Whether you are new to senior leadership, or an experienced senior leader reflecting on how you might further develop your leadership skills, these ten resolutions may give you pause for thought.
Just as I believe that the best teachers are always striving to be better teachers, I think the best leaders are always mindful of opportunities to strengthen their leadership practice. We are never the “finished article” and, while I do not advocate pursuing perfectionism, having high aspirations and seeking opportunities to learn and grow as practitioners and professionals is healthy.
So consider the following:
1. Resolve to remember
The best senior leaders never forget what it is like to teach a full timetable, and they are respectful of the workload and pressures faced by every classroom teacher.
2. Resolve to reduce stress, not to increase it
Because of this, the best senior leaders see that their job is to filter some of the ‘noise’ and do all in their power to help teachers do the best job they can in the classroom. Teaching can be stressful. Ideally, senior leaders help us to focus on our core purpose, which is teaching, and caring for, the pupils in our charge as effectively as possible. If senior leaders add to teachers’ stress, rather than helping to reduce it, effective practice is less likely to result.
3. Resolve to get the balance of support and challenge right
This does not mean that senior leaders should not have high aspirations and expectations, and, in order to get the best from those we lead, it is important that we strike the right balance of support and challenge in our professional relationships. Just as teachers need to find this balance in their dealings with the pupils, leaders at all levels need to do the same if they are to help those they lead to fulfil their potential.
4. Resolve to model the practice you hope to see in others
Senior leaders themselves need to model good practice. If they do not teach well, meet deadlines, behave professionally and hold themselves to a high standard, they will lack credibility and will certainly not be able to earn the respect of those they lead.
5. Resolve to be trusting and to be trustworthy
The best Senior Leaders know that this respect is key to the most positive and productive relationships, and that without a foundation of strong relationships characterised by mutual trust, even the best ideas are unlikely to bear fruit. Leaders need to earn trust, which will not be automatically given just because of the title you hold.
6. Resolve to find, and make best use of, the ‘bright spots’
In order to get the best from those you lead, it is important to see the best in them. It is so much more important to ‘catch people doing something right’, rather than constantly to focus on trying to ‘catch people out’ when they’re doing something wrong. This does not mean ignoring poor practice, or failing to hold others to account. But it does mean being fully aware of the skills and strengths of those you lead, ensuring they know that you see and value these strengths, and that working together you are determined to make the most of them for the sake of the team as a whole.
7. Resolve to improve communication in any way you can
Communication is key, and it can be complex and challenging. Ask yourselves whether you could improve the way in which you communicate with those you lead. Are you using email when a face-to-face conversation would be better? Are you listening sufficiently carefully to what others say? Are you communicating clearly, succinctly, and in a convincing and compelling way? Are you getting out and about enough, visible round the school and using every opportunity to connect with staff, with pupils, with other leaders? It is key to successful communication.
8. Resolve to model good practice with respect to workload management and wellbeing
Strive to achieve a healthy, sustainable balance between your personal and professional commitments so that you model to those you lead that, though challenging, it is possible to do so. You should be committed and work hard, but you need to know when and how to switch off and to devote time to other aspects of your life so that you can rest, refresh and re-energise in order to be professionally effective. If you are unable to find a workable balance yourself, it is unlikely that you will be able effectively to monitor and support those you lead who need to do the same.
9. Resolve to be courageous enough always to speak truth to power
Be honest with the head. An essential part of how you support the head as a Senior Leader is that you offer wise counsel and tell the truth (professionally, calmly, constructively and behind closed doors) if you disagree with the head. The head may or may not listen – and ideally won’t shoot the messenger – but if Senior Leaders are not open and honest with the head, the danger is that no one will be.
10. Resolve to make the leap!
Think about whether you can see yourself stepping up to headship in due course and, if you recognise that this may be part of your future career path, consider how you can best prepare yourself for this. If you are reluctant to consider it, unpick the reasons, and avoid convincing yourself that this is not something you want simply because you lack self-belief. Do you believe in the transformative power of education to help young people take control of their lives, to open doors and ensure they have a range of positive options? Do you recognise that schools need strong headteachers who are ready to make a difference to the lives of others on a larger scale than they have ever done before? And ask yourself: ‘If not me, then who? And if not now, then when?’
Dr Jill Berry is an educational consultant and former independent school head, and is a source of inspiration for aspiring and existing school leaders around the country.