The trouble with schools is, that I don’t lead one anymore.
Okay, I realise that the opening sentence above may sound bit of an arrogant statement, but I had to begin this blog in my usual way and what were my alternatives?
- The trouble with schools is that they had to put up with Armando for 34 years (Fairly true)
- The trouble with schools is that they let small bald Italians lead them (There may be another small bald Italian running a school in the UK who is now deeply offended)
- The trouble with schools is that they all closed, just when Armando had decided to retire and so he didn’t realise his vision (a bit too self-indulgent).
And so, I opted for the arrogant sounding one. But it’s not arrogant – honest! The statement is not about schools being lesser places without me (we’re all replaceable), rather it concerns the fact that I’ll miss being a Head. I loved leading schools, every single day was different and I would have carried on, but I was tired and you make mistakes when you’re tired. Not that I didn’t make mistakes along the way, my God I made a few (you can sing ‘My Way’ at this point), but you know when it’s time.
When you take over and lead challenging schools which are on the point of closing, you have a limited time span to settle the place, get systems and processes in place and embed them. It takes a certain type of leadership, which involves a strange mix of nurturing/care (of staff and students) and unfortunately, seemingly cold-hearted decision making (always based on facts). It’s possible for a Head to take a school from special measures to a ‘good’ inspection status, but it takes an amazing amount of energy, sheer doggedness and I would say a change of leadership style from ‘Transformational’ to ‘Instructional’; (something I just did not have left in me to do at Eastern High), to create an ‘outstanding’ school. It would have taken another three years, especially after the closures we’ve had.
Also, the longer you lead a challenging school the scarier it becomes (at least in my own head it did); I kept thinking that something terrible might happen that would sweep us down the big snake on the snakes and ladders board to square 1. That’s probably my own paranoia. Situations that did arise and were well dealt with by staff who had the capacity to deal effectively with most things a school can throw at them.
So, what does a Head do next? Personally, I think it would be (literally) fatal to just retire. How does your ego cope with not being the centre of attention anymore? How does your mind cope with the sudden lack of continual stimulus? How does your body cope without the miles you walk each day as a Head? The physical side of things are easy to continue, but the first two concerns above can, I imagine, easily lead to depression.
So what to do?
Firstly, my big announcement (and plug) is that I’ve written a book, something I’ve always longed to do. It’s being published by Crown House and out in November. It’s not a kiss and tell story about Eastern High which people kept asking me to write about. It’s about school ethos and how to develop a good one, drawing on my experiences over the years. You can read more about it here. The lovely thing is, you won’t see any of the grammatical errors you no doubt spot in these blogs.
A few people have asked if I’ll carry on with these blogs and the answer is yes. I think I’ll firstly begin to share the resources, I’ve created over the years; some of which may be useful.
I’m also going to be supporting some schools on a consultancy basis and so hopefully keep my hand in. I wonder how many years you have until you gradually lose touch with the day-to-day life of schools?
And another book, I hope.
And relax. . .
 Shatzer, Ryan Hamilton ((2009). ‘A Comparison Study Between Instructional and Transformational Leadership Theories: Effects on Student Achievement and Teacher Job Satisfaction”. Available at https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/etd/2432