23 Aug

Starting a headship in September? Here’s advice I was given…

I will be starting my 5th year of headship in September – and I don’t need to say how quickly that time has gone. I would be being dishonest if I said that I love it – I have a mixed relationship with the job at times. It is complicated by the small school (around 80 children) in which I currently work – which means that over the last two years my teaching commitment has crept up to .6. Being so busy that I feel I am not quite functioning at my best has become the norm – I just have to be okay with that.  

I thought I would share three key pieces of advice I have been given (and you have probably been given too) over the years and see how they aged… 

  1. You must make time for yourself! An empty battery can’t power anything else. (Or variations of that theme; buckets etc.) 

To be honest this advice used to annoy me the most. I found it patronising and often felt like throwing my diary to those who said this. Why wouldn’t I want to make time for myself?! I love my life! Wouldn’t I do it if I could?! Well, it turns out I didn’t…  I moved to one of the most beautiful places in the country and barely left a square ten miles of it for a year. Then I got talking to an electrician who said to me something along the lines of ‘I’m to expensive for that, you need someone else…’. Simple advice that made me think. Am I using my time and expertise for the best here?! In a small school – was I just the most expensive painter and decorator? Was I really the best person to continually cover lunchtimes? (Note this is different to being ‘visible’ – of which I am a huge advocate). So, with the help of a brilliant governor I sat down and looked at a typical week (or so – typical is atypical to be honest). I then began to honestly review what I was actually using my time for – and then costed it. And went from there. I managed to make better use of school resources, and also made more time for the things that I amm actually good at (not many things to be fair, but I was getting tired of being a jack of all trades). This meant that I had to say right, I’m leaving at this time on a Tuesday. Wednesday afternoon is my PPA time for my class work. Coaching a teacher takes place at this time. Parent open door policies cannot apply first thing I’m afraid – and that age old one ‘Have you spoken to the class teacher? – which seemed to solve 6 out of 10 problems. Good advice which is often not acted on. Be ruthless with your time and imagine you had to pay yourself your hourly rate – are you giving the school good value for money? After all, good head teachers are hard to find!

  1. This [insert problem that has arisen that morning] won’t matter in six months. Just sort it and leave it!

It’s weird – I have a kind of ‘inverse reaction’ to the perceived seriousness of an issue. A huge police-involved safeguarding issue and I was calm as a cucumber ready to call meetings and to speak to children. Behavioural issues – acted without a thought. But, a phone call about the homework policy, or a slight off-message chat with a member of staff and I could be a wreck for hours, days even. Constantly going over the situation.. Was the policy up to date? Had I really said that?! And so on… Luckily I have some amazing Headteachers around me (and some who were not so willing to help… trust your instinct here and avoid those) and one fab one, who had the misfortune to call after one such problem arose and was almost ruthless in her dismissiveness.  I was a bit taken aback – but she was absolutely right. And that really is all to say about this. You might need someone to talk through a few issues – and it helps to have brilliant staff at school that you can use to get a perspective but really, as the Persian wise man said ‘this too shall pass’. 

  1. Always be reasonable – by taking a reasonable stance you put others in the position of being unreasonable. 

My brilliant mentor said this to me – and whilst it may sound a bit unrealistic it has kept me sane in a number of situations. It can be easy to want the upper hand in a dispute – or to just put your foot down about something because, after all, you are the head teacher! But really – is it worth it? Compromise is often harder to do, but if you can be reasonable about something then do. Whoever is causing the conflict. It can help to take a moment and consider, simply, what the reasonable thing to do would be… 

 

Other advice was handed out over the years as well – and I may look over those in the next post! Would love to hear advice you have been given, and how it worked for you.

27 Jul

Why every new Headteacher needs a mentor.

It’s that time of year again, July draws to a close and though we plan August, we inevitably start to think about September. We contemplate new positions and, as is only natural, we seek advice from those already in that position. I’ve been fortunate enough to have four years in my first headship position now and I always read those ‘new to headship’ advice columns with a wry smile. Of course get to know your school, yep, you need to build your team. Spend time in the classroom – every classroom -and naturally ask questions of your governors. And do all of this at a slow pace. No point at all in rushing. All of this seems to make sense.  One thing often overlooked is the importance of a mentor. 

I have always sought out mentors. And I’ve always asked, using that language, if someone will mentor me. I don’t always connect them with my current role but they are always people think differently to me – have a different outlook or a different attitude. To that end I think you should search out your own mentor as a new head. I don’t think using your own previous headteacher would work, as the chances are you have already learnt their mannerisms and know their advice automatically. They may also be super busy, and you need people who can commit to a regular time and don’t clock watch too much.

As a new head, ask your governors to shortlist people who may be able to help. Work out what your needs as a mentee are – do you want someone with precious experience in the role? Someone who can offer specific experience -e.g. financial aspect or local knowledge. Perhaps you know someone who you think would be perfect already? In which case ensure that it is a formal arrangement – it can’t just be a friendly chat. You need to feel safe, and feel that you are supported.

  • Set a regular time to meet
  • Discuss boundaries with phone calls (or ’emergencies’)
  • Make sure they have the time- this is often what goes wrong with full time Headteachers.
  • Make your expectations clear – have you identified an area of your role that you are not as confident with?
  • Protect the mentoring time – no matter how busy you are. You need at least half an hour, and it can be via the phone.

On a more personal note, my mentor sadly passed away this year. It caused me to reflect both professionally and personally on the gains from this relationship and just how fortunate I was to find such a brilliant influence on, not just my career, but my life as a Headteacher. An exceptionally calm and stabilising influence – able to condense experience into optimistic advice which made sense, not just soundbites and platitudes. Not necessarily someone who everyone agreed with, but principled and with a long view who could bring things into perspective when needed.

I identified that my need would be more about my own reaction to adversity – I needed a calm and experienced voice who would help me to realise that what I was tackling was, usually, nothing out of the ordinary. I didn’t need someone to remind me to check data; to ensure the website was Ofsted compliant or that progress was good. I was doing all that to myself already. Looking back at my first couple of years as a Headteacher I realise just how important that calm voice was. Our regular meetings (no matter what else I was dealing with) were incredibly supportive and, importantly, made me realise that I had to look after myself.  

It is hard in our profession to make space and time to reflect, especially with another, just as dedicated, professional, but it is a habit worth forming.