Making big decisions, taking risks and leading others can be daunting for new leaders.
Others look to you for guidance and support, they expect you to be confident, that you have all the answers and that you’re good at everything, when inside you may feel like an imposter in your role, apprehensive of taking risks for fear of failure, and nervous of putting yourself forward or out there.
Many aspects of leadership at first can feel uncomfortable and to overcome any fear takes time and courage.
For me as a new leader many years ago, public speaking always daunted me. I was confident talking to a room of 400 pupils, but it was always a different matter when it came to a room full of adults, no matter what the size of the group. Having a stammer as a child contributed to the lack of confidence in case I said the wrong things, got tongue tied or just bored the audience!
This all changed when I was asked to speak at an Inside Government forum about my school’s success. After initially declining the invitation, I accepted after reassurances from the organisation that there would only be around 50 or so other school delegates and after my deputy head teacher encouraged me by saying that other head teachers wouldn’t pass up the opportunity if presented with it.
On the day of the speech, and armed with my presentation I arrived at the offices and realised that actually there were around 200 delegates in the audience, including school leaders and other representatives from education. However, being now committed I knew that whatever the outcome I just had to pluck up the courage and do it, which I did.
I’m not sure how good it was but I felt empowered that I’d actually done it, got through it and actually enjoyed the experience. It also produced new connections and alliances for the school which had a positive impact.
So, for any new leaders out there, take risks, be courageous and grasp every opportunity!
Being courageous 2
Being courageous – part two!
In my last post – Leadership reflection 4, I talked about being brave, putting yourself out there and grasping an opportunity – because if you don’t do it, then someone else will!
The same goes for making decisions around applying for promotion, changing career or even making a decision to work in a different organisation.
In my experience of coaching assistant head and deputy head teachers, these clients have always expressed some reluctance about applying for headship until they feel they have gained more experience in their current role.
My advice has always been if you are passionate about education and want to make a difference to children’s lives then just go for it. The difference between being a head teacher and a deputy or assistant head teacher can be very different and no amount of experience gained can really prepare you for the role of head teacher - you will learn all you need on the job!
As a deputy head teacher you may have experience of budgets, safeguarding, curriculum, staffing, recruitment assessment, inclusion, quality assurance, governorships, parent partnerships, behaviour management, school development plans and evaluations and though all this is needed to run a school, the role of the head teacher is mainly a strategic role that nothing can really prepare you for.
As Stephen Tierney says in this article for the Guardian “With the exception of vision, I think that you have to accept that there is no preparation for headship quite like actually being a headteacher. You need a good knowledge of how schools work; an awareness of the structures and systems that ensure good order and high standards of teaching & learning; the ability to work with and influence people and an abundance of resilience.” And he’s right in saying that headship is now more about the team than simply the individual.
A deputy head teacher told me this morning that she thought she was suffering from imposter syndrome and wonders whether others would know she felt she wasn’t up for the job she was applying for. I reassured her that these feelings are natural and that throughout my own headteacher career I often felt the same. These feelings subside over time the more confident you get in your role and anyway no one sees them as they have their own feelings of imposter syndrome to worry about!
So, my advice is, if you are considering applying for a new job or promotion then go for it – feeling regret about not applying is worse than having tried but not succeeded! And, if not anything else, it’s all good experience, right?
Use your intuition
Trust your intuition
Do you trust yourself? By that I mean how easy do you find it to trust your gut instinct and intuition?
I learnt the hard way to trust my intuition and to trust my own gut feeling. Early on in my career as a new Head Teacher I appointed someone onto my team (from outside of my own school) against what my intuition was telling me. Heavily influenced by another member on the recruitment panel who I believed was more experienced in these matters than me, I curtailed to their advice and appointed the individual against my better judgement.
I quickly realised that although the appointee had lots of strengths and was very capable, our values were not aligned and we did not share the same vision for the school. I learnt by that experience to trust my own instincts and intuition and I also realised the benefits of ‘growing my own leaders’ and creating a strong team around me who shared the same values and vision for my school’s development and the pupils within the school.
My aim to ‘grow my own leaders’ meant that I had to develop effective coaching skills if I was to be successful and this led me to realise how a culture of coaching within the school could benefit the whole team within the school. This initiated my passion for ‘coaching’ and how powerful it can be for the development of others within your team as well as self-development!
Good is good enough!
Sometimes ‘good’ is good enough!
I am a coach for new and emerging leaders in education and within many of my conversations with clients teacher well-being always (quite rightly crops up) and always reminds me of an INSET day I held for my staff several years ago (well before the pandemic).
I was a head teacher in a primary school and it was the first day of the new term in September. The previous summer term had been a busy term and I knew that staff had felt weary by the end of it. My team were incredible. They were extremely dedicated as most school staff are and worked above and beyond what was expected of them. I regularly went around the classrooms at the end of the day shooing them home and I felt that some of them could do with creating a better work-life balance or as I prefer to call it, greater harmony between work and life.
Over the summer holidays I read an interview in a magazine – Liam Gallagher being interviewed by Fearne Cotton. Something that came up really resonated with me. Fearne told him that she expected he put 100% into his concerts when performing live on stage and was surprised when Liam answered that actually, no, he didn’t. When asked why not, he explained how he only ever put around 75% effort into his performances as he wanted to save some of himself for when he went home to his family at the end of the day.
My super strong team were brilliant and worth keeping so I decided to relay this interview to my staff on that first day of the new school year. I explained how I wanted them to remain healthy, refreshed and there for the pupils but that if they continued to give everything of themselves every day then they would just burn themselves out. I recall them being quite shocked at this as they told me they assumed I would want them to give their all. But, I knew that they would do a brilliant job regardless of how many hours they put in.
That year, I built a well-being target into staff’s performance management and asked them to come up with one thing that would improve their well-being. One staff member said that they would go to the gym twice a week, one promised to leave work early at least once per week and others were just going to make more time for themselves and do the things they loved.
These were only small things but this had quite an impact. Moral was high, respect was gained and we laughed about some of the goals (going to the gym) that just weren’t reached.
However, the message was out there and it became strongly embedded within the school’s culture and although I am no longer at the school the ethos around teacher well-being remains strong to this day.
As leaders it’s so important that we ensure the well-being of all our staff – we need to give clear messages that staff well-being is important while walking the talk, don’t you think?
One last thing, when one of my newly qualified teachers came to me after having had a particularly bad day, I used to reassure them by saying ‘as long as the kids have gone home happy (and with the correct parents/carers) and maybe having learnt at least one thing then you have done a good job today!’ And, that for today was good enough!
Appreciation - Highlighting your team’s achievements
Receiving appreciation contributes to our mental health and well-being. It contributes to our feelings of being valued and it motivates and encourages us to do more.
Appreciating our team’s efforts (however big or small) is important and something that we all endeavour to do as leaders – it can help to motivate and empower staff and create a positive climate within the workplace.
When in post as a Head Teacher and moving towards the end of a particularly busy term when staff were exhausted and feeling a little demoralised by the demands of the job I started to think of ways that I could get the staff to recognise just how much they had achieved in a relatively short space of time and show them how much value they were adding to provision at the school. This led me to install a ‘What have we done?’ wall in the staff room.
This ‘What have we done wall?’ was initially just a piece of sugar paper on the staff room pin board on which I asked staff to add all of their achievements since the beginning of term. In a two form entry school the list of achievements became extremely long as everyone began to contribute to it.
Contributions to the wall were wide ranging: A science workshop held for Year 3 pupils; implementation of a new history curriculum; books added to the library; safeguarding training attended and class assemblies organised, amongst a multitude of other things/events.
It was only a small thing but this visual list was powerful in reminding staff of just how much they had achieved in a relatively short space of time (a term usually) and it also reminded me to appreciate my team’s efforts.
I sometimes use this strategy with my coaching clients to enable them to see just how much they have achieved in either their leadership role or their everyday lives and I find myself using the same strategy at those times when I find I am struggling.