As I enter the final few weeks of my first year as a headteacher I have been reflecting on the success of my first year in charge. I have been mentally ticking off all of the major events and issues that I have encountered during this first year and I spoke about this with my mentor recently.
It seems that I have managed to cram about five years worth of headship into one year and it is only when I began to list what I have been through that I come to the realisation that I have achieved quite a lot.
I have definitely developed as an individual and as a leader. I think I have become a better person, a better father and a better husband, and I know this must be hard to comprehend, especially when the perception of headship is that it is an incredibly pressured and stressful job.
A close friend said to me that being a headteacher must consume my life and that I must be living 24/7 within the role. I responded by saying that there is unquestionably a huge amount of responsibility and accountability that comes with the job but to be able to perform effectively as a head I need to achieve the right balance with my interests, commitments and family life.
I have worked very consciously this year to ensure I achieve a healthy level of emotional detachment as a headteacher and this has been crucial in maintaining my sanity. I have developed the ability to have highly pressured meetings at the end of the school day and not bring these levels of stress home with me.
Compartmentalising my work life and home life has been a skill I have developed throughout the year by working closely with a coach who is an experienced headteacher. This has been very helpful in enabling me to develop a new level of maturity and understanding of leadership that I have previously not been exposed to.
Being a headteacher has also helped me put things into perspective. I have developed a greater insight into what is truly important in life, and by coming through some of the huge challenges the job has thrown at me this year I have become increasingly self-aware and even more determined to be the best leader I can possibly be.
I have faced challenges this year which make a poor Ofsted judgement seem like a mere inconvenience and this has helped me to understand just how important it is for a school to have a leader who is calm, emotionally literate, empathetic and understanding.
I have also become increasingly passionate about the power of education in transforming young people’s life chances and about the importance of resonant and authentic leadership in achieving this. Even as an assistant and deputy head, I genuinely think that I didn’t fully understand just how transformational leadership in a school can positively impact on young people’s lives.
It is not until I have been a headteacher for a year that I feel I understand just how pivotal this is and how it will become the greatest privilege and, at the same time, burden that I am likely to encounter.
I have talked frequently about how schools now operate in an environment of high stakes and high accountability and that this puts a great deal of pressure on headteachers. I expected to feel the weight of this on my shoulders when I accepted the job as head – however what I didn’t expect to outweigh this was the huge social responsibility entrusted to headteachers to create an environment in schools that enables students to use their education to improve their life chances.
This, unquestionably for me, is the one aspect of the job that provides me with my greatest motivation and my greatest challenge and it is something I will continue to relish throughout my career.
SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands. His diary will return in September.