What is your leadership ‘why’?

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:

Are you a school leader? If so, what is your leadership 'why'? SecEd's headteacher diarist wants us to remember why we became a teacher – and a leader – in the first place

I was recently asked what my “why” is. It was a response to the same question I had posed to a group of aspirant headteachers – I asked them, and they asked me in return. The specific question was: “Why do you want to be a headteacher?”

My response was quite simple, my motivation hasn’t really changed since I started teaching, it has just evolved as I have progressed into leadership roles.

Back in 2004, when I started teaching, I vividly remember my PGCE tutor drilling into me the importance of retaining the reasons why we selected this profession as our chosen career path.

Teaching is tough, it is a vocation and we will all face challenges throughout our careers. Holding our core motivations close to our hearts will help us through these, he told me.

For me, identifying my “why” was easy. I had always wanted to become a teacher and I’d thought about it a great deal during my formative years at school and university. I simply wanted to have a positive influence on young people and give them opportunities to shape their own futures.

At the time, my vehicle for achieving this was through PE. Now, I have far less direct responsibility for teaching individual students, but my sphere of influence has significantly increased and therefore the focus of my “why” has evolved.

I now strongly believe that as a head, if I can positively influence as many of the adults I work with, I will achieve my original goal but on a much larger scale. If I can inspire the staff in my school to become incrementally more effective in their roles, to retain high levels of motivation and maintain their desire to provide our students with a great education, then this will have a sustainable and significant impact across the many young people who pass through our school over a long period of time. So, my “why” hasn’t changed, it has simply grown.

I was also recently asked, what two pieces of advice would I give to someone who is considering headship. This was more tricky, as I could think of many important pieces of advice and arriving at just two was quite difficult. My first recommendation was that leaders must know themselves really well before embarking on headship.

Having an in depth understanding of your own strengths and limitations is a critical aspect of being an effective, reflective and humble leader. If we are unable to hold up a mirror to ourselves and encourage feedback from others, then we will not be able to grow and develop as leaders.

The notion of self-regulation is an aspect of learning we regularly encourage with our students but it is absolutely critical for headteachers to possess this awareness of themselves.

My second recommendation was closely linked to self awareness, but more focused on values. I recommended that aspirant headteachers need to be completely clear on what it is they stand for in education.

This involves having a clear set of values that you live by and these should permeate through the organisation via your leadership. Every aspect of your decision-making, communication and behaviour should model and exemplify these values.
Headship, while incredibly rewarding, can be very challenging and one of the most effective ways of meeting the daily challenges is through ensuring your core values form the foundation of everything you do. If we can achieve this, then we are not held to ransom by the outcomes of a situation. This approach enables us to focus on the process rather than the product so we can be confident we have led and managed situations from a moral and ethical standpoint.

As the saying goes, “our values should be lived, not laminated” and I think that headteachers are in the privileged position developing a values-driven culture in the education system. 

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


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