You may have noticed… I have been rather quiet on the Blogosphere recently. So when very recently some twitter colleagues said some nice things to me – I felt I needed to do something about it. So, through the power of positivity I have found the energy to write about headship once again.
I recently had my @johntomset moment (It’ll come to you if you haven’t had it). I have been the ‘new’ head in my ‘new’ school for almost one ‘old’ term and things have been tough. The mornings are dark and the evenings darker. I have sat in my car on many occasions and had to drum up the courage to walk in; and on those long journeys home songs seem to bring the odd tear to my eye. I have found that these ‘new’ pressures in this ‘new’ situation have affected me at work and at home. At times I even hated myself for it. There was one week where every day something came into my office that caused my stomach to tighten – A week in which I did not do a single thing that added value to the learning experiences of the children in the school to which I am the head.
But, I am still here. In fact, I am feeling very positive about the future… Is this just naïve hope or is there something else about ‘being a leader’ that I happen to be tapping in to that is helping me see things this way? I have questioned myself as to why this is. Why have I not curled up, gone off sick, publicly broken down or just started running (Forest Gump style) and not stopped… I think the following makes some sense to me as to why?
I have aspiration for the school I am currently IN, but no real understanding of its direction yet… I need more time. This is OK! I am learning to accept this. Whilst letting go of the past. I am still a foreign body in the system of my new school. The rest of the school system is carefully working out if I am virus or a white blood cell. This is not a nice sensation. I have had to deal with so many things from the perspective of the ‘uneducated’ that I have, at times, questioned every fiber of my ability to lead and manage. In the same way my old school is coping with the loss through regeneration. I have learnt one thing from this experience:
Headship is HARD.
That does not mean that all heads who survive are East-End cockney gangster hard-nuts (Though I have met a few), or more strategic, experienced, clever etc… I think more and more that the survivors are the resilient ones. How many good heads have fallen due to the pressures of the role? Is being a good head – being a resilient one? Is this the number one attribute you need? I have realised, more than ever – it matters but there is so much more…
Resilience is about knowing your thresholds and knowing what to do when you are in danger of breaking them. Resilience is not about shrugging off the multitude of emotional sludge as it is poured over you day after day… It is about looking at it, feeling it (even tasting it if need be) and working out how best you can clean it off before you go to bed at night. Sometimes this is hard – some stuff you have to deal with in schools is sticky stuff. Worse still you don’t want the past to stain you.
Hence my angry shouting at the car radio last week as Mr Wilshaw said that it was head teachers who make the difference in a school. “THANKS! Yeah, cause I need that pressure RIGHT NOW… you IDIOT!” Might have been the words I used. He said this with the verve of a man who no longer has to do the day to day – Is not at the chalk face dealing with what seems like a rising tide of issues creeping in to my school.
The Ofsted chief said more school autonomy needed to be accompanied by increased monitoring.
SHUT UP! I have to go to panel about a permanent exclusion! This will be my first in 10 years as a HEAD! SHUT UP ABOUT AUTONOMY! I DON’T EVEN REALLY KNOW WHAT (and calm…) autonomy means anymore…
Now, I am a Wilshaw fan. I like his approach and feel that he is genuinely fighting to make schools better places for all. The world of education would be less exciting without him. He is at least one thing – consistent in his challenge. But the problem with powerful people and sweeping statements like this is that it becomes ‘media infectious’. I watched the brilliant ‘Lost Honor of Christopher Jefferies’ this week. This is a fine example of how powerful people dictate the agenda. At times I feel there should be an educational Leverson. I am struggling – and then I have to listen to people not facing what I have faced telling me what a good school needs. I know what my school needs and ‘right now’ I am finding it hard to give it. Soon my strategy will make sense, the rough seas of change will calm and the cans of worms I have turned over will have crawled back into the earth (or will have been eaten). But I am fed up listening to people who are not doing the job I am doing telling me how to do the job… FED UP I TELL THEE! What makes me cross is Wilshaw paints the super head type picture rather than the super group. He is Dolly Parton to my Beatles. Individuals rather than collectives. I know its in the sound bite… but it’s never helpful.
And it is humor that has also been a good side kick over the last few months. Seeing the ridiculous within me and my role cannot be ignored. I may have walked into my office a few times and when I thought no one was looking I have crouched to the floor put my hands over my head and jumped around as John Cleese did as Basil Fawlty. I think no one saw me… I may have ripped my pants. I felt better.
But more than all these things I feel that the conviction I have that I am doing the best job I can do in the circumstances and that I am always refocusing the agenda back to the purpose of the school has been key. And I know I did this in my last school. Though some things have hurt me, some have scared me a little and some have left me bewildered… I am the HEAD and that role is full of significance, honor and purpose to me. I am in a place where I am suddenly so out of my comfort zone (It’s Taming Tigers stuff again) but I am not bored. I am not going through the motions and living on my fading reputation. I may be new and things may be tough… but I am full of life (Even when knackered and moody) and this in turn is full of promise. It is not me you need to feel sorry for – but my wife and kids and some of my new colleagues… They have had to watch me deal with this. Hopefully they will see that I am a better person for it – a better head even?