In these final few weeks of term I have been reflecting on my first year as a head. I have been thinking back to the goals I set myself, my “first 100 day of headship plan”, and whether or not I think I have achieved what I set out to do.
I have received some great advice and I have learnt a great deal, both through experience and through taking up a more research and theory-based approach to leadership. I’ve definitely got some things wrong, which I have realised with the benefit of hindsight, but on the whole I think my judgement and decision-making has been pretty good.
A golden nugget of advice that was offered to me was that as a leader you are judged by your staff not only on the decisions you make but also on the rationale behind your decisions. It is important to be clear on why you are making certain decisions. After all many of them won’t be popular, and by doing this the staff can at least then understand why you have chosen a particular course of action.
I read somewhere that great school leaders have to strike the balance between emotion and reason in order to make decisions that have the greatest positive effect on their students, staff and the other various stakeholders within a school.
But schools are very complex organisations and although the education sector is becoming more business-like through academisation, there are still many peculiarities and nuances that make it such a unique sector to work in. This often makes the decision-making process for school leaders so much more complicated and it undoubtedly increases the importance of making the right choices.
I remember being asked during my interview for this post: “How do you ensure you make the right decisions on a daily basis?” My answer involved three key components – emotional intelligence, sound educational moral values, and trusting my intuition.
Emotional intelligence is critical for school leaders because our schools are full of people, and people are complicated. They all have their own motivations, opinions and agendas and by our very nature, us educationalists are very passionate people. This means that emotions often run high in schools, especially when it comes to the big issues. Therefore, in order for us to make good decisions we need to manage and understand our own emotions, as well as those of the people we work with.
As a new head it has taken a while to really get to know those around me and understand how they work, but the more time that passes the easier it gets to know how certain things affect certain individuals.
Someone asked me recently: “What do you spend most of your day doing as a head?” My response was that I have to make lots of decisions and more often than not I don’t have a lot of time to think about them.
Being able to remain calm, subjective and empathetic have been important for me this year in making some of the tough decisions I have been faced with. Understanding the implications of a decision and the impact this will have on other people has been crucial in gaining the respect and trust of the staff.
The final two parts of my answer are inextricably linked. Good decisions in schools will always have a sound moral foundation and my own personal educational moral code is always at the heart of everything I do as a school leader. Therefore when it comes to trusting my gut instinct, which is something leaders talk about a lot, I know that mine is based on solid moral foundations.
As I enter the final few weeks of my first year as a headteacher I know there will still be tough decisions to make, after all this is the nature of the job. However, I know that by drawing on the experiences I have accrued throughout this year and by sticking to what I believe is the right thing to do for our students, then I will arrive at the best possible conclusion.
SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.