Every good idea I’ve had in my life has, I think, been borrowed from someone else. We’re influenced by those we live and work with, and in terms of our professional development, we tend to learn a great deal from both positive and negative role models.
When I look back on my headship, I think of how the lessons and advice of former colleagues, friends in the profession and other headteachers both helped me formulate my vision of the head I hoped to be, and supported me as I honed my school leader skills. The following four examples of this were particularly pertinent:
1. Temperature taking
A friend of mine who took up her headship shortly before I did explained how she’d set up one-to-one meetings with all members of staff in her first term. To give a focus to the conversation and encourage them to talk, she asked them to tell her one thing about the school they hoped might change under her leadership, and one thing they hoped would never change. I thought this was an excellent idea, and proceeded to do the same thing, using the same questions, in my first term. It was an effective way of taking the temperature of the school, identifying frustrations and finding what it was about the school that was particularly valued. Thank you, Jean.
2. Keeping your hand in
When I was head of sixth form, one of the deputy heads I worked with applied for headship. He told me that if he were successful, he planned on teaching each year 7 class maths for one lesson each week, but that he’d be paired with their ‘normal’ maths teacher. His reasoning was that if he had to be out of school, the class would be taught as usual and wouldn’t lose out. I opted to do the same when starting my headship (though my subject was English), and it was hugely useful with respect to learning the names of, and getting to know, each individual pupil, and was a strategy I continued for the full 10 years of my headship. Thank you, Anthony.
3. Honesty and frankness
When I was a deputy, I remember the second head I worked with sharing honestly with me how her confidence as a leader could fluctuate from day to day. “I have days when I think I’m actually quite good at this, invariably followed by days where I think, ‘Who am I kidding? I’m barely getting away with this and someone will find me out!’” There were times during my headship when I felt just like that, and it was helpful and reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone. Thank you, Angela.
4. Forging your own path
Finally, while reading the book Heads – Expert advice for changing times I found the following advice invaluable: “There is only one way to be a head, and that is your way.” Thank you, Brenda.
Jill Berry is a leadership consultant, author and former headteacher