GUEST POST from Helena Marsh. Early headship: Take the weather with you

The key lessons learnt, highlights and formative moments from my first four months of headship could be confused with a Crowded House soundtrack… (apologies to the under 30s for this cultural reference): I regularly feel like I’ve experienced ‘Four Seasons in One Day’, ‘Chocolate Cake’ and ‘Instinct’ have been in great demand, and I regularly feel the post-6pm ‘Better Be Home Soon’ tug.

Leading a school is proving to be relentlessly varied and joyful. Yes, there have been episodes of challenge and frustration, but these have helped me to grow as a leader. The reported ‘loneliness of headship’ is not something that I recognise – my diary is crammed with appointments and interactions with a large range of people that provide lots of rewarding exchanges.

Admittedly, by the time an issue reaches me it’s fairly complex, sticky and often charged with emotion. Decision making in a principled and pragmatic way and building and sustaining relationships has been one of the most significant elements of my headship induction.

Finding the time and space to think and behave strategically, rather than respond to events and demands remains a key priority. The main difference with headship being the need to steer school improvement, rather than get embroiled too much in operational detail.

In all of this, the need to establish a positive and productive climate is central. I don’t pretend to be omnipotent, but I do recognise the potential impact of what I choose to do, say and prioritise (either explicitly or by interpretation) on individuals and, in turn, the school as a whole. I’ve been surprised at just how much currency and influence a throw away comment or aside that I have made has had, on occasion. Cue the Spider-Man great power and responsibility quotation…

The ‘Leaders make the weather’ concept is an interesting one. The title of David Grossman’s book ‘No Cape Needed: The Simplest, Smartest, Fastest Steps to Improve How You Communicate by Leaps and Bounds’ highlights the need to dispel the super hero model of leadership and the need for effective and powerful communication.

I am compelled by the study of school culture, the micro climates that exist within it, and how they are fostered. The key job of all school leaders is to nurture talent to enable and empower all teachers, staff and students to thrive and strive, not just survive. I myself have experienced a range of different school ethos and dynamics and how this has affected colleagues’ efficacy, morale, pride and sense of success.

Amidst a stormy and turbulent time in the educational landscape it’s so important that our school barometers remain ‘fair and sunny’. That’s not to deny the challenges and pressures that we face as a profession, it’s a call to deal with them with optimism, positivity and good humour.

There are days when as school leaders we need to hold up the metaphorical umbrella for our staff and ourselves but modelling the ability to dance in the rain has its place too.

Helena Marsh, Principal, Linton Village College.

Photo credit: John Berry

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