My first lesson was from my head of department who taught me never, never to compromise on commitment and standards – in music (our subject) as in everything educational.
In education, children and their wellbeing are at the heart of everything. The endless quest for excellence must always be centred on them and their individual needs. That mantra hasn’t changed for me in 26 years of headship, but I’m sure my application of the principle has become more skilful and sophisticated.
Teaching needs endless supplies of patience, energy, humanity and compassion. You need to like people and understand that adults and children alike in a school need care, flexibility and support. A clear vision of where you are trying to go, and an ability to explain, negotiate and compromise will help you to take people with you.
Focus on what’s really important, ignore distractions and never, never compromise on principles.
Be yourself at work as you are at home.
Admit to your mistakes and learn to laugh at yourself.
Don’t fall into the trap of putting selfish interests – convenience, reputation, political expediency – ahead of the needs of people.
Never compromise on your principles, but always show flexibility and sympathy when people need them.
Believe in your staff, encourage them, give them the freedom to do things in the way that works best for them, but always keep reminding them of that hunger for excellence.
Always try to “catch people doing things right” (Tom Peters, management guru); and have a good party now and then.
New headteachers should ‘get out more’. Schools are busy places, and people and issues pour in upon you all the time; it can be like a tsunami on a busy day. I’ve not had my greatest ideas in school. I’ve had them when I’ve been out visiting other schools, attending or speaking at conferences, even occasionally inspecting a school. The great idea has come to me and I could take it back to school, talk to staff and develop it from an idea into a project.
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