Leadership: Remember, it’s we not me...

Written by: Colin McLean | Published:
Image: iStock

Colin McLean speaks to headteacher Christine Mitchell to get her advice for those starting a new headship this term. The key, she says, is to remember ‘we not me’

When it comes to making a flying start in any leadership role, the first three months is a crucial timeframe.
It is no different for headteachers. Those first days are when leaders lay the bedrock for the future as well as swiftly make decisions for early success.

Christine Mitchell has recently experienced the challenge of those first days in headship. She has just completed her first year as a headteacher at Chadwick High, a 90-pupil secondary pupil referral unit and medical school in Lancaster.

After a career working as a mainstream school teacher and head of department, Christine felt that she had progressed as far as she could and headship called.

Having always had a passion for working with pupils who were more challenging she went to work for a pupil referral unit to gain experience in working in alternative provision, while at the same time completing her NPQH. She secured her headship at Chadwick High in early 2015.

Remember you are part of a team

“As a new headteacher you have to be mindful that you can’t go into a new school with a hero complex. You might come in with new ideas, structures and systems but you need the input of your staff to tweak and enhance these plans – and you need their skills and ideas to help implement them in a way that suits the context of the school. School leadership is about ‘we’, not ‘me’.

“It’s important to be consultative if you can. At Chadwick we were in a turnaround situation – the school was in special measures when I joined – so my initial actions were very much influenced by the Ofsted report.

“In most cases you need to find out what your staff think of where they have been, where they are and where they are going to and then speak to them on an individual and a group basis and use this feedback to inform your vision and future actions.”

Be accessible

“The school is based in two separate buildings and the previous headteacher’s office was on the top floor of one of the buildings. As part of a restructuring of the organisation of the buildings I moved my office to the middle of the building – just off the school hall – where the more challenging pupils were to be based. Our students are vulnerable and they need a lot of support so you need to be visible and accessible so that you can develop a very strong relationship with them.

“It also means that staff can find me easily, my door is always open, and I can be out and about and visible very easily.”

Put values at the centre

“Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing every day. For me it is about giving the pupils the opportunity to re-engage with learning and education and I’ve tried to communicate this at every opportunity. My vision for the school is about improving the life chances of a vulnerable cohort and giving them the same opportunities as mainstream school pupils – just because our pupils are being educated outside the mainstream does not mean that they do not deserve a top quality education.”

Draw on your professional development

“I did NPQH before I became a headteacher and it really did prove valuable for headship. The course gave me an opportunity to read all the theories about leadership and taught me basic principles of leadership such as how teaching and learning has to be at the centre of everything.

“It made me fine-tune my own leadership style and gave me the confidence to do it. My leadership project at my placement school as part of the programme proved relevant for my headship. I was tasked with reviewing the behaviour policy and use of the inclusion room, while also looking at whether the behaviour policy was being consistently applied. I then used my findings to deliver a whole-staff training session which looked at the evidence I had gained and outlined other strategies for behaviour management, which have had a positive impact.”

External support

“Doing the NPQH programme gave me the opportunity to create a support network. I still pick the brains of my mentor, other headteachers I have worked with and colleagues I met on the course. Everyone needs that. Everyone needs a headteacher to talk to, a voice outside the school who you can consult on any issues or challenges you may have and ideas you are developing.”


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