What brought you into teaching in the first place? Looking back (a long way, in my case!) I remember completing my English degree and wanting to find a career which would allow me to use my subject in some way, to continue to learn in my subject area, and to communicate my enthusiasm for English to others. I also remember thinking I wanted a job which would allow me to make some kind of difference to the lives of others, grandiose though that may sound.
In my professional life now, beyond headship, one of the things I do is work with trainee teachers, and if I ask them about their motivation for joining teaching, I hear similar things. Sometimes I talk to career changers moving into teaching who have successfully held responsible positions in other fields, but who felt that their professional lives were not sufficiently satisfying because they didn’t make a significant, positive difference to others.
It seems to me that, in my early years of teaching, the people whose lives I could affect were the pupils in the classes I was timetabled to teach. This constituted my ‘sphere of influence’ as a beginning teacher – of secondary school English, in my case. In due course I moved to be second in the English department and then Head of English in my third school. As a Head of Department, my sphere of influence expanded. I still taught a range of classes, from Year 7 to the sixth form, and recognised that this gave me the opportunity positively to influence their developing understanding of, and positive response to, my subject. But working with and through the other members of my team, I also had the capacity to influence the experience of all the pupils across all the English lessons in the school. This was a great privilege, and a profound responsibility.
After four years as Head of Department I moved again, this time to take up a Head of Sixth Form post which also gave me a role on the Senior Leadership Team. Suddenly it wasn’t just about English any more, although I still taught English to a range of year groups. My sphere of influence now extended beyond my subject area and reached into the wider experience of the sixth form students across the school, as I worked with my team of sixth form tutors and liaised with the heads of all curricular areas, in addition to having a part to play within the school’s senior leadership. I found this demanding, energising and satisfying.
Later, as the single deputy head in a school of 1100 pupils from 4 to 18, my sphere of influence was wider still, encompassing a significant number of elements of whole-school life, within the classroom and beyond it, working with students of all ages, with teaching and support staff, with governors, with parents, and members of the wider community. After five years as a deputy I served for ten years as a head in my sixth school, and in this role it seemed as if there were no parameters – with the governing body I shared responsibility for all aspects of school life. This is a weighty responsibility to shoulder, but it also offers a tremendous opportunity to make a difference on a scale unlike anything you have known before.
So think about your spheres of influence. Consider the following:
- Who is currently within your sphere of influence? What impact does this sphere of influence offer you the opportunity to have?
- If you have aspirations to move to another level of responsibility, exactly how will your sphere of influence expand?
- What is the appeal of this wider sphere of influence? What could you use it to achieve and how might that be rewarding - for you and for others?
- What challenges might this extended sphere of influence present? How can you prepare for these challenges, and ensure you face them as positively as possible when the time comes?
The very best of luck!
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.