I was appointed to my first headship in November 2019 and was – like many others – thrown into the rollercoaster of the pandemic. It was a baptism of fire to say the least and even the most experienced school leaders struggled at times.
Instead of a joyful first summer of visits and events, it was one of constant crisis management. However, I learnt a great deal, and was potentially kinder to myself than I might have been in more normal school circumstances.
As a newly appointed head I experienced all of the following:
- Impostor syndrome
The list could continue…
For me professionally Covid opened up a world, ironically at a time when the rest of the world was closing down. Within the sector the support and professional friendship was incredible. I found myself added to Whatsapp groups and involved in online meetings with peers from other schools. The generosity of these people is something I will always be grateful for.
“The first summer was one of constant crisis management.”
I cannot speak for the state sector, but the collegiate approach within the independent sector was brilliant, and undoubtedly made all the difference to a new head at the start of her journey.
It made me realise how important it is to build a network; I love being part of a team, and this can be harder to achieve when you are a head; we are often told how lonely the role can be.
For anyone considering headship I would highly recommend finding and nurturing a network. There will be experienced colleagues in other schools who will generously and sincerely mentor and support you, and they are worth their weight in gold. I was honest when I needed help and I shared my worries, and every single time I was helped, supported and championed. I now consider these people my friends and I feel very proud to be part of such a genuine and sincere network.
“For anyone considering headship I would highly recommend finding and nurturing a network.”
Without covid I am not sure this support network would have been so readily available or accessible, but I hope that we will all hold onto the benefits of working together that we discovered in the most troubling times.
Relationships are also key within your school. Successful ones can be different for different people and varying styles of leadership, but they will underpin your performance as a head.
I also worked with a professional coach within the first year, who supported me in the run up to and early stages of my headship. This provided me with strategies to deal with the more challenging aspects of the job, and is also something I would recommend for anyone considering headship.
I think most interviews for headship will include an element of planning for the future. I look back to the presentation I gave in my interview with a wry smile, as what I thought I needed to focus on, and what I actually needed to focus on were very different.
“Try not to fear the need for change, and trust your instincts.”
Time is a luxury we rarely have in teaching, and headship is no different. Many of us will say our intention is to observe initially, perhaps for up to twelve months… the reality is likely to be different, and I have rarely met a new head who is not battling the need for change earlier than they either expected or wished for. Try not to fear the need for change, and trust your instincts.
You will evolve and develop as a head, and this is an exciting part of the journey. Embrace it, and go with it. I look back to three years ago, and my ability to respond to a challenging situation is now not something I doubt or feel concerned about. This leads me onto my next point, which is problem solving.
Generally speaking, I quite like problems, as more often than not we can find a solution. The process of finding this solution is both energising and rewarding, and keeps the job fresh and interesting. Solving a problem also helps people and I think this is something we like doing as teachers. As a head, I feel I am always working on a jigsaw puzzle.
“Generally speaking, I quite like problems.”
Often the pieces are hidden for the best part of the academic year, and then all of a sudden they appear and slot into place. Those hidden pieces can cause sleepless nights, but I am learning to trust that I will find them; often in the nick of time.
As a head, I have to accept that there are times in the academic year that things are out of my control. I do not like this feeling, but there are times that no matter what you do, how hard you work, that things don’t go your way. This hurts, but we have to be resilient and we have to dig deep.
Being pragmatic definitely helps. We often hear the saying “every day is a school day”, and I do find myself thinking about this a lot. I fear complacency, and so I try very hard to ensure that I remain open to new ideas and avoid my school becoming one where “that is not how we do it here” is the norm.
I love visiting other schools, and I actively engage with other schools and colleagues on social media. The independent sector is resourceful, creative and innovative, and there are fabulous ideas everywhere if you take the time to look. I attend courses, talk to people and also work as a governor for other schools (both state and independent).
“On a good day it is the best job in the world, and on a bad day it is not.”
I am hugely grateful for these opportunities and they provide the very best personal development. Schools can be insular and it is key that we as heads don’t allow ourselves to only look inwards. This links with the importance of developing a network, and I very much look forward to the termly IAPS meetings, as an opportunity to both learn and also decompress with colleagues.
I love being a head. On a good day it is the best job in the world, and on a bad day it is not. The responsibilities, pressures and concerns are real, but the rewards are wonderful. I love getting to the point when I know the children are ready to leave being the very best versions of themselves.
Every stage of education is preparation for the next, and knowing that my pupils are fully prepared for the next stage of their education is the ultimate goal.
I am not sure there is ever a “right” time to apply for a headship, and so I would encourage anyone considering it to take the leap. The future is challenging for the sector, but challenges also present opportunities and being a head is a great opportunity.
Finally, I try very hard to remember why I became a teacher all those years ago. As a PE teacher, I always have my whistle to hand and don’t need to be asked twice to umpire a match or accompany a fixture.