New to Headship Series – Part 1

Part 1 – Establishing Yourself as the New Leader

Becoming a headteacher for the first time is an incredibly daunting experience. In those first few weeks and months I was overwhelmed with management tasks in the in tray but I wanted to establish myself as a leader too. It is commonly known that in order to run a school effectively there has to be a balance of leadership and management. Management is the job of organising the processes that keep the organisation functioning, i.e. improvement planning, budgeting, staffing and measuring performance etc. Leadership is very different. It is all about understanding your staff and aligning them to the school vision, which means heads need to be excellent communicators, motivational and at times, inspirational. In this series, I will focus on how I navigated the early days of headship. In this blog, I will explain the three initial steps I took to establish myself as a leader as quickly as possible.

Decide Who You Want to Be

In the summer break between being a teaching deputy and hurtling into headship, I didn’t gain any extra knowledge and I definitely didn’t instantly have all the skills to run a large primary school. I knew I had to start somewhere, so I started with a subject that I had a great deal of knowledge about – me! I realised I had to decide what type of leader I wanted to be. There are two main types of headteacher in my opinion, the aggressor and the respected. The aggressor instills fear into their team to get results, the respected get results through understanding, confidence and a positive team ethos. Both of these types of headteacher can get results, but I knew which style would fit with my values and beliefs. I crystalised my thinking about my leadership style into three simple truths. I would be fair, I would be honest and I would be relentlessly positive.

Let Them See It

Once I had decided on these truths, I had to let my staff see them at every opportunity. I showed my fairness in every decision I had to make. Articulating my thinking behind the choices I made showed the staff that I was considering all options fairly and I was guided by one simple principle – doing what was in the best interests of the children. Being fair also means having no hidden agendas and no favouritism.

Letting people see my honesty was also another positive in my early leadership days. I knew I didn’t have all the answers, so I didn’t pretend to. I was honest when I didn’t know the answer to a question, but I would always find out. This was not seen as a sign of weakness but actually showed that I could find things out and get things done. I was also honest about what I felt the school needed to improve but I made one thing clear – this was a journey we were on together and a success we will all share.

Being relentlessly positive, I feel is the hallmark of my headship and one of the biggest reasons for our collective success. Leading a school with relentless positivity so that it is infectious and becomes the norm in everyone was my goal. Positivity is sometimes hard, but I made my decision that my staff and the children deserve nothing less. I knew that my mood could dictate whether the staff had a good or bad day, and I wan’t going to abuse this power. Even on the tough days, when I left my office, I was positive, happy, smiling and always said ‘hello’. If you want your school to be a positive place for your learners, you have to set the example from the very top. Then and only then can you demand the same positivity from your staff.

Stick to It

Finally, once you have decided who you want to be and you’ve let your staff see it, you have to stick to it. If you are not consistent in your leadership style, doubt can set in. Particularly with my 3 leadership truths, if I was inconsistent in any of these, this could have been devastating to the success of my headship. In my experience, consistency in leadership is one of the most crucial factors in a school’s success.

When a new leader comes to a school, staff just want to know one thing ‘How will this person affect me?’. If, like me, you decide who you want to be, you let everyone see it and you are consistent with it, staff will learn to trust you and ultimately work hard for you and the school. This is the ultimate goal of leading in the early days of a headship.