Skip to main content

Some Tips for School Leaders

The following are lessons I have learned about key issues for headteachers and school leaders after over 15 years in leadership and Headteacher positions. I share them is the spirit of co-operation and collaboration that I think is crucial for all working in schools. They are definitely things for aspiring leaders to think about, and perhaps for experienced leaders to remind themselves of if they have been distracted by everything else they have to deal with. I don't think the following issues are exhaustive but they are common to most schools and in most situations.


  • You really do need to understand learning and teaching, and have to see the development of this as your core business
  • Have a clear understanding of your values, principles,  and aims and vision, as an individual and for your school
  • Understand, and take time to develop, the crucial relationships that make the school real, and allow it to function at its best
  • Remember you are a leader and leadership involves getting your head up in order to recognise short and long term directions of travel
  • Recognise that self evaluation should be happening every day to inform school and individual development
  • Be emotionally intelligent and aware
  • You cannot lead from inside your office. You need to get out into classrooms and corridors to tune in to the 'mood music' of your school
  • Deal with issues whilst they are small, and as soon as you are aware, or you run the risk of these growing and becoming major problems
  • Be prepared to admit what you don't know and seek advice from others, including staff
  • Promote and encourage innovation and be prepared to accept the mistakes that are a natural consequence of such an approach
  • Promote professional dialogue and openness within your establishment, and be prepared to share your experiences in order to help others
  • Recognise that you really do need to slow down and give time for meaningful development and change to happen
  • Recognise the cruciality of professional development that is recognised by individuals themselves and how this is something that everyone should do, and not be something that is done to them
  • All planning should have enough flexibility to be adapted according to circumstances, and sometimes you have to go back before you can go forward
  • Get the work/life balance conundrum under control and model the behaviours you wish  to see in your staff
  • Be able to prioritise, but people are always the priority
  • Pick your fights so as not to waste energy and emotions, being clear about values helps here
  • Smile, relax and remember to say 'well done' and 'thank you' to everyone who deserves it, and regularly. Don't take this for granted.
  • Protect your staff from unnecessary and unreasonable demands from elsewhere
  • Recognise you are on a continuous journey of development, that you can manage and should be able to see how everything connects
  • Delegation is good, abdication of responsibility is not
  • You have responsibility for developing new leaders and contributing to education in its widest sense
  • Recognise that there is no 'one size fits all' solution to school development and improvement
  • Understand the complexity and messiness of learning and school development, and that linear models don't work
  • Your staff really are your most important resource, they deliver on any change or developments in the classroom, not you
  • You will be judged by what you do, not what you say you'll do
  • Your credibility suffers if you say one thing, but do another
  • Keep reading and talking to develop your thinking and understanding
  • You should be driven by what is important not what others are saying, if you are everything else will take care of itself
  • You won't, and can't, get it right all the time. Admit your mistakes and move on
These are a few of my thoughts on lessons I have learnt in leadership. I have no doubt you will have your own thoughts, so feel free to add them.

Popular posts from this blog

Some thoughts on Scottish education

This week I was asked if I would go along to speak to labour MSPs and MPs about Scottish education and schools. My brief was to talk about education. its current state, the reality of how the attainment gap can be tackled, how teachers can help government address the challenges of poverty, and how we might start to reinvest in our schools and our teaching staff. The politicians did not want to hear from the 'same people' who always spoke to them, and wanted to hear from someone 'fresh from the chalk-face'. I had forty five minutes, about twenty minutes input from me then a discussion and question and answer session. No pressure there then! Anyway, I gave it my best shot.

I started with a brief introduction to myself and my background, to give them some idea of who this person was, and why they might be able to help them and I tried to cover most of the following in my time slot.

I started with some the positives from our system.

Stuff we should be proud of:
Our learners …

A PISA My Mind

When John Swinney stood up in the Scottish parliament this week and described the performance of Scottish Education as making for 'uncomfortable reading' and that 'radical reform' was needed, he no doubt did this in the belief he was speaking from an informed position. He went on to pledge to bring 'an unwavering focus on improvement' and promised to carry out further reforms 'no matter how controversial.' His message was loud and clear, our performance is not good enough and he was going to change this. I wonder if he ever thought about the impact of his very public pronouncements had on teachers and school leaders as they were heading into their schools the next day? I suspect not.

So, what 'informed' Mr Swinney's assessment of the Scottish education system? Was it from the hundreds of visits he had made to Scottish schools since his appointment in May of this year? Was it from the conversations he had with thousands of pupils, teachers an…

Scottish education governance announcement

John Swinney has today made his long expected announcement regarding the governance structure he wishes to introduce into Scottish education. This announcement followed a consultation on his proposals and his determination that Scottish education needs to improve, and part of the way of achieving this is by giving headteachers, teachers and parents more say in what goes on in their schools, As you can imagine, there has been a lot of resistance to his proposals, especially from local authorities, who have an almost 100% responsibility for public schools at the moment.

When he stood up in the Scottish parliament, Mr Swinney announced that his new governance structure would be underpinned by three 'key pillars. These are to be enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers combined with a Headteacher Charter, Regional Improvement Collaboratives and Local Government.

The 'statutory Headteacher Charter' would sit at the heart of these reforms he said and this would…