The current state of play
With at least one in four primary schools who advertised for the position of headteacher unable to recruit in 2013/14 it seems that more and more teaching staff are reluctant to ever aim for the top job. In particular a growing number of deputy heads are turning their back on leading schools which leads to the question of why? From conversations with fellow professionals it seems that the most common reasons for passing up the opportunity to lead a school are:
- Too much pressure and accountability.
- Being a headteacher is a little like being a football manager these days with people ‘moved on’ if the right results aren’t achieved.
- The ever present threat of OFSTED.
- The step up in salary from deputy to head is too small for the added responsibility.
Personally I was always driven to be a headteacher and had some great role models to learn from and to aspire to but maybe there is just too much negative vibe around. I think headteachers have to question, as a collective group, if we are doing enough to inspire others to join us. Don’t get me wrong there are some great heads out there who have a real moral compass in trying to grow future leaders but there are also a large number of headteachers who moan about the job, complain about the hours and generally are constantly articulating the negatives. There’s nothing worse than hearing a leader counting down the years to retirement. Headship is a great job, yes there are considerable pressures, but the positives far out way the negatives. Therefore the question has to be: how can we inspire and grow future leaders to go all the way?
Promoting a leadership journey
The first stage in developing any future leader is in creating a positive ‘can do’ mindset that is open to taking risks, sees leadership opportunities within school as stepping stones to success and overcomes stumbling blocks that naturally occur. Ultimately it is a balance between providing up and coming leaders with developmental opportunities whilst not piling too much on them too soon which risks disengaging them. I think that any staff member who has leadership potential needs to be exposed to ‘big picture’ thinking as early on in their career as possible so that they have the ability to see past the impact on themselves and their own and class and to think of the good of the school community as a whole. They also need to hear that they have leadership potential and the ability to go on to be a headteacher. All too often future leaders do not want to be seen by their peers as ‘above their station’ in admitting that they are aiming to be a headteacher one day – it would be good to flip this it’s head and assume that if you are an outstanding practitioner that you will be considering headship – why wouldn’t you?
Pushing staff on
If any of my staff members asks me what I recommend in terms of leadership journeys; should they stay in one school or move across a number? I have only one piece of advice. Don’t stay too long anywhere (a maximum of four years) and experience as many different kinds of school and leadership as possible. This is where it helps to identify leaders with potential early on in their career – we want people who are driven to be heads rather than those who reluctantly take the step because there is no other move left to make. If we see this quality early on then we can help them make the right moves. As a head I don’t want to lose my best staff but I have a moral purpose to push them out of their comfort zones and encourage them to achieve their potential. I think, ultimately, a school that is seen as one that grows leaders and pushes them on will be able to recruit higher calibre and ambitious candidates in the first place.
Failure is ok – it’s how you bounce back
I often think that in business the most successful of business men and women have often come back from the brink of oblivion – they have been bankrupt or had a business fail and yet they still reinvent themselves. A good example of this is Jon Oringer who founded Shutterstock (a company that has been valued at over a billion dollars on the NYC stock exhange). When asked what his secret for success was, Jon said that he’d had twelve companies fail before this one and was prepared to fail a thirteenth time. I love that mindset. I know education is different because you can’t continue to fail children but I do think that how we can learn a lot in terms of leadership from the corporate world in how we deal with failure. We want new leaders to be capable of taking risks, prepared to fail and reflective on how they can improve their leadership qualities. Growing leaders is as much about showing them how we deal with failure as how we deal with success. If we grow leaders who come back stronger when things don’t work out as planned then I think we will ultimately be growing leaders who aren’t afraid to fail and in doing this creating a new leadership mindset that says, ‘I will have a go at headship because I can make a difference’ rather than, ‘Headship is too pressured. I might fail and so I’ll stay as deputy’.
As headteachers we have a moral purpose to develop and create a new generation of leaders who are positive about education, up for the challenge of dealing with a constantly fluctuating educational landscape and not afraid to step up to the plate. Our role is to highlight the positives in the job, provide leadership opportunities, articulate (in a constructive way) how we deal with pressure and generally to sell the position of headteacher. After all, if we don’t then who will?