Jane Golightly starts the term by asking – are you making the most of yourself as a school leader? – and offers examples of best practice to measure yourself against

Happy New Year readers and welcome back to a new term and a new series of e-bulletins which aim to support you in leading and managing your schools. I hope, like me, you had an enjoyable break and recharged your batteries. During the holiday I found time to enjoy one of my favourite pastimes – cooking. I was caught up in all the adverts and magazine articles encouraging us to make the most of the festive food by using up everything in the fridge to make tasty meals and ensure little food was thrown away. It was while I was seeking inspiration, courtesy of a raft of well-known chefs, of how to make the most of the turkey that it occurred to me we all have to remind ourselves how to make the most of and get the best out of staff, children, parents, governors, community and other schools and services. During this term I will be looking at all of these groups and want to begin by starting at the top and asking you to consider whether you are making the most of yourself as a school leader.

Please don’t think this is self-indulgence or a luxury you don’t have time for. The work of schools is to give children the best possible education. If you want to be sure that the school community has high confidence in the leadership of the school to provide this, you need to take time to step back, concentrate on you and think about whether you are making best use of all your leadership skills. I also want you to think about behaviours as well. There is no doubt that when managing change and dealing with situations with adults and children you end up with a result which is the outcome of your behaviours and skills. Successful leaders know when to apply the right skill at the right time. It isn’t always true that the more experienced a leader the better he or she is at judging the skills set to use. Many experienced leaders have fixed habits and are unbending, while many people new to leadership confidently and successfully apply leadership skills and get great outcomes. So, do those successful leaders intrinsically know what to do or have they learned? Probably some of both but there is no doubt that when leaders are prepared to self-reflect, behaviours and skills can be unlearned and relearned to best effect.

Here are some of the more common features about leaders who successfully make the most of themselves as leaders.

They are genuinely interested in people big and small and make every effort to get to know their school community. Aren’t all school leaders interested in the children and adults? You would hope so but it isn’t always obvious when you go round a school. Some headteachers have much to say to each adult and child encountered on the tour and you can tell this is common practice. Others very little; one of the most common complaints from staff, children and parents is that leadership is always too busy to be interested in them beyond the immediate work of the school. A really productive leadership behaviour is to take the time to get to know people as individuals. They want to see that you are genuinely interested in them. Knowing them and their characteristics, likes and dislikes will help you tailor your approach to them. That way you can be sure you will get the best results from them.

They have determination, resilience and are open to the views of others. School leaders have to have a clear strategic direction and vision. But few school leaders put that vision and strategic direction in place without setbacks, resistance, highs, lows and the unexpected. Although there may be times when they wonder if they are on the right track they are able to bounce back when things don’t go smoothly. They may have to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start again, but they are able to do this more than once and are prepared to makes changes in response to feedback and the views of others. What they definitely don’t do is give up at the first setback, nor do they interpret determination as always having to have their own way. You may smile when I say that there are school leaders who display the adult equivalent of a two-year-old tantrum and throw their dolly out of the pram. Not the type of behaviour that will see staff cooperation, parent satisfaction and pupils enjoying school. We need to remember that school leaders aren’t always right and that the views and opinions of others matter.

They manage their anxiety. Leaders come under pressure from a range of sources. These could be human, financial, local, national, internal and external. These go hand in hand with the role but some schools have more pressure than others. Leaders who make the most of themselves know how to manage anxiety that comes with pressure. Yes, they have to ensure that the pressures are understood and shared by those who need to know, but they don’t allow anxiety to manifest itself in sharpness and impatience with staff and children nor do they go into hiding in the school office. They take action rather than waiting for things to run their course or something to happen which forces them in to a specific course of action.

These are only a few examples of how leaders make the most of themselves. Thinking about these will take you in to considering how you apply skills and behaviours and where you may wish to change. Remember, if you want to change you have to have the intention to do it and the resolution to persevere. But it is worth it. If you aren’t getting the outcomes you want then perhaps it is time to think again about your part. If you keep on doing things in the same way you will always get the same result.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education