Every now and then being a school leader means you have to stand up to, or unwillingly meet, the gaze of heartache and conflict. In school leadership you become part of other peoples battles. No one faces this willingly. These moments can spiral away from you like the leaves that gather in the corners of the playground, taken by the cold winter winds. You may think you are in control but experience tells me that you are quite often not…

Sometimes, this can be deeply upsetting.

There have been moments when I have driven home, the enormity of the day that unfolded replayed in my mind… and I have cried. In my car, alone, on my way home. These are selfish moments I have willingly seized, where I dwell on someone else’s pain, and I feel guilty or even worse… fake. Yet I allow myself to cry. I tentatively welcome it, even encourage it. The fact I am in my car (it only ever happens here), the fact I am alone… almost makes it OK. We can not truly know others pain and yet I am overcome for a few moments on the 30 minute journey home, as I play out someones heartache. Not that often, but enough to know that the events I am dealing with are tough to process. Many deep breaths later and I get on with my life, shut the car door, fumble for the keys to my house and hug my daughter when I see her. This is my way of saying… I have dealt with it and now need to be in control of it. Writing it like this feels cold and selfish. Knowing that this is a routine makes me uneasy… but, it is an important reality of school leadership; one we need to be in control of.

Leadership is a complex narrative, it flits between a major and a minor chord… I have wished I was a singer and I have dreamed that my guitar playing was more than a dark room, bourbon fuelled fumble. It scares me that my leadership can feel like little more (Though for the record I don’t drink at school).

I will never be a singer though I can tell a story and much of what we do is about the honesty of our narrative. If you want to hear great voices listen to the blues, to Muddy Waters or Buddy Guy. It is the rawness in their voices that help us connect to the song. If you want to hear a great story listen to an honest person without any fear sharing their pain. Listen to their easy sense of conviction as it connects you to moments that evolve as they pass you by. Though these moments can often be dark and tear at your soul. We must not ignore them.

A Cantor leads someone in song or prayer. It is often the duty of the leader to lead people through dark rhythms and irrational beats. It is a responsibility that when understood should never be taken lightly.

I believe in redemption and I always secretly hold out for hope (Even when I know that hope is holding out for luck). My conviction is rarely acknowledged when I need it most. But, in those darkest moments, it is last gasp of hope that we seek no matter how dire or desperate the situation. We look to hold out for hope. We want to believe that within the heart of darkness there is light. I find that my honesty can often leave me feeling dirty, naked even; shackled to the stocks and vulnerable. This is hard to take as a leader. This is not how we envision the authority of the leader. This is not how I planned my career… but I feel that true leadership is about staring in to the face of the painful and standing strong no matter how hard.

It is this blunt and there are no metaphors… just a developing sense of mystery. Sweeping the spotlight on to a subject matter and keeping it there despite the discomfort and regardless of how much it hurts you and those around you. It is always magnified when a child is involved.

The heart is just a muscle though we often think that this is where our love and understanding originates… it is not. Our love and understanding is borne through experience. It is carved deep upon us as we face lives trails and tribulations. As a school leader I feel that our greatest strength can be the fact that we care for others. It is more than our duty. If I sat in the car and cried over Ofsted or data I would be worried and seek the help of a psychiatrist. If I got upset for myself then I would need to acknowledge that this is not leadership… this is pity, which is natural but not helpful when leading a school. This is why I feel that school leaders need to be in touch with their emotions more than many realise. We need to understand them so that they never take control of us when others are seeking our guidance. 

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