I have been involved in many teams since a very young age and I still think back to the way in which my first coaches and managers created a team spirit within the sports teams I played for.
The unity I felt within these teams, and the strong allegiances formed with team-mates were particularly influential and important when the chips were down and we needed to pull together in order to haul ourselves out of the mire.
I remember inspirational half-time team talks, motivational speeches before matches, the quiet word in the ear when it was needed. I remember the winks, the nods and the pats on the back, the thumbs-up and the high fives.
I certainly remember the collective roastings if the team hadn’t worked hard enough and I remember clearly the sheer exhilaration we felt after a hard fought win, as much as the devastation and despair when we narrowly lost.
I have been lucky enough to work in departments in schools where the team spirit and togetherness has matched that which I felt as a kid on the sports field. In fact, in my first school, in the department of six that I worked in, every single one of us has gone on to be a senior leader. I remember leaving that school after six years and thinking to myself, “I doubt I will ever work in a team like that again”.
Now as a new headteacher, I have to try and build a team who feel a real pride in working for each other and for the students, along with a sense of unity and belonging.
With more than 100 teachers and 100 support staff that is a real challenge, but it is one that I am relishing. A key part of this team-building is regularly speaking to staff and students about our ethos, vision and values and about the importance of sticking to these, even in the deepest darkest days of the autumn term.
Using staff briefings, newsletters, assemblies and training days to publicly deliver these important “team talks” is a really effective way of reminding staff why we are here and how we can work as a team to improve the provision for our students.
Of course there will be many smaller teams within the larger whole-school team, and it is important that these groups are given the tools and opportunities to bond, collaborate and succeed too.
One team in particular has been a specific focus for me in my first month as the new head. My senior leadership team is an incredibly important group for me to work closely with and I have been learning a great deal about this group as individuals and team members since the start of term.
Having worked in a few senior leadership teams over the years, I am conscious that there is a balance to strike for the headteacher, between challenging them continuously, monitoring them closely and allowing them to flourish and lead in their own style.
I have found myself applying many of the principles I would have used with a new class during my first few weeks with them. I’ve made sure I have “caught them being good” and ensured I’ve praised them both privately and publicly. On the flip side I have made sure that I am keeping abreast of everything they are doing by meeting with them individually every week as well as meeting as a team.
A great piece of advice that my previous head gave to me was that as a senior leadership team, we have our arguments and disagreements behind closed doors and it is important that this happens. I don’t want to work with a group of “yes men or women” who blindly agree with everything. However, like any good team, when we walk out together, we must be united in the way that we work, and collectively we must be singing from the same hymn sheet.
SecEd’s new headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.