Diary of a Headteacher: Lessons from the sporting world

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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After a glorious summer of sport, our headteacher diarist is taking some inspiration from our athletes and sports people as he prepares for his second year in the job

The summer holiday break for teachers cannot come quickly enough for some. We drag ourselves through the last few weeks of school, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, for the most part completely shattered after a year of hard graft with our students.

Rest is important for teachers and I think it is crucial for us to rest up properly over the six-week break in order to come back refreshed, energised and ready for the new challenges ahead.

As a PE teacher by trade I learnt about the importance of rest a long time ago. Athletes cannot perform at their optimal levels unless they rest properly and this has to be strategically worked into a training programme by a coach. The same goes for teachers.

Someone I respect greatly once said to me that there would only be one summer holiday I would enjoy more than the one that followed my NQT year – if I ever became a headteacher then it would be the first summer holiday after a year in that role.

I absolutely loved my first year as a head, even though it threw at me several of the greatest challenges I have ever faced – but boy did I need a break! For the first few weeks I completely shut down and did not think about school at all.
It was important for me to switch off for a period of time, spend time with my family and enable myself to gain some perspective.

In the humdrum of school life, the relentless pace and pressure can cause a foggy mist to descend over our sense of perspective and for me it is crucial to ensure I look after my family so that they are not disadvantaged by my level of responsibility. In term-time I consciously create time to be able to achieve this balance, but the summer break offers the ideal opportunity to really spend time with the ones I love.

After another tremendous summer of sport I have been thinking about the parallels between sport and education and how we can apply some of the principles of elite sport to school leadership.

In particular, I have taken a great deal of time to consider how we use coaching and feedback and how as school leaders we effectively deal with pressure. Athletes are required to perform at the highest standard, with no room for error and under significant pressure and stress. The price of failure is huge and a series of poor performances can see careers quickly flit away. Sound familiar school leaders?

So how do we deal with the significant challenges that face us in education? First, we can take a leaf out of the athletics book by being better at giving feedback to staff. I watched the field events from Beijing with great interest and noticed that almost every athlete, following their throw or jump, went directly to their coach in the stand who gave them instant feedback.

If we applied a more athlete-centred feedback model to our approach with teachers then wouldn't that be much more effective than the long wait that we sometimes have to endure before receiving feedback on our performance in the classroom?

And what about the pressure? How do we protect ourselves and our staff from the huge pressure on performance, while still maintaining high standards and expectations? Michael Johnson talked frequently about the mindset of the athletes in his analyses this summer and with the explosion of Dweck supporters within the education profession I don't think there are too many teachers out there who haven't heard about growth mindset.

The way we perceive ourselves, our roles and our expectations of ourselves and our students is the only way that I think we can realistically deal with the pressure in education. Our profession is a vocation and it is our job to ensure we deliver the best possible education for our students. This is a great privilege and at the same time a great burden, and how we perceive our roles in achieving these goals can be the difference between success and failure.

So to all the teachers, teaching assistants and school leaders out there, I hope you've had a good rest, you've done your pre-season training and you are ready to face the challenges ahead. Good luck and remember, we've got the best jobs in the world.

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


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