This year is my 20th as a primary school headteacher. To help me prepare for the next 10 years I have been thinking about some of the lessons I have learnt, and have decided to share these with the world in 20 short blog posts. They will not be especially profound, but I have found it useful to articulate my thoughts. I hope you find them interesting.
Lesson 1 – ‘I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure – which is to try to please everybody’ Herbert Bayard Swope
One thing I find really difficult is any sort of conflict, but I have come to realise the importance of robust professional discussion in an improving a school.
As a school leader you are constantly judged. If a member of staff in any role is not doing their job properly and you don’t tackle it, this reflects really badly on you. When you hear complaints about the work of colleagues, the right thing to do is to challenge it and change it. Some people seem to find it easy to do this, but I have had to learn to make myself have these difficult conversations and to follow the right procedures.
I have found that a way to get this right is to aim for the perfect balance of trust and check. If you trust too much you risk underperformance not being dealt with, teachers not feeling supported and time being wasted by efforts being misplaced. If you check too much teachers become demoralised and their professionalism is undermined.
I don’t get this right all the time, but I do put a lot of effort into doing so.
As an example, I visit classes as often as possible, and have become more aware of how important it is to give feedback to teachers about what I’ve seen on these visits. This is virtually always a ‘well done’ about some great learning I’ve seen.
I use the mantra ‘The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept’ (Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison) and challenge where things aren’t as they should be. Ignoring things can make life easier in the short term, but can create a problem to solve in the future.