‘There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.’ Leonard Cohen
This has been hard. I will not lie to you. Finding the positives in being a head teacher, after the few weeks I have had, seemed like trying to find a good reason for a Mocksted. I could not see it… until I read this from @mcladingbowl in reply to @debrakidd asking, ‘Hope you’re still enjoying the new job.’
Loving it. Changing the world one blue handwriting pen at a time… I have the best job in England.
And there it was. It suddenly hit me. I had forgotten that I was changing the world. Somehow I had let everything smother me, like an avalanche. I had lost sight of the satisfaction I got from making a difference. Even more importantly I had lost sight of the fact that I, as headteacher, was in the business of changing lives for the better. Somehow, I had got caught up in other people’s rules. I know, that’s quite a lot from a sentence about handwriting pens. Let me explain:
When I was young I was in love with Kathleen Hanna. Not the usual love a teenager would have. I wanted her to be my ‘best friend’ love. For those who do not know, Kathleen Hanna was the lead singer of a group called ‘Bikini Kill’. There is a recent documentary called ‘The Punk Singer’ out and I recommend it to anyone who cares about music and speaking out… They were the first band that taught me about passion, about having something to fight for. Believe it or not it was the likes of Kathleen Hanna that inspired me to follow what I wanted to do. This was the Punk Rock attitude. To do what you want rather than what you are told to do. That was how I came to be a teacher. I wanted to be the teacher I NEVER had. I wanted to care about others. I wanted to break down poverty barriers, gender barriers, race barriers… I wanted to change the whole world. And then I became a head teacher. Maybe, somewhere along the way, I forgot that ‘hope’ is not a passive thought but a CALL TO ACTION. Because, recently I had let the numbing accountability mount up and it had weighed far heavier than at any other time. I felt I was no longer in this to do ‘good’. I was in this to survive!
So, here’s my survival guide:
- Appreciate the job – love the small things you do to change lives. I mean I could be an events coordinator, or worse, an Ofsted inspector… BUT I AM NOT. I am a head teacher of a wonderful school (with all of its imperfections) and I am proud to be this. If someone said I’d be doing this when I started I would have laughed in their face. Sometimes we need to dwell on the positives even when facing up to the negatives. Especially on those days when I am too tired (or scared) to get out of bed…
- STOP trying to be what you are not… The worse thing that happened to me as a head was outstanding (Note I use it in my blurb). It is a lie. Worst of all, it seems to be a lie I believe in. I perpetuate the myth of it… When will I outgrow this? Hopefully, very soon. I think education has got so caught up in being THIS or being THAT. The idea that outstanding means expertise, excellence or more effort… It’s a LIE. Ofsted (the DFE) have created this false economy and far too many of us believe it. That is not their fault – it is ours. I think I saw some of the best practice of my career in a Special Measures school and some of the worst in an outstanding one.
- YOU are in control. We don’t need a government to tell us how to educate. We don’t need Ofsted to tell us how good (or bad) we are. We don’t need to listen to any of them anymore. So why do we? We are the professionals. This is our career. To the robust teachers and leaders out there – you know best. There should be a revolution! So, who’s with me? (Is this where everyone steps back and I run into the DFE sword or get zapped by the Death star’s super laser?). I remember meeting with @mcladingbowl when he was National Director of Ofsted and he referred to being in the Death star. Is it time for the EWOKs to assist us in the destruction of this machine? We may not have the equipment but surely we have the passion and basic need to do this?
- Be a GOOD person. I cannot say how important this is. As a head, or senior leader, you are constantly tested and the advice is usually about standing tough, being clear, setting the boundaries, or the other clichés about sorting out the weaknesses in your school. The talk is NEVER about trying to accept that you will never have the perfect staffing situation and how are you supporting ALL of the people you do have? What are you doing to invest in the development of those who are struggling or not as good as you would like? You know who I mean… the awkward ones, the defiant ones, the quiet ones, the ‘hate your system’ ones, the moaners and the ‘don’t-fit-iners’. Is it your way or the high way? Or are you showing real leadership and making them part of what is great about your school? One way is easy – if you are a hard person, the other way… that’s ‘real’ leadership. I always ask myself. Are they bad people or is it the system making them like this? You rarely meet ‘bad’ people. Do they understand your system and why it has to be this way?
- FOCUS. Keep your eye on the bigger picture. I have this word written on my office wall. One day I will ask an artist from school to paint it on my nice white office wall. As Edison said, “I haven’t failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If things are not going your way but you are focussed on the right thing – that is PROGRESS. Never forget that.
So, there you have it. That’s it. That’s as positive as I am going to get… My father once said to me, “OPH stop moaning, all jobs are difficult…” It reminds me of the following Vincent Van Gogh quote,
“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”
That is what I am trying to do when facing up to the hardships of my job. I am trying to navigate my way out with my mental state intact. I hate (Sorry) all those people who say, “Look after yourself. Make some family time this weekend!” or “Don’t read emails on a Friday!”. SOD OFF! That just proves how little you understand my situation. There is no turning off… I am sorry, but that is how it is right now. Headship, at times, sucks you into deep and dark places. I do wake up and realise I have been dreaming about the thing that I am now thinking about. I do sometimes feel utterly isolated. I do feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders… But, I am honest about all of this. I then go back to WHY? Why am I doing this? What would I do if I was not doing this? Maybe, one day, I will be able to answer this…But right now. I am changing the world.