It’s been one of those days and you’ve just about had it up to here…
Any headteacher will be well acquainted with the temperament necessary to get on in a school setting, but the status and demands of the role can test and vex you more than any teaching or SLT job before it.
I love my job! No two days are ever the same! Ask any head and they will tell you that is one of the attractions of this unique role. It’s a unique position and privilege in many ways and different in every educational setting.
Time and experience have taught me that there are some basic principles that can help you ‘keep you cool’ – well mostly!
We all get those days, weeks or even terms where everything seems sent to try us! How can we better cope with those moments when it just drives you up the wall!
Let’s start with acceptance – there are some clichés here but it’s true. Accept the fact that you can’t please all the people all of the time – and occasionally the role and difficult decisions it can involve demands that you can’t please any of them!
There will always be parents and staff members who love to complain – so accepting that it will happen is a big step.
Next accept that lots of people will think that they can do your job (and better) but that its only you who is actually doing it! So let them critique from afar (or not so far) and accept that they won’t really ‘get it’ until they are doing it.
Finally accept that the job is never done! There is no end to the to do list and the constant churn and change – so once you accept you are a change manager the easier it is not to be too hard on yourself that the job is not complete!
Look after yourself
The next thing I have learnt to help deal with the unexpected is to (try) and look after myself. It’s much harder to deal with challenges and stress if you’ve not slept, eaten etc. All work and no play also makes it harder to gain a sense of perspective on school-based issues.
Don’t get me wrong – there are times when you have to ‘burn the midnight oil’ but in general terms I try my best to leave the aspects of the job at school, that I can, and to have a proper evening and weekend.
There will always be those safeguarding concerns and other issues that play on your mind, but other stuff can wait!
Perspective is a crucial strategy for me. I do my best reflection about school from a distance. I also find that talking to a trusted circle of fellow heads either in person or in a WhatsApp group often makes you realise that you are ‘not the only one’ whatever the issue is.
Another strategy I try to employ is to ask myself if the issue is something that will still be there in a months or even a years’ time. I try not to worry about the things I can’t change and to focus on those which I can.
When it comes to moments in school that make you go “arrrgghhhh!” Firstly, go “arrrgghhh” in private and make sure no one can hear! Never lose your temper (but if you ever need to pretend to plan it so that you are in control!) I share as much as I can with my SLT and staff as we are all in it together.
Matt O’Grady is an Essex-based Headteacher, Educationalist, Consultant and Collaborator.