“What do you even know about leadership? You’re a woman, and someone who has only been here for a short time!”
This was a question, levied at me by a parent who sat in my reception area verbally abusing the receptionist and conducting a ‘sit in’ until he spoke to the headteacher. His complaint though minor, still provided learning for me: 1) Develop a thicker skin; 2) Make the policies clearer for harder to reach parents; and 3) Keep a close eye on his daughter!
This school, the second school I have had the privilege to lead as headteacher, is in special measures, in a tough area of Yorkshire. But where do you start leading a school like this? The points below are those I have learnt, from experience of starting at the very beginning.
1. Form relationships with people quickly and honestly. Listen.
I was lucky enough to have been the deputy in the first school I led so already knew the children, the teachers and the areas we needed to improve from the inside, not just from the data. The relationship network had to expand quickly outwards, to include governors, the CEO, the local Iman, the parents.
2. Be solution focused.
There is a solution to any problem, so avoid becoming bogged down in the ‘why’ and concentrate on that solution. This was one of the best pieces of leadership advice I received early on. Next time a member of staff comes to you with a problem, cut through the reasons, ask what the solution is and how they want your help to fix it.
3. Know your finance.
My business manager was a lifeline in my early days, with weekly meetings a must to understand what we could and couldn’t afford. It helped that my CEO was supportive of how we needed to drive the school forward, but knowing where you can save money to spend money is a must.
4. Your staff are your greatest resource.
Your vision can only be achieved if your staff are onside. From experience, staff respect honesty, they will come with you if they can see your passion and drive is aligned with theirs. Of course, you will want to introduce new things, but staff and students know what the school needs to do to improve, so ask them. You often receive a succinct and truthful answer. Do this before you create your vision and then sell it back to them, repeatedly over the next few months.
5. Never forget the why.
The children are the light in your life. What you are doing is for them, so always find time in your day to speak to children. At any point of the day, you can guarantee that one of them will say something that will make you smile and remember why you do this job.
My mantra has always been ‘we can always improve our practice’. Seeking ways to consistently improve and modelling this, will ensure we can continue the fight for deep social justice for all children.
Looking for extra support?
I encourage you to check out our Application and Interview Support for Headship Positions programme. While some people may seem to sail through, there are things all of us can do to improve our chances of success and this programme provides practical support for anyone applying for headship.