School leadership – This is what I wish I’d known…
So you think you’re ready for school leadership? Here are the things I think you should be aware of before diving in…
I was appointed to school leadership (as a head) at age 31, after a decade in teaching. I felt ready. But was I?
In some ways yes, in others no – and I had no idea about which was which.
Whatever stage of your career you are at, here’s what I think you need to consider before taking the plunge…
Be humble enough to learn
You might think you’re ready, but to be honest, you never fully are.
There’s so much to learn, that even the most prepared of people will find new things.
You need to be flexible; ready to adapt; and ready to say that you were wrong.
But above all? Be humble.
There are people that know more than you, have been doing things for longer than you, and know the school better than you.
If you’re truly ready for school leadership, you’ll be ready to listen. The best teachers carry on learning, and the best leaders do the same.
Know your stuff
Do you need to be the best teacher in the school? No. Do you need to know everything? No.
But you do need to know enough about life in different areas of your school to be able to appreciate what it is like to work in those settings.
You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but you will need to be able to have an overview of what is going on and why, and have confidence in your competency to build staff’s trust in you.
They may be watching you closely – I remember feeling it hugely. Being able to be confident in my knowledge helped me an enormous amount.
Do a self-check – are there any areas you might need to get a bit more experience in or read up on?
Build a range of experiences
I was a governor before being a head, and this really opened my eyes to the world of school strategy.
You might have a great handle on teaching and learning, behaviour, or assessment, but what about the other areas?
Do you know about school finance, health and safety, personnel and HR?
Have you given yourself enough chance to investigate these things? Try and get as much experience here as you have the capacity for.
Ask for others’ opinions
You think you are ready, but to be honest you might be a little bit biased.
Speak to someone you trust, who will be honest with you about it, to tell you your strengths and weaknesses in a way that will help you improve.
What kind of leader do you want to be?
What are your key values and how are you going to apply them? Consistency was key to me.
I worked for a head once where you didn’t know whether you were going to be welcomed in or told to go away.
So when I got the position, I made sure to put honesty and transparency above all else. How can you bring people along with you if they don’t know they can trust you or why you are doing things?
So, what do you stand for, and have you thought about how you are going to model that to the staff around you?
Prepare to get it wrong
People will challenge you on almost anything, and often on the things on which you expected the least resistance.
At times, school leadership requires thick skin. Whilst being flexible and honest is a skill and a strength, so is knowing when you are right and when to push through with things.
Make sure you’ve got a good reason for doing something, and back it up with facts. Be prepared to fight for it.
Sometimes, you’ll make the wrong call. It will happen and it will feel rubbish. It’s ok to feel bad about it – it means you care – but don’t wallow.
Saying, “We got it wrong, sorry, we’ll do better next time” is so powerful to staff and parents alike.
It stops people in their tracks, and if you follow through and make the changes, it works wonders for building relationships.
No one will ever have a handle on all of this.
However, thinking about where you stand on these might just give you a little bit of insight onto whether you’re ready.
If not, reflect and work on it. If you think you are ready, have confidence in yourself, be brave and go for it, you’ll be great.
The writer is a headteacher in England. Follow them on Twitter @secretHT1