My blog choices this week all relate to motivation and priorities, including: why we teach, how we teach, why we take on leadership roles, and how we decide what kind of teacher/leader we hope to be.
Dave Whitaker, now executive principal of a special school, reflects on a formative experience from early in his career when, as a NQT on duty in his first term, he was involved in breaking up a playground fight. His description of the fight is masterful and will certainly bring back to many of us memories of similar experiences. “I will never know how a fight manages to communicate itself so quickly across a whole secondary school” – even before mobile phones.
What made this experience particularly memorable was the response of his duty colleague. As a new teacher, Whitaker felt he “could bow to his greater experience and professionalism”. However, watching how this teacher dealt with the fight, and seeing what happened in consequence, taught him something quite different. We learn a huge amount from the best teachers and leaders we meet. I would contest that we learn even more from negative examples. In Whitaker’s case, this “career-defining moment”, he believes, helped to take his career in a certain direction.
Still on the subject of learning and motivation, Hayley Earl, a new acting deputy head, reflects on what made her decide to move into school leadership. She explains how she loves teaching, a job she has been doing for 16 years, but that a desire for a fresh challenge encouraged her to venture beyond her comfort zone.
She writes about how taking this step is simultaneously thrilling and nerve-racking, how preparing for senior leadership has stretched her and ensured that she keeps thinking and learning. She considers the particular challenges of being internally promoted.
Earl fully understands this is a journey and that she still has some way to go, but her excited anticipation comes through clearly, underpinned by a quiet confidence in her own ability and her capacity to adapt and grow. “Maybe, in time, I may find I have more More than I bargained for. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I’ll cope.” I’m rooting for her…
In similarly reflective mode, Helena Marsh considers her first term of headship, what she has achieved and what she has learnt. I love the positivity of this post, balanced as it is against a grounded and realistic appreciation of the challenges of new headship.
She, too, was internally promoted, which brings opportunities and challenges as she negotiates the move from deputy head to head within a school community where she was already seen (and saw herself) in a certain way. But she appreciates the differences between the roles, with her current need, as head, “to steer school improvement, rather than get embroiled too much in operational detail”. She discusses the importance of deciding on priorities, the need to resist the “superhero” model of leadership, and how incoming heads can establish the most positive school culture, building on what went before.
She concludes: “There are days when as school leaders we need to hold up the metaphorical umbrella for our staff and ourselves, but modelling the ability to dance in the rain has its place too.”
Finally, a new blog, and a new blogger, for me. Sarah Safraz, an assistant principal, writes about school improvement in the challenging context of a school in special measures, reflecting on the importance of what matters most: “It’s not about stuff. It can’t only be about stuff. It’s about people, people who can build relationships . . . A real ethos, a sense of a collective moral purpose built on genuine relationships in a climate of trust and respect, costs nothing.” She goes on to suggest 11 practical strategies on how this can be done. Excellent stuff.