To Change or Not to Change?
I read lots before I started in post and in equal amounts I found leaders who had changed nothing at first and just observed and those who had made changes straight away, letting people know they had arrived. I think, as always, that there is a happy medium. I had decided to go with the first group and watch and listen before changing anything too quickly but in making my plan I hadn’t really thought about who I really am! Although I didn’t turn everything on its head straight away, there were things that were clearly in need of review and so I did make some alterations quite quickly. Some were quick wins- putting an end to an old homework regime that it seemed everyone- staff, parents and children- disliked and some were met with less enthusiasm at first – changing the structure of lunchtime- but worked in the best interests of the children.
As I’ve been in post longer, there have been many more changes in many areas and I feel as though the school is moving in the right direction. I’ve found that when making changes, the more you involve the people who the changes will affect, the better the transition is. Being open and honest about why I felt the change was needed, sharing research and listening has also helped. I haven’t always convinced everyone but they’ve understood why I believe the change was needed and been supportive rather than feeling things have been forced upon them.
Decisions and Responsibility
Within days of taking up my post, I realised that I was responsible for EVERYTHING.
Although that shouldn’t have been a shock to me, it really was. Below is a short list of some of my responsibilities. Some I was ready for (the big ones) but others not so much….
- Results- from EYFS to KS2 SATs
- Children- their learning, progress, achievement, fitness levels, teeth and mental health
- Lunchtime Welfare Assistants
- The happiness and emotional wellbeing of all of the above- and their families
- Keeping Governors informed and up to date
- Admission numbers
- The car park
- Fidget spinners- to ban or not to ban? (strong arguments for both sides given)
- The weather on sports day
I wasn’t ready for the number of decisions I was expected to make on a daily basis often with an answer needed immediately. I was caught on the hop a couple of times and made the wrong, or at least not the best, decision I could have because I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t the calm, measured headteacher I’d envisioned I would be but a reactive and flustered one. Once I realised this was not getting me anywhere, I sat down and decided that I wouldn’t make any decisions the moment I was asked- except of course in emergencies. The ‘Leave that with me…’ phrase along with ‘Thanks for bringing that to my attention, shall we chat at break/ lunch/ after school?’ gives me time to think about things and make a decision based on what’s best for the school and children rather than what the person asking wants or what my emotions at that moment decide.
Every now and again, I ‘ve found it really useful to step back and look at the bigger picture. One Aspiring Headteacher course I went on described it as ‘stepping out onto the balcony’. Moving myself out of the centre of everything and looking at the school as a whole has helped me focus on what needs to be done for children, staff and families and helped me to make some of those innumerable decisions I’ve already written about.
I wanted to appear strong for the staff and for them to be able to trust me to make the right decisions but in the beginning, I felt as though I was fire-fighting and leading in a reactive way. I now feel less pressured and that I can be more proactive in my leadership. Most of the time.
There are still days/ weeks when I feel under constant pressure and that I’m back to square one but I now know the strengths of my team and ask their advice instead of trying to appear as though I know everything.
Staying Current and Networks
I have realised just how important it is to stay current with what research is telling us works in the classroom and in schools as a whole. I have found Twitter and blogs a great resource for pointing out new ideas or indeed opening up discussion about ways of teaching and leading. I have also found the Learning First community and Beyond Levels events invaluable. The Chartered College of Teaching has given us access to a wealth of research. All of these people, organisations and movements are encouraging us to take back our profession, doing what is best for our children and not what the latest government thinks will gain them most votes or the whims of ministers for education.
Local networks too are important. I’ve found other headteachers in my collaborative of schools to be very understanding and willing to offer advice and help as well as keen to work together to create the best learning environments for our children.
The more I read and hear about education and leadership, the more I look at the amazing Headteachers around me and the brilliant minds of people like Mary Myatt, Shirley Clarke and countless others, the more I’m convinced I’ve got so much to learn. But I do think I’m ‘making good progress’ (whatever that really does look like).
As the title states, I’m a headteacher with L-Plates and I think they’ll be on for a long time to come.