Updated: Oct 31, 2022
HOW LONELY IS THE NEW LEADER?
Starting a new half term, I have been reflecting on the challenges sometimes faced by head teachers, particularly those new to the role. I remember the joy and that feeling of relief at successfully leading the school through that first half term but feeling nervous too at the prospect of the busy half term ahead (and that was when there wasn't covid or all of the other recent challenges to worry about).
The role of the school leader is immense and diverse, and no two days are the same. One day the role can feel like the best job in the world and a real privilege. You feel that you are leading your team well, making positive changes and making a difference, but sadly another day may feel like you’re just about keeping your head above water, not succeeding at anything and wondering what you are doing there. And this is when that feeling of loneliness may creep in.
MY EARLY DAYS AS A HEAD TEACHER
I remember well the odd day, particularly in the early days of my headship, when although I was surrounded by lots of people, I still felt incredibly lonely.
Being highly accountable to everyone, lacking some confidence and self- belief and often feeling like an imposter impacted these feelings. I had an amazing team around me, but I was unwilling (or afraid) to share how I felt with them as I did not want to appear vulnerable and lacking confidence when I felt it was my job to lead them.
There were things that I missed when I became a head teacher such as the camaraderie of being a teacher and sharing the same daily experiences with peers.
At times I found myself disengaging with others and retreating into my office and myself, which would only compound the feelings of loneliness.
MANAGING MY FEELINGS OF LONELINESS
As I grew into my role, there were things that made a difference to these feelings: building networks of support with colleagues; being open about how I felt with my team and making time for friends and family.
I never sought support, but reflecting back, I know that I could have reached out in other ways which may have helped me during those times e.g. engaging the services of a coach or mentor, talking to my chair of governors or accessing the support provided through the school's medical insurance.
I didn't see at the time that there was any support out there for school leaders, but I like to think that things have changed. I know of several services that offer free confidential chats to school leaders (and staff in general) but I also know from speaking to clients that for some, seeking and maintaining effective support mechanisms is still a challenge for them for a number of different reasons.
MY ADVICE TO ALL NEW LEADERS
So, the advice I would give to any new leader would be to:
Build a strong supportive team around you.
Create connections with colleagues.
Grow networks of support to help with the feelings of isolation.
Connect with others over social media. Create your own group if need be.
Seek prompt support, when needed. There are numerous helplines where you can chat anonymously.
Talk and be open about your well-being to your Chair of Governors or Board of trustees - they have a responsibility for your well-being.
Engage the services of a coach, mentor or supervisor. Leaders carry an awful lot of others' burdens, and you will need to offload.
Visit the staffroom regularly and join in social events with your team.
Keep connected to the pupils – and keep your door open!
Make time for friends and family.
Continue your life outside of school - join a club or do something that clears your mind!
There are many more strategies out there – please share!
Remember too, that school leadership can be the best job in the world, and you were appointed to the role for a very good reason – others believe in YOU!
MAKE TIME TO PRIORITISE YOU!
As a new leader it is important to remember that as much as you want to make a difference and make an impact as quickly as you can, it is vitally important to practice self-care and plan time in your diary to prioritise YOU.
I support both new and more experienced school leaders in their leadership journey. If you feel that you want to explore how we could work together then let me know. I am always, happy to talk!
Had to include a cute puppy pic - she keeps me sane!