Would you walk naked through your town? Apart from the implications of madness and the attention of the law, it is very unlikely anyone would and yet as a school leader feeling naked in public is a common feeling.
I would do anything not to be naked in public as I would to avoid walking in to a minefield. And yet…
Right now UK education punishes coasters, realists and dreamers. They do it very publicly – educational stocks and multimedia whippings are never too far away.
Therefore, we must keep moving ever forward; keep pushing the limits and caressing the outer edges of what is possible. We must succeed in the testing game; We must succeed in the inspection game- marching in to the field.
There will be casualties and there will be blood. That is the game we are in. I mean, only the best will walk out of the minefield. We role the dice, take our stance – run blind- expect the best and expect the worst.
Bare our souls to the masses, crucify ourselves upon the Facebook and Twitter cross and admit our sins at the gates of shame?
I am a school leader… I am SLT.
SLT – The acronym even sounds slimy – small town relation to a KGB thug; a dangerous fool dreaming of their induction in to MI5 or the son of a KKK initiate who stashes away the faded photographs of daddy.
Senior Leadership. “Look at me mum! Bloody well look at me! They laughed… Now they will pay!”
Senior Leadership Team. “I am not alone. We are legion.”
SLT – Smarmy Loons on Top
I regularly put my actions forward for debate. In fact, it is my perceived inaction and the consequences of my decisions that create the most discourse. As a leader sitting at your desk feeling like nothing has changed, nothing is getting better… That is a hard pill to swallow. There are times in which I weigh up the implications of the choices I have made and think,
“You are an idiot – you are a total dick”. But, I continue to make decisions and I continue to face up to the consequences.
Let us face it. Being a school leader is rather pungent right now. Quite likely hated by your staff (you heartless unskilled charlatan), almost certainly hated by the system (below expected and negative progress?) and despised by the one person you hoped you could trust the most – despised by the reflection in the mirror.
If you ever get to see me naked, I am not all that. But it is only when exposed and vulnerable that we see the true mantle of the leader (sorry @imagineinquiry). The cloaks leaders wear are smoke screens and, in truth, most of us see through them. If you really want to know your leader, think of them naked (this blog makes for an awkward SLT next week), naked and cold; naked, cold and afraid… Curled up in a shivering ball, holding on for dear life. Trust me, no matter what they say, no matter how bright the emperors cloths shine, they are usually feeling naked, disrobed and raw. Only a true leader is this vulnerable. Those calm, sculpted and untouchable leaders? They are myths, created by expert story tellers and illusion weavers (by other nervous and currently successful heads who pray you don’t spend to much time looking at them).
But here is the twist….
The vulnerabilities of naked leadership can make for strength in depth. The fact that they are still here, still standing, is the strongest indicator of their leadership. Ask yourself, would you go naked? Would you step in to the minefield?
But the line between strength and utter calamity is a very fine one. This is why there is sometimes so much carnage scattered down the corridors of schools. Leaders vulnerabilities being exposed is easy enough, the flaws in systems, communication and vision. Give me five minutes and I’ll find them in every school in the country. The cracks exist everywhere; some leaders cloak them, hide them, remove them, put them in a dark box at the back of the nativity cupboard… But they are there and hiding them usually causes resentment and mistrust. Externally all might look amazing, but internally as Leonard Cohen said, “Everybody Knows”.
But the open and honest head can be even worse for a school.
Leaders should not spend their lives complaining or blaming. I have fallen in to that trap many times. We need to think about how we can lift those around us up and see the glory in our schools from every angle. If we can do these things then a little embarrassment is no big thing (pun probably intended). As long as we know where the olive leaf is and can keep a little modesty, then our leadership is worthwhile. As the most honest of leaders we sometimes think we are more emotionally intelligent because we have a little empathy or a ‘good heart’ when in truth both can be just as damaging as the cold secretive leader. After thirteen years of headship I am only just starting to truly understand this. There is a limit to how naked we go and decorum dictates that we show dignity as well. It took four sentences from my deputy last week to hammer that home. Four pretty hard hitting but absolutely vital sentences that helped me gather some perspective, as well as my garments. I then took a day to reflect and suddenly things did not seem quite as terrible as they did, standing outside in the freezing cold, shivering and staring at the distant mountains thinking, “How the hell am I getting over that?” Suddenly that small change, that simple interaction, turned in to, “When we get over that we need to…”.
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