Diary of a Headteacher: What’s your resolution?

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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As a new term begins, our headteacher diarist reflects on how he praises his staff – and also sets us a new year’s resolution challenge

I wonder what 2017 will have in store for us teachers? We have certainly experienced a real kicking over the past five years with change after change passed down from the powers that be.

Some reforms have been welcome, but unfortunately many haven’t and so much change in such a short period of time has taken its toll.

However, I’ve worked really hard to create a positive atmosphere in my school and I always take the opportunity to praise staff when credit is due and do my best to “catch them being good”.

January is an interesting time in the school year. We are about half way with year 11 and things tend to gather pace and momentum with those examination year groups from this point onwards. It is also the time where we step back and take stock of the previous year, identifying how we want to become better teachers and better people.

I thought it would be worthwhile reflecting on an interesting “invisible” reward system I introduced in my school two years ago. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of constantly thanking people to try and create positivity among a group of staff. I have often read blogs from high-profile school leaders who recommend a regular “thank you” to staff in schools. And when I first became a headteacher, this was something I did quite regularly and very subconsciously.

I would blindly thank individuals or groups for something they had done. You might be thinking that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, the problem lies in thanking people for doing what is expected of them within their job description.

The alternative theory goes that, instead, you should use “thank you” carefully and sparingly, using phrases such as “well done” or “good job” more regularly in place of thank you.

To get the most out of the “thank you”, you should wait until someone has done something over and above what you would expect of them. Then the thank you becomes more valuable to the recipient and it has more impact. When they do something truly exceptional you can step it up to a public thank you and beyond that a formal thank you in a one-to-one meeting followed by an email copying in their line manager.

This level of invisible reward for staff has tremendous impact in motivating people but it requires careful thought and discipline. I introduced this two years ago in my first year as a headteacher and it is now one of the most powerful tools I use.

Now that we are in the new year I always try and focus the minds of teachers on prioritising the right things in order to maximise our impact on student learning. A lot of people make new year’s resolutions, but how many of us stick to what we set out to achieve?

How many of our good intentions at the start of a year become genuine behavioural changes that are sustained as part of our everyday lives?

I like to set out a challenge to staff in January and ask them to find one or two aspects of their work as a teacher that they would like to change. I ask them to think of realistic parts of their roles that, if they were to become better and more efficient at, would result in students achieving higher outcomes.

I also lay the challenge down of sustaining these changes beyond January and making them an essential part of the way that we work.

In the past, I have been faced with the response “I’d love to be able to do X, Y and Z but I just don’t have the time”. The simple answer is, if we genuinely want to change something about ourselves as teachers, or even in general as human beings, then we just need to make it happen.

Knock down the barriers that are preventing us from achieving it, dismiss the obvious obstacles that stand in our way and just make it happen. Stop moaning, stop making excuses and get on with it. I guess the only thing you need to ask yourself is, what will your new year’s resolution be and how hard are you going to work to make it happen?

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


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