Warriors and warhorses span the horizon, as a reluctant leader stands alone on the battlefield, sword in hand. We watch as he sighs heavily, exhausted from his last confrontation. And yet, though the odds are stacked against him, our battle-worn hero summons all the energy and determination he can muster and readies for the fight…
Readers who saw Game of Thrones’ face-off between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton may have found themselves identifying with the former’s predicament. In ancient history, it was the leader and ruler who occupied the most vulnerable position in battle, at the front and centre of their army. Today, this unenviable role has parallels in the job performed by headteachers, particularly when they’re up against it.
I’ve faced my fair share of challenges. My SATs progress scores have been below the national average, with everyone from County to inspectors demanding immediate answers. An angry parent once wrote to my Board of Governors calling for my resignation. Staff disputes have involved heated exchanges with union reps. I was reported to Ofsted for encouraging terrorism, following a TV show where I took my pupils clay pigeon shooting. One national newspaper reported that I’d slaughtered someone’s pet pig, while another claimed I’d taken my Y3 children hunting.
My own approach when dealing with such situations is to first take stock and ask myself some serious questions.
What’s actually happening here? What does the spread of possible eventualities look like, from worst case scenario to the best? How can I steer events in the direction of the most favourable outcome?
I then look for my allies, as it’s often when life get difficult that we see clearly who our real friends and supporters are. Those feelings of loneliness can be alleviated by sharing our thoughts with colleagues we can trust. It’s then a case of weathering the storm, for which we need resilience. Resilience is cultivated through experiencing adversity; the more we rise to a particular challenge, the more resilient we become. Every challenge can be seen as an opportunity for us to grow stronger, however uncomfortable it might feel at the time.
I also remember to do two important things. The first is to look after myself. Sometimes, when things are bad, our appetite goes and we forget to eat. We get into bad habits, like not drinking enough water, overloading with coffee and not getting enough sleep. These will only magnify the problem at hand and make us feel worse. We can’t problem solve without adequate sleep, food and water.
The second thing I do is look for the positive. There will always be something in our lives that we can say is okay. Even something very small can sustain us through the dark times.
Jon Snow ultimately won his epic battle against the evil Bolton. Jon’s initial feeling of hopelessness was replaced by a resolve to never give up and fight for what he believed in. Unexpected allies subsequently joined forces with him and the tide turned in his favour.
As headteachers, we’ll always be at the forefront of our battles. However, if we look after ourselves, accept support from others and never stop believing, we’ll ultimately be triumphant. And those battle scars will only make us more resilient for the next time.
Mike Fairclough is the Headteacher at West Rise Junior School