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You Might Not Be Right For Our School, But It’s My Duty To Support You Professionally

Post-interview euphoria can quickly vanish when the reality of the job kicks in – but school leaders should do everything in their power to prevent staff from leaving the profession, says The Primary Head...

  • You Might Not Be Right For Our School, But It’s My Duty To Support You Professionally

When, as a head, you make a teaching appointment, it’s really exciting. You’ve read the CVs, devised the interview parlour games, met all the candidates and put them through their paces. Then you sit around and discuss the day’s events until you end up with one person that you want to start working in your school.

Admittedly, you have to make some unpleasant phone calls too – but always ring the successful candidate first. A former head of mine once rang all the unsuccessful applicants first to tell them they hadn’t cut the mustard, only to be told by the successful candidate that on reflection, she didn’t want the job. Cue an extremely awkward phone call to the ‘second best’ candidate…

When dreaming becomes reality

Anyway, I digress. Telling someone that you think she’s the perfect person for the job and that you want her on board is a really thrilling experience. You can’t help but smile when you hear the relief / joy on the other end of the line, and when you put down the phone it always feels like something pretty monumental has just happened. The air becomes ripe with anticipation as you think about all the amazing things that might now happen because some fresh eyes and energy are coming into your school.

Then your new teacher turns up and the dreaming becomes a reality.

Most of the time – and I do mean most of the time – it all works out fine. But there are occasions when things don’t pan out as you’d hoped, and it’s just heartbreaking.

There can be lots of reasons why an appointment doesn’t work out. Perhaps she was unaware of – or maybe you didn’t make clear enough – the context and culture of the school, and she doesn’t fit in. Something personal, sudden and unexpected could come up that means she’s no longer able to deliver on all of her promises. Sometimes there’s a clash of personalities.

A careful balance

In most cases something can be done. It’s tough, and some uncomfortable, policy-driven language may be spoken during meetings, but with openness and honesty she can get through it and come out stronger on the other side.

If done correctly, the way in which you support a struggling teacher will often improve the quality of your leadership too. This is because it’s never easy. It requires a careful balance between getting across the message that her practice isn’t yet good enough and listening to her perspective.

Finding out her barriers, rather than focusing on examples of deficit practice, is vital if the right support is going to be put in place. You can’t hide away, however, from pointing out what isn’t working. And you can’t shy away from asking her if she can see it too.

Keep at it

Once you’re on the same page and she has committed to the support, then you’re really on to a winner. Support is professional development. Yes, I care about the quality of provision the children are getting. Yes, I care that parents are happy. Yes, I care that an Ofsted inspector would leave the classroom satisfied – but I also care about the teacher. I care about her as a professional. I want her to be the best she can be, and I want her to enjoy becoming her best.

That’s my motivation. If I can get that across to a teacher who’s having a tough time, then suddenly the sting is removed and she can start looking forward, knowing that I have her back.

Sadly, however, there are times when individuals come to the conclusion that teaching simply isn’t for them. When this happens there are two ways a head can deal with it. The first option is to cut the rope and let her fall back, knowing she’ll soon be out of the picture. The second is to keep at it.

I personally opt for the latter. My school may not be right for you, and for that I’m truly sorry – but I still have a duty to provide you with professional development. I don’t know what you’ll move onto once you’ve had your farewell assembly and taken home the giant card signed by all the staff, but I’ll make darn sure that whatever it is, I’ve helped you do it a little better.

Teaching isn’t for everyone. But as long as a teacher turns up for work, the children in my school will never know. I owe us all that.

The Primary Head is the moniker of a headteacher currently working in a UK primary school; he tweets as @theprimaryhead

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