“Fight! Brian, there’s a fight in the Nursery!”
I make my way across the hall, in to the Nursery and my jaw drops. Two mothers are entwined on the nursery playground floor, faces red with hate, fingers digging into skin going for the eyes and clumps of hair in each other’s hands. It is change over time and 60 Nursery children and their parents are all stood well away looking shocked. I note 120 pairs of eyes on me.
Suddenly all jovial with my hands flung dramatically wide I shout, “Ladies! Ladies!”
What else could I say? Sometimes in leadership the weight of responsibility is on your shoulders and you are in the SPOTLIGHT! Your every move can be taken away and critiqued. As I said last week, I am not a bouncer. I am not trained to break up fights. But, you have no choice. Those looks are on you and they say, ‘ACT NOW!’ and do it well.
I noted a few articles on @SchoolsImprove this week that really showed this.
New post: Unhappy birthday: Primary school slaps ban on children’s invitations http://bit.ly/1MmmhRT
And my personal favourite:
New post: Primary school to impose ban on pupils running http://bit.ly/1Orldw9
Each of these articles when read show that the leadership took a decision based on their context. As a headline they look nuts. In context they may still seem dubious but often someone else has to make the final decision and when it is NOT YOU it is easier to criticise. I am intrigued as to how leaders stand by their decisions. How they stand tough when the spotlight is burning their eyes.
So, in the Hollywood movie of your career who would play you?
Clint Eastwood? Uma Thurman? Charles Bronson? Sigourney Weaver?
What type of leader are you? You see, you will need to be tough, mentally and physically.
Or is it more a comedy?
Buster Keaton? Greta Garbo? Eddie Murphy? Audrey Hepburn? Bill Murry?
It was the end of the day.
“Brian, there’s a mad dog running around the playground terrifying everyone…”
Two minutes later I am pinned against a wire fence, hugging a rather fierce LARGE dog, my suit covered in mud, whilst 20 parents film me on their mobile phones.
Damned when I did and damned if I didn’t… Walk the walk and all that leadership diatribe. The difference I have found between good and bad leaders is in their ability to read the situation quickly and make a decision that they see through. Good leaders are able to make rational decisions, see the future and act. If I had let that dog continue to roam free and it had bit someone on MY school playground then I would have suffered more than a bite hole in my sleeve and mud on my face. Should I have had to do it? Who else?
I have two emails, sent last night that question a decision I made this week. They are easy to answer and both have jumped to conclusions that in some ways are my fault. Tough decisions need CLEAR communication. So often when we do the tough things in school we need to ACT on the spot, fire fight or just jump in. We have no time to explore the situation. We act on gut instinct and as we know this will not always mean we are acting on our BEST instincts.
But, action is communication.
We are not programmed for headship. Most of us have grown to be teachers and we practice our craft in the classroom. Most of us were good at it. Suddenly we are thrust (either by others or at our own propulsion) into the leadership arena. Nothing can really prepare you for how tough it will be. When your Educating X moment happens; when the camera peeps into your life and catches you crying at your desk because it seems so overwhelming you need to remember why you are at that desk.
I became a head early in my career. I had only been in teaching for 8 years when my head teacher (I was deputy) was suspended on the spot. I had 10 minutes with her in my soon to become office and never saw her in school again. My introduction to headship was ALL trial by fire. I bumbled, I stumbled and I tumbled my way through two and a half years as acting head. I loved every second. Now I realise that this preparation was totally inadequate. I remember when I moved to Bristol a very experienced and well respected head told me at my first Head Teacher Conference, “It’s pathetic how people as inexperienced as you become heads so quickly!” I was outraged, but I can see what she was trying to say. I know many very young and very good head teachers but if they are not tested in the mentally tough arena then I find that it is more than likely they will not be heads for very long. You can learn the skills of headship over time but learning to stand up when you have been knocked over time and time again? You only know if you can do this when it happens. It happens in so many ways:
It is tough to say sorry to a parent, a child, a member of staff or a governor.
It is tough to tell a colleague you respect that they are stepping out of line.
It is tough to admit your ‘genius’ three part school improvement plan blows.
It is tough not acting today when all those around you are expecting you to.
It is tough admitting you are scared.
It is tough telling your staff that the sound of siren’s they hear are due to bombs going off at Aldgate East tube station and while M takes assembly they can try to contact their loved ones (While you as acting head do not know where your wife or new born child are).
So, when you are in the spotlight and your leadership decisions are naked to all who can see them remember – it is tough… but so are you. As Eric Cantona says in Looking For Eric, “I am not a man. I am Cantona!” You need to look in the mirror (I had a mentor who REALLY did make me do this) and say, “I am not a man/woman… I am the leader!”