I was delighted to join as the 8th principal of St Mary’s Colchester in September 2021. St Mary’s is my seventh school in my career and therefore I have worked under a number of different heads, each with their own leadership styles.
This has shaped my own growth and development, especially when I entered into senior leadership. As teachers, I think we are all critical of leadership and leadership decisions, and therefore when I assumed my deputy head, acting head and now, my principal roles, I had already had an opportunity to reflect on what made an excellent school leader and therefore the type of school leader I wanted to be.
Fortunately, I also had the opportunity for coaching before taking up this leadership position, which I found invaluable as it gave me practical tools and techniques, as well as further opportunities for reflection.
“I always aspired to be a head of a leading all-girls school.”
Assuming the principal role at St Mary’s School has been my proudest moment in my career to date. I always aspired to be a head, of a leading all-girls school, as I am fiercely passionate about girls’ education, having experienced the benefits of it myself. I also strongly believe that schools provide more than an academic education and pastoral support, they shape personalities and growth of young people through everything that schools offer.
Arriving at St Mary’s I finally realised what recruitment consultants and senior colleagues meant by “fit” and I did, indeed “fit” St Mary’s, in that my beliefs and ethos were perfectly aligned.
Having read several recommended books, completed my NPQH and a 12-week headship coaching course, I knew the priority in assuming my new role was to get to know the key stakeholders in the school as soon as possible. I was fortunate to have an excellent handover from the retiring principal who reassured me that the school was in an excellent position as I was just taking on the reins and continuing its “evolution”. That seemed simple enough.
My first day at St Mary’s consisted of me presenting to the whole staff body on my values, principles and initial aims, along with the reassurance that I wasn’t going to make radical changes imminently. I delivered it with much gusto on the morning, and pleasingly, the reception was positive, mainly I think because I didn’t come across as an ogre.
My initial meeting with the senior leadership team was also positive; experience had taught me that working as a team and recognising initial strengths of each member was imperative in ensuring cohesion. Above all, I did not want a fragmented team, which I had experienced previously, although not at senior leadership level.
“The reception was positive, mainly because I didn’t come across as an ogre.”
Over the next few weeks, I engaged with staff across both school sites (we have a Lower School and Senior School on separate sites), so I embarked on optional one-to-one meetings with all staff. I was deputy head under a new head at my previous school who had conducted a similar, yet directive task a year before.
The meetings were insightful and genuinely enjoyable meeting the staff. In a similar vein, I applied this approach to pupils, albeit en masse in separate year group breakfasts. Over my first half term, I have also ingested numerous croissants and pain au chocolats at Lower/Senior School “meet the new principal” breakfasts, although I am not complaining about my intake of pastries and coffees.
I have worked really closely with the school’s senior leadership team (SLT) to start forging strategic term plans. I was fortunate to be permitted to work shadow heads as part of my professional development as a deputy head. One such head had weekly strategic, as well as operational SLT meetings and this was a revelation to me, having only partaken in operational weekly meetings.
The SLT were engaged, active in their discussions and genuinely excited about taking part and I wanted the same when I became principal. Therefore, from my initial meeting with SLT, where I proposed the idea, we have resumed our weekly strategic meetings which has helped to forge not only a strategy but also focus across the SLT. The result, the same that I had observed before.
“I am genuinely excited about the next 15 to 25 years.”
I am only of course in the very early stages of my headship. I’m excited that I’m working with a team who are excited, passionate and determined to continue to ensure St Mary’s is a leading independent girl’s school whilst making sure it continues to evolve whilst maintaining its unique feel. I am genuinely excited about the next 15 to 25 years, apparently that’s the average tenure of a St Mary’s Head and I am sure by then, we would have “evolved” even further!