Moving to headship – my presentation at #TLT14

On Saturday 18 October 2014 I was pleased to make a contribution to #TLT14 in Southampton.  Thank you to David Fawcett and Jennifer Ludgate for inviting me to do so.

I talked about moving from deputy headship to headship, the focus of the Professional Doctorate in Education research I embarked on after finishing as a head in 2010.  My session was one of four within the ‘Leadership’ strand, at an event designed to “encourage everyone and anyone (preferably those in education) to teach, collaborate and share.”

I find the transition between deputy and head particularly interesting.  Paradoxically, although being a deputy is in many respects the best preparation for headship, giving you a ‘taste’ of the experience in miniature, nevertheless moving from deputy to head involves a significant change of professional persona.  My research questions focussed on the challenges of making this transition, and the different sources of support available to incoming heads as they negotiate these challenges.

As a result of the reading and thinking I have done over the past four years, and what I have learnt from the six research participants who have generously allowed me to track their progress over an 11 month period as they move from being deputies to first time new heads, a number of findings are emerging which I shared on Saturday:

  1. The legacy of the predecessor head has a significant impact on the new head’s experience of transition, and the relationship which develops between outgoing and incoming heads is crucial.  My research participants are all currently negotiating the tension between ‘inheriting’ the role, and ‘inhabiting’ it and making it their own.
  2. The pre-appointment period, between getting the job and taking up the post, is a great opportunity to begin to establish yourself, learn about the new school context, build relationships, get to know people and to be known.  This is challenging, however, as you are already fulfilling a demanding deputy head role, and you have to juggle competing priorities (which is, in itself, good practice for the future).
  3. The challenges appear to fall into three main categories: organizational (learning about the specific characteristics and needs of your new school), professional (building the skills you need as a head, for example being the public face of the school) and personal (including balancing your professional/personal relationships and commitments).
  4. Support comes from many difference directions, and you choose the source depending on the particular need, but having a network of fellow new heads is particularly valuable.
  5. Although there are many ways in which you can prepare, ultimately you continue your learning by doing the job.  In the words of Robert Quinn, you “build the bridge as you walk on it”.

Headship is challenging, testing, hugely stimulating and rewarding. It offers you the chance to make a difference to the lives of students and staff on a scale you’ve never experienced before. If you have the temperament, it’s the BEST job in the school.

Photo credit: Neil Shell

This post was first published on @staffrm in 2014

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