The best head teacher I ever worked with died suddenly last week.
Neil Tuttiett was the single most important person in my teaching career. As an NQT it was his calm, often funny and passionate leadership approach that helped me become a committed, driven and ambitious professional. He saw my potential, despite my own uncertainty, and he was relentless in making sure I did not waste it. After over 20 years I still remember things he said to me, I quote him to other teachers and leaders and I look back to the time I worked in his school with pride and joy.
In particular there was one conversation we had that shaped my thinking and my career. We were chatting in his office and I made, what I thought at the time to be a rather aspirational and grand claim,
“I want to be a deputy head but not a head”
Neil smiled, “You prat, as a deputy you are always a heartbeat away from headship”.
Great leaders are honest and wise… they have an ability to grow on you even when they illustrate your own stupidly. I never felt uncomfortable in Neil’s presence. So often I come across teachers who avoid their head. For me, he was someone I wanted to seek out. He was a light. I wanted to hear his stories and soak up his wisdom. He had also learnt alongside some great people… He was just passing it on.
I once met an ex-pupil in the street. “Sir!” he called out, “Mr Walton!” I turned to see a 6ft something, tattooed muscle machine (The spitting image of his dad) bearing down on me. I had that moment where I braced for the uncertain… He had a tough school time with me, detentions, discipline, fixed term exclusions… a million lectures. As he got near he opened his arms and hugged me.
“Book of Legends” he said, “You Sir, are in the Book of Legends!”
I walked away from the encounter a little dazed but walking on air.
Here is my point. We do education to leave behind a legacy, a mark. We do education so that others in a future we cannot see or know everything about can survive and prosper… Our actions today help carve out that future. They do not go unnoticed. We may not hear ex-students or ex-teachers (Or even parents) scribbling our names in to the Book of Legends… But, if we are true to the principles of the teacher; the leader – we can be assured someone, somewhere will be remembering us.
We are sometimes quick to find the faults of others, especially senior leaders. I ask how quick are we to tell them how much we appreciate what they have done for us? I never told Neil that he was the single most important person in my career. I sit here in my new house, writing this whilst staring out across the Somerset Levels because he saw what I could do. He believed in me. I never said even a “Thank you”. I wish I had.
I slowly write a name down in the Book of Legends… I wonder who would go in to yours? If you get a chance – tell them.