Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Climbing the Last Rung of the Ladder

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Climbing the Last Rung of the Ladder

Article excerpt

In the final part of our series about career development, we look at the character traits needed for successful headship

In the early years of my teaching career, I couldn't see the appeal of headship at all. I was aware of the pressure, the responsibility, the stress - dare I say, the unpopularity.

The headteachers I knew usually didn't teach. They seemed to have relatively little contact with students, which to me was the joy of the job. They were, in the main, relatively remote figures (one was nicknamed the "hologram head" by pupils).

In retrospect, I think I was overcritical (teachers tend to be, have you noticed?), and lacking in real understanding of the role. Over the years, as I moved up to be head of department and later head of sixth form, I worked more closely with headteachers and senior teams, which developed my appreciation for what they did. I learned from some good examples and, arguably, even more from negative examples. And I honed my vision of the kind of headteacher I would be, were I to get that far.

For colleagues also beginning to consider headship seriously, I hope the advice below proves useful.

Stepping up

It was when I was a deputy that I realised I wanted to be a headteacher. When my boss was out of school and I stepped up, I enjoyed the challenge. The experience also helped me to decide what type of school I would like to lead. After five years as a deputy, I moved to lead such a school and never regretted it.

Be under no illusion, though: it is challenging. The responsibilities are considerable, and you will face difficult days and demanding situations. As a public figure, if you get it wrong (and, inevitably, there will be times when you do), you must be able to cope with criticism, some of it unfair.

You have to develop your resilience, keep your integrity intact and remember what your core values are, even when - especially when - they may be sorely tested. You will work harder than ever before, and you can never complain about that - who would sympathise?

You have to be aware that the job is potentially overwhelming and all-consuming, and you have to protect yourself, as well as your family, friends and life beyond headship. For me, 10 years as a head felt long enough, much as I enjoyed it. …

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