Diary of a Headteacher: Leading during difficult times

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Times – and budgets – are tough. But if the headteacher is emitting tones of doom and gloom then they risk this permeating through the rest of their team...

The honour of leading a school is a responsibility I take very seriously and I feel fortunate to be able to positively influence so many young people as well as professional colleagues on a daily basis.

But it is no secret that headship is hard. Really hard. And in an education system that still remains at the behest of a high-stakes, high-accountability culture, headship can easily be viewed as a hiding to nothing.

As headteachers, are we really just one set of results away from the sack? Is it genuinely that cut-throat? In some schools or trusts it is, but in many institutions the culture is being driven by love, not fear.

Building a school through a culture of love is the right thing to do – a love of teaching, a love of learning, a love of developing and growing as individuals. However, as humans we inherently focus on the negative aspects of life and I think there is a real danger of this in a school environment. It is no surprise that we often place a negative focus on the world, after all this innate, cautious approach to life is a main factor in the evolution of the human race.

Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. Our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it. So, our default setting as humans is to be cautious, untrusting and suspicious of new things and change.

The problem we have though, is that our education system has been in a constant state of flux for as long as I can remember. When have we ever really experienced stability in national education policy over a sustained period of time?

No wonder we have an issue with recruitment and retention. It seems that as soon as we master something, the goal posts move and we have to work towards a new objective. Or do we? Should our behaviours and actions as school leaders be driven by an accountability measure or by an inspection framework?

Some would argue that a headteacher ignores these at their peril, and I would agree. But they should certainly not be the central driver. We must lead from our educational principles, our own moral code that we develop over time; we must lead ethically and responsibly, always with a focus on doing the right thing for young people.

I recently had the pleasure of delivering part of an NPQH course for aspiring headteachers and one of the themes I spoke about was headteachers needing to be eternal optimists. The sphere of influence headteachers have is incredible and sometimes I think many of us underestimate this considerably.

Therefore, it is more important than ever, in these challenging times in education, for headteachers to be the shining lights of hope; we need leaders who are positive and optimistic about the future and breeding confidence among our staff that collectively these challenges can be overcome.

If the headteacher is emitting tones of doom and gloom through what they say, how they say it and how they carry themselves then this will permeate through the rest of the team.

There may well be dire financial implications for a school, or significant challenges relating to an Ofsted judgement or a bad set of results, but headteachers will be doing their schools no favours if they allow that innate human predisposition towards caution and negativity to take over. What we need are heads who can inspire and motivate their colleagues towards achieving a common goal and there is no doubt in my mind that this can only happen by fostering a culture of love over fear in our schools.

  • The author is a headteacher in his sixth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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