Looking back over the last 12 months of this column, I am struck by how much the three contributors, including myself, have covered over time – and also by how much empathy I feel with my fellow heads when I read their columns.
The common themes ran through – Ofsted, the chief inspector, the secretary of state, exams entry and grading, staffing, and of course, the most important of all, our students, all have featured regularly.
It seems to me that at this time of year it is permissible to concentrate a little on ourselves as heads. As we come to thoughts of the summer break and plans to take some respite from the day-to-day rigour of leading our schools, I reflect on the breadth of our work and the need like never before for strong and optimistic leadership based on the three “Rs” – resilience, reflection and responsibility. Just as we hope to inculcate these skills in our students, they also go hand-in-hand with the territory of headship.
Resilience (over a sustained period of time with very little down-time) is critical to lead our most senior colleagues as they evaluate, plan, and share, as well as to take on board whatever “comes through the door” – which these days means the virtual as well as the physical.
We have to work effectively, to recharge our batteries and to know ourselves so that we are able to judge when we need to take a break – because a tired leader, stretched beyond their “elastic limit” is neither “use nor ornament” as my grandma used to say.
The hours spent on-site create their own challenges. We start each day early and it ends when it ends, taking into account school events involving students, governors’ meetings, parent events or meetings of local groups which may require headteacher presence.
Obviously, we have to delegate some of these responsibilities, not least to give opportunities for colleagues to develop their skills, but there are times when only the head will do!
Reflection and taking the time to reflect brings with it refreshment. How many of us do our best thinking when we have the opportunity to spend time out of school, perhaps prompted by a speaker at a conference or meeting?
We also need the time to think about the outcomes we are trying to achieve, to read widely so that we know what is on the horizon, what is setting off from the other side of the global educational sea and will soon appear on the horizon, and where we are on the journey.
It is important to think about where we have come from, as we work in a world of constant change and the constant uplifting of expectation. Teachers do not normally sit around self-congratulating, but it is important to be realistic in terms of acknowledging the successes we have seen.
We must reflect on our moral purpose. You don’t move schools without hard graft on the part of all, and narrowing gaps – particularly for our disadvantaged pupils – is hugely important, to the children, their families and our country.
To achieve this, challenging and supporting staff in the required measure comes about as a result of sound emotional intelligence.
Last but not least – Responsibility. It comes with the job. Hopefully, it is built into the training which comes about with being a member of a senior leadership team, but one cannot understand it fully until you move around your school for the first time and see the expectation, the hope, sometimes the cynicism, but hopefully also the support that you will be given.
Two more “R”s will be coming soon in the form of rest and recuperation – before we return for more of the same in September.
Have a great summer!
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.