First impressions are so important, not just in education but in all walks of life. I remember my father telling me the importance of eye contact, a firm but not too firm handshake and a smile as I prepared to go for my first ever job interview as a teenager. I remember his words very clearly 20 years later: “Be confident, even if you’re not, but don’t come across as arrogant.”
Sound advice from the old man, which has always served me well. I actually didn’t get that first job all those years ago, but as I was preparing myself for my first week of headship last week, his words resonated with me once more.
Meeting the team of staff for the first time can be a daunting prospect for new headteachers. Everyone expects you to know all the answers as the head, so one of the most difficult tasks is to be the confident leader you are expected to be but without really knowing too much about what is going on in the school at the start of term.
The beginning of the academic year is a huge logistical beast to conquer and you need an efficient and experienced team to ensure it all goes smoothly.
As the new headteacher I have felt a slight unease at the prospect of not having had any input into the start of term arrangements at my new school, which is something I would’ve known inside out as the deputy at my previous school.
I have to say that the first impression my new team of staff have made on me is very impressive indeed. I have largely sat back and watched it all happen, noting down where I think things could be improved upon – and there hasn’t been too much thankfully, but not being in complete control of it all has been a very different experience.
Another positive observation is the way that both teaching and support staff have just got on with everything, with very little fuss. There appears to be a great team spirit among the staff which is very promising and something that I aim to continue to strengthen.
I mentioned in my column last week that an important aspect of my leadership style will be the relationships with all stakeholders in the school community. One of the drawbacks to headship will undoubtedly be the smaller amount of interaction with students – and I know that not having my own classes will feel very strange.
I have made sure that I am getting out every break and lunchtime, before and after school, and some lesson change-overs so that I can get to know students and they can get to know me. I will be visiting plenty of lessons so that I can gauge the quality of teaching, but I know there are some things that I need to prioritise.
I have quickly realised that the staff are the first group that I need to establish relationships with and I am dedicating a large proportion of my time in these first few weeks to meeting individually with senior and middle leaders.
With a new headteacher starting, some staff will be seeing it as an exciting opportunity to move the school forward and put across their points of view, others might be a bit more sceptical and want to see what I’m made of in these first few weeks.
For me, I want to get across some of my philosophy on education, nothing too heavy just yet, but more of a drip-feed, so that my team can begin to understand the reasons behind decisions that I make and understand what my motivations and aspirations for the school are.
As one of my previous headteachers said to me: “You will never please everyone as a head, but as long as you stick to your principles and what you think is right for the kids, you probably won’t go wrong.”
So between my father and my old boss, I am pretty thankful for their sound advice that has guided me through this important first week.
SecEd’s new headteacher diarist is embarking on his first headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.