“How does this end? Tell me how this ends!” Phone Booth.
Affirmation is something every head teacher needs. Some leaders may think they are at the summit of educational achievement. They may have an aura of power and mystery about them (or a smell of sorts). Trust me all head teachers feel as vulnerable as the next teacher, many more so. They are flesh and bone desperately trying to make sense in a complex place. The problem is many hide it away because they are afraid that any vulnerability could be seen as weakness. Weakness that is a disease which rots away your authority and breaks you down in to a messy pool of grey slime which eventually ends up on the bottom of someone’s boot.
The way we chose to act in school is crucial. The way leaders act even more so. How many of us can accept that we are wrong? Not small wrongs but wrong in big ways – fundamentally wrong about the thing we are seen as the leader of? If I told you I was wrong, on more than a few occasions, does that make me a lesser leader? Monthly, weekly… daily?
Last week I was copied in to a tweet that basically said that Ofsted was not holding leaders (SLT) to account enough. It was the teachers who got the pointy end of the Ofsted prodding stick. I could not disagree more. I would love to be the fly on the wall in an office where the head told the inspectors, “Well, they’re rubbish. They don’t listen to me!”. In schools it is leaders who are accountable and if things are going wrong then they have signed up to accept that accountability. It is simple. Ofsted absolutely hold leaders to account, none more so than the head. I do not think this is seen clearly by many people in education though. If twitter is to be believed it would seem that education is drowning in ‘Soulless Husks’ attempting leadership, badly. There is a culture of US and THEM. Many tales of awful behaviour supported with little real evidence. As @theprimaryhead put it – ‘the oracle that is Secret Teacher’. I am not supporting any heads or school leaders who use their positions of authority to undermine or make the lives of teachers miserable (Though I have to ask, “Why would they do that?”). I am also NOT saying that terrible things don’t happen all too often. What I am saying though is we need to understand the difference between ‘idiots’ and ‘the challenges of leadership’.
I worry because this US and THEM culture is damaging to education. It is bitter and almost troll-like in its aggression. It blindly ignores many of the difficulties that leadership brings. It ignores the difficulties and often it creates imaginary solutions without understanding the context of the decisions being made.
For example, a criticism that has been levelled at me in the past has been:
“Sometimes it feels like you run this Academy like a business”
Well… that’s because it is! It’s often levelled as though I do not care about children. As though I should go in to banking or something equally cold and heartless. I run it like a business because I CARE about the children. It’s usually at this point you see how far you are apart in the argument. I would be neglectful if I did not run an effective business. Trust me when you inherit a massive deficit budget CARING is the first thing on your mind. Even when you are making the toughest decisions. This is why school business managers are usually the least understood person in a school. It seems that many in education have a view of schools that is so far removed from the 21st Century reality of running a school.
Another criticism of leaders is that they have a cold-distance from the front-line staff . I have been told I don’t know people. That sometimes I don’t even acknowledge people in the corridor. That is an awful thing to hear people say of you. I always thought I was a ‘people person’ (*gags) Often I just have to accept that staff will see me as a removed and distant uncaring bastard. The truth is far more complex. My day will involve ‘many’ difficult and big dilemma’s. Right now I could quickly list 10 children who I have to worry about, a School Development Plan that is enormous and challenging, I could quote 10 difficult future staffing and resourcing problems. Sometimes I get in to school and before I know it I am putting the key in the door and saying goodnight to my children – the day was a blur. I don’t blank people because I am a heartless snob. I blank people because my world is full of stuff and sometimes it is very difficult to see. I am not saying this makes it right.
I think I am asking for a little deeper thinking when criticism of leadership is bandied about on twitter. I am certainly asking for the US and THEM brigade to look at the barriers they create. Everyone should feel that leadership is a crucial part in the education of children. They should see how effective leadership (Including making unpopular decisions) is key to being at the heart of the school and how one persons bad decision can easily be another’s success story. The difference is someone had to stand up and make it. That’ll be the leader. Even if they end up in the One for a Leader Who Doesn’t Care about Teachers File. The fact they are the leader is they make the call rather than discuss it. They have to live with it.
November 29, 2015 at 12:39 pm
Well this needed saying.
I was for many years a member of SLT and I worked hard for and with the people I lead. It was my mission to strip out anything that was pointless or time consuming or of little. I was responsible for assessment and I made it my mission there to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible. I resisted formal assessments 6 times a year and I got rid of written reports – think what work that saves the average secondary teacher! I refused to do decimalised levels – if you can show me the difference between level 5.1 and 5.2 I take my hat off to you. I kept the data to a minimum to avoid us all being drowned in it. I never thought I knew it all – far from it, the longer I went on the less I thought I knew. I praised my teams at every possible moment and all of them got chocolate on a Friday – which they loved. I tried hard to keep a balance between what I thought we needed to do and what Ofsted might want to see – not always easy. And so it goes on – mostly unseen and unsung…but that’s alright. It’s how it should be. I’ve never viewed leadership as a showcase for whatever my talents might be – although I think there are too many who do view it this way!
I always saw us as a team – the minute we don’t do that is the minute we become less than we are. Many positive and lovely things were said about me as a leader so I reckon I got a lot of things right.
I too am fed up with the casual slagging off of SLT. Of course I know people need someone/something to blame and moan about but this automatic vilification of SLT is wearing. I’ve worked with SLT members who weren’t very effective, some who were fantastic and pretty much all shades in between. I’ve worked with a few I wouldn’t pay in tap washers but the vast majority of them worked hard, wanted the right things, cared about the staff and the children and wanted the school to be the best it could be.
November 29, 2015 at 7:06 pm
Thank you Julie… It is the easiest thing to criticise and use the I have a friend who has a friend whose SLT are mad type approach. I meet hundreds of leaders and only a small number are insane…
November 29, 2015 at 4:27 pm
As a new head teacher this has really struck a chord with me. Thank you!
November 29, 2015 at 7:07 pm
Stick in there and know that you are very much hitting a chord we ALL understand.
November 29, 2015 at 6:52 pm
November 29, 2015 at 7:08 pm
Thank you… I have much more to say on this I think.