Ten things learned on my leadership journey

1.    Be creative

Dream your dreams and go into school the next day and put them into action. Although many people complain about the pressures of accountability – with some justification – there is still plenty of space for creativity in school leadership. Being creative does not necessarily mean thinking of original ideas. Creativity and innovation can come through using ideas from elsewhere and adapting them to the context of your own school.

2.    Water the plants

When I was appointed as a head, I told the appointment committee that it was my job to water the plants. My predecessor had been an autocrat (It was said that his catch phrase was ‘No’) and I needed to nurture the staff and get them thinking about the job and taking real responsibility, not just passing decisions automatically upwards.

But, as in the garden, not all the human plants need the same amount of water and nurturing. And, again as in the garden, some human plants need something much stronger than water to make them successful.

3.    Work with other schools, not against them

School leaders are part of a great movement to increase the life chances of young people by raising their aspirations and achievement. That is not confined to your own school. When you are appointed to a school leadership position, you are also being appointed to the co-leadership of education in your area. It is time that governing body appointment committees recognised that.

Of course, all school leaders want their school to be the best and work long hours towards that admirable goal, but this should not be at the expense of other schools.

Twenty years ago, when the school down the road was in trouble, the prevailing culture set by the government of the day was to encourage other local schools to celebrate the fact that they would get more applicants. Now, when a local school is in difficulty, school leaders pick up the phone and say ‘How can I help?’ The system has (or should have) moved from a culture of competition to a culture of collaboration. The benefits of partnership working between schools are proven. It is possible to both compete and collaborate. That happens in the commercial sector and can happen in the public sector too.

4.    Leadership style should suit the occasion

An inspector once asked me about my leadership style and I told him to go and ask the people I led. In fact, good leaders do not have a single leadership style. You adapt to suit the situation. The appropriate leadership style to develop a new school policy on teaching and learning is very different from the style adopted when the fire alarm goes off.

5.    Hold to your values

A values-led school is almost always a good school. Successful school leaders are open and clear about the values that underpin the work of the institution. Values are constantly reiterated to staff, students, parents and the community.

6.    Focus on learning

There is so much change in education and so many new (and renewed) policies to implement and demands to answer that it is all too easy for school leaders to lose focus. Part of the job of a good head is to act as a sieve and only let through to others the things that really matter. In that way, school leaders can keep their focus on what should always be the top priority – the quality of teaching and learning.

7.    Look outwards, not upwards

The teaching profession has spent over 20 years in a suffocating centrally directed policy climate, in which governments have told heads and teachers what to do and, increasingly, how to do it. This has created a culture in which school leaders and teachers have grown accustomed to looking upwards to see what they are being told to do.

The coalition government is saying that schools and teachers should have more freedom, so let’s stop looking up and start looking out to the many amazing projects and ideas that are happening elsewhere.

Let’s build strong professional communities that encourage the sharing of excellent practice, which is out there for all to see.

8.    Good leadership is 10 per cent action and 90 per cent communication

When a school leadership team makes a decision, it is completely useless unless it is communicated in the right way to all the right people. Change will not come without good communication – to staff, students, homes and the community. Spend more time on well directed communication, and policies and actions will be much more effective.

9.    Smile

‘There is no degree of enthusiasm that cannot be reduced with sufficient discouragement from the top.’ So school leaders, and heads in particular, need to go about the job cheerfully. After all, if the people at the top look as if they aren’t enjoying the work, there is little chance that others will do so.

10.  The 4Hs of leadership

Humility –  There are 7 billion people in the world as important as you are.

Humanity – Every child really does matter and needs to be cared for.

Hope – Every leader needs to be an optimist and believe that all children can succeed.

Humour – The sine qua non of school leadership.