When headteachers change

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Teachers like their routines and dealing with change can be hard – especially when that change is your very own headteacher. Our NQT diarist tells us how she's coping.

Spring is a time to celebrate new beginnings. At our school we have just experienced a particularly significant new beginning – we have a new headteacher.

I know to some schools this may not seem like a very big deal at all; from what I hear on the grapevine there are some schools which are lucky to hold on to a headteacher for more than a term.

Ours is not one of those schools. We have a history of long-serving heads dedicated to improving the education of young people. Take a stroll down the school corridors and you might be forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled into Hogwarts by mistake; their portraits hang grandly, watching over us generation after generation. 

A change in leadership will inevitably be followed by changes to the school. Change is an interesting word that invokes many emotions. It has been argued that humans are not really built for change and are creatures of habit. It is surely evident to most of us NQTs from our experience of teaching that, even from an early age, human beings thrive on routine.

There is a psychological explanation for this. Simply put, behaviours that can be performed habitually require very little concentration, allowing us to conduct many of the necessary daily activities without tiring our brains, thus providing space for our brain to focus on other behaviours – i.e., multi-tasking. Change requires that we deviate from behaviours that are familiar to us and therefore change requires effort.

This is my first experience, since my career in teaching, of a change on this level. I am excited and curious as to what it will mean for the school, pupils and staff. I am interested to see how such a change tangibly impacts the worker bees on the ground as, in all honesty, life within my classroom so far feels no different. I still get here for 7am and leave at 6pm. I teach the same pupils in the same rooms. I still plan and mark in the same maths office with the same team of teachers and eat the same food and drink the same tea.

Simultaneously I know that it is inevitable that, at some point, I will feel a change. Will this be gradual change, subtle and stealthy? Or are there drastic changes to come? I feel it will be the former; our new head has made it clear that change for this school should be a process of evolution rather than revolution.

While this change of leadership is significant for my school, the broader issue of how we deal with change has implications for every member of the teaching profession. Change is not just happening in our immediate school; change is apparent on a much wider scale. Curriculum changes, changes in funding and the changing landscape of state versus academy and free schools are all hot topics. One head of a nearby school recently said that, having been visited by Ofsted three times in the past five years they had experienced three different frameworks for inspection. 

On the surface this can appear daunting; how can we give pupils the best education possible when the framework in which we operate is ever-shifting? However we needn’t fear; all it takes is a glance over our shoulders to see that we are not the first generation of teachers to face these challenges. Well-seasoned teachers have assured me that this constant ducking and diving is not a new phenomenon. I can only conclude that to survive a career in teaching in the long term, we NQTs will need to shed our love of habits and become chameleons; masters of change.

  • Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary.


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