The first four years as a Headteacher have flown by and been as varied and unpredictable as could be imagined. At the heart of it Headteachers tend to have strong opinions on most things and a clear idea of what they want to achieve in their school. I believe that a clear choice has to be made about whether to sit back and see how the educational world changes around us or actively shape the future. During this time both my own children have embarked on the educational adventure… is all that we do great enough for my own children? It’s definitely a question that keeps me honest day to day. I have outlined five key themes to achieve this and shape our thoughts as school leaders in this context.
1. Be grounded in a moral purpose
In education currently we have a clear choice to make. Do we stand in isolation doing only what is best for our own school or do we actively commit to do what’s”best for education”? A key aspect of this reflection must be being clear about having principles in our leadership. It is an interesting challenge to reflect on this within your own school. What do we stand for? How does it effect the decisions we make? Ultimately in a time of change I believe it is essential to genuinely engage in these questions and articulate what we are all about and why we do the job we do. As a staff we started the year by asking “What gets you out of bed every day?” This led to some inspiring stories of vocation, energy, fulfillment and a deep rooted moral purpose. I believe it is worth connecting to this regularly if we are going to keep one another honest individually or collectively.
2. Embrace opportunities for change
I have witnessed some experienced school leaders freeze when faced by change or an unpredictable path ahead. Historically we have learnt behaviours at times where we have been dependent on a centralised vision from government or local authorities. If we stop and ask in our schools what we need to do to change or improve further we will often find some exciting and interesting work to be done. We can challenge ourselves to engage in action research and best practice nationally and internationally to shape the direction of education both now and for the future. As a profession and school leaders we need to develop a confident, clear and coherent voice to inform and shape educational direction. Currently the SSAT has initiated a “Redesigning Schooling” campaign which offers an opportunity to engage in dialogue, professional reflection and developing a shared vision for the future. By getting actively involved in any of this dialogue and reflection you could make a real difference.
3. Take education out of politics
We have an opportunity and an invitation now to ensure that education becomes more than a party political issue. We all accept that the election cycle demands change and impact that could at times lead to short term fixes. We don’t want our students to be caught up in the crossfire! The recent discussion on setting up a Royal College of Teaching has much merit and should be encouraged to help guide the long term development of educational vision and accountability measures for schools. If this is achieved this could provide a stable, respected benchmark for education for the future.
4. A self-improving system
We have been invited to lead, initiate and develop genuine change in the direction of education. An excellent example of this is the development of Teaching School Alliances and the radical overhaul of Initial Teacher Training through the launch of School Direct. It is expected that by 2016 all trainee teachers will come through this route. I would urge every school to make the commitment to invest in recruiting, developing and nurturing the best teachers for the future – our children all deserve it. I am confident that nobody could have predicted this rapid change even a year ago so we need to be responsive and not trapped in thinking about the old models that we sometimes herald with nostalgic rose-tinted spectacles. By the Autumn it is planned that there will be 500 Teaching School Alliances nationally – are you involved? If not, why not? This is your definitive way to work collaboratively for the good of all. It can develop inspiring links with some exceptional schools who will challenge your thinking and ultimately make you better at what you do.
5. Keep the faith and stay connected
I believe that every teacher has a strong sense of why the job matters. In my first school I vividly remember there was a teacher who would weep at the photocopier each morning – if we forget why it all matters we need to have a strength of conviction to do something else. It’s all too important to do “just as a job” to pay the mortgage. I remember that prior to Headship many people described it as a “lonely job” – perhaps if you choose it to be. I have consciously made a commitment to ensure that I engage in the daily life of our school – I genuinely miss it if I can’t get out and about each day! You can also choose your peers, I am lucky enough to have some of my closest friends and family as inspirational role models and an important benchmark for all that I do. Seek out these people if you don’t have them – they will be marked out as people who radiate energy, full of integrity and a passion for doing all that is right. What do I dream for my two children? I know I want the best for and the best from them so they becoma all they are called to be – if you are happy to master your destiny in schools I know I’d want them to be in your classrooms too.
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Rob is Headteacher at St. Paul’s Catholic College in West Sussex. He is a member of the SSAT Vision 2040 group who are involved in shaping the Redesigning Schooling campaign and also leads the Inspire Teaching Alliance.