Diary of a headteacher: Getting the ‘soft things’ right


The fast pace of school leadership can mean it is all too easy to forget the importance of the ‘soft things’, as our headteacher diarist has quickly realised.

“The soft things are the hard things.” This is a great Michael Fullan quote and it is something about which I have thought a lot in my first term as a headteacher.

The way I like to interpret this quote is that in the humdrum of day-to-day school life, headteachers neglect the “soft things” at their peril.

During the whirlwind of the first few weeks I prioritised getting to know the school and the people in the school – specifically the staff, the students and the governors.

Since then I have spent a great deal of time making sure we have all the right documents in the right places and that they are as up-to-date as they can be.

This has been quite time-consuming and reviewing key documents such as the improvement plan and SEF will be key pieces of work that I will undertake throughout the year with my senior leadership team.

However, coming back to Michael Fullan’s words, what I have really been thinking about recently is, with all the tasks, processes and policies that we live with in senior leadership, do we dedicate enough time to the “soft things”? 

The soft things for me include the things we do in leadership that are intangible; the every day occurrences that we can’t see but which are really important.

The soft things are those things that we might be tempted to let slide if we have a full calendar or have a large number of tasks to get through in a day.

Being out on the school gate at the start and end of the day, roaming at break, lunch and lesson change-overs. Taking the time to speak to a member of staff who might be having a difficult time outside of school, sending a card or flowers when someone on the team suffers a bereavement, or just popping your head round the door of a colleague who has a lot on their plate. These are some of the things that could quite easily be neglected during the busy life of a headteacher. 

It is all too easy to get whisked away with the relentless pace of life in senior leadership and I am sure that many of us have often said to ourselves “I’ll just get this piece of work done, first” in favour of one of those things that I have just listed.

So, in the grand scheme of things, with all the crucial aspects of a headteacher’s job description and all the pressures associated with running a successful school, why is it important to get the soft things right? 

Quite simply, it is because schools are full of people. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. And people are complicated. They have complicated lives, and sometimes personal issues can affect the way people perform at work, so it is important for headteachers to be emotionally intelligent enough to effectively deal with the vast array of personalities within a school.

And all these people need leadership. They need guidance and advice, challenging and nurturing, empowering and inspiring. They need a role-model who will get to know them as individuals, what motivates them, makes them tick and how to get the best out of them. 

Getting all of this right is probably just as challenging as driving up standards of teaching and learning and improving results; indeed it is very likely that these things could not be achieved without the personal and human aspect of leadership which we might refer to sometimes as the soft things. They might not be the trendiest part of leadership, they are certainly not the most glamorous. But even though I am only 10 weeks into the job, I have quickly realised how important they really are.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.


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