Just in case you were in any doubt, thought I would start with this basic observation. School leaders face a multitude of challenges on a daily basis. However, I still believe it's one of the best jobs in the world. It is certainly one of the most rewarding and allows any post holder to feel they can make a difference to so many lives.
So why do we struggle to find applicants for Headteacher positions when they are advertised?
Well undoubtedly the negative interventions of politicians, media and inspectorates would have any sane individual thinking at least twice before they put their name forward for a Headship. When it seems everyone is willing to have a go at you, and be more than prepared to lay every issue and problem, and associated blame at your desk, you do need to be thick skinned, sure of yourself and very committed to still want to take on such a role. Also, many Headteachers do not help themselves, or the profession, by constantly bemoaning their lot and telling anyone who will listen what a hard and difficult job they have. That is not to say any of these assertions are incorrect, but they are only part of a bigger picture.
I tend to think that those Headteachers who are too ready to focus on the difficulties of the job do so because of the way they lead, or perhaps because of the way they don't lead.
Too many let their thinking, their actions and their time be dominated by the many management tasks and responsibilities they face on a daily basis. Every single one of these managerial duties is important and leaders need to ensure they are dealt with in an efficient and timely way, to facilitate the smooth running of their establishments. I would argue however that firstly, all such tasks don't have to be done by the Headteacher and secondly, they are only one half of a Headteacher's role. The other half is to lead.
To be able to lead you have to see where you are going. To see where you are going you have to keep getting your head up from the day to day tasks to see what is coming on, or over, the horizon. To lead you need to be able to plan a route and navigate accurately along that route, making necessary detours and changes of direction as required. To lead you need to keep checking that everyone is still with you and those you lead are not getting left behind. To lead you have to spend time developing and nurturing relationships.To lead you need to be able to recognise when to slow down or to speed up. To lead you need to engage with other leaders and read. To lead you need to see your role as bigger than just the leading of your school and colleagues, but also the contribution you can and should be making to the development of education locally and nationally.
Quite a challenge, but also a responsibility. These leadership roles cannot be delivered on if you allow yourself to be swamped by your managerial responsibilities. When you are focused on the managerial aspects of your role it is easy to remain extremely busy, and to let everyone see you being so. But it is also easy to hide amongst all these duties to stop yourself from having to deliver on the leadership aspects I identified above. Headteachers who are managerial focused tend to spend most of their time in their office. They can be hierarchical in style. Leadership is not about always telling everyone what to do. They may not get into classrooms very often, except for formal monitoring and observation visits. They tend not to have a lot of time for colleagues and staff. They can be focused on systems at the expense of people. They tend to be reactive rather than proactive and they can never get everything done. It is easy for them to argue 'look, I am extremely busy and just don't have time for other things. My priority is my own school.' Trouble is there is undoubtedly an element of truth to this, but my argument is that every single school leader could argue the same.
So how come many are still able to deal with all the issues the very busy managerial focused headteachers are swamped by, and yet still deliver on their leadership roles in meaningful ways?
Well, they probably have very able senior management teams around them and are able to delegate effectively. This does not just happen by accident because headteachers and school leaders who are more able to deliver on the leadership role recognise the importance of developing their teams and promoting meaningful distributed leadership amongst all staff. They work at it.
They are probably very clear about their own values and principles, and have a personal vision for their role which recognises the 'big picture' of this. They see their leadership role in its fullest sense as a key professional responsibility.
They will be committed to professional development and self improvement. They will recognise the need to keep learning and developing their practice as a career long responsibility. They know they don't have all the answers, but they understand how to seek answers and problem solve. They will make time for reading and critical reflection.
They will be able to prioritise and will be proactive in their roles. They will also recognise that there will always be something to do, but that some things will not get done. They will understand how to manage change at all levels. They will will be reflective and enquiring about their own role and performance. They will also have very good work life balance perspectives and practices, and encourage these in others. They have time for people, recognising that they can learn from them all and they have a responsibility to help others grow and develop.
They are visible in school and further afield. They see the importance of wider engagement and how this can help them and their schools develop. They see collaboration at all levels as the natural way to work and operate. They really will have the 'bigger picture' in mind all the time and see the need to
be thinking and planning ahead. They know when to say 'no' and are prepared to display professional courage to fight for and defend what they believe in.
Most importantly they don't hide behind their general busyness but go out and actively seek ways of developing their leadership role and make time to allow this to happen.
You decide, are you a hider or a seeker?