My Leadership Lesson Plenary

I have one more day left as acting Head of Curriculum Area and then my boss comes back and I return to my role as second in department. It’s been a very busy 5 months and although I’ve lost sleep; gained a few pounds from stress eating and have found a few more grey hairs I have really enjoyed this time and have definitely learnt a lot.

My most valuable lesson:

Ask for help when you need it. There have been a few moments as HoCA when I didn’t immediately know the right answer or even where to start looking for the right answer. But the advice from other HoCAs and SLT was given so willingly and often helped me sort the wood from the trees. I’ve always known I could ask for help in every job I’ve had, but my normal way of working is to try to find the answer myself first, however when running the department there isn’t always time to work my own way to the solution.

My ‘eureka’ moment:

Organising the media exam for over 200 students. If anyone knows the OCR media exam, you’ll understand the potential nightmare of this situation. For those who don’t: the exam features a 30 minute DVD clip, so 200 students need access to a clear projected image and quality sound system. This is not possible in our gym due to the skylight and we cannot fit 200+ students in our hall. This meant we had to run two sittings. This meant keeping 100+ students and some scribes / readers in isolation for an hour after they sat the exam early.
This (potential) logistical nightmare showed me that I am more organised than I thought. As well as showing me that something I often see as a character flaw is actually a side to myself I need to embrace and make better use of. Naturally, I go to the worst case scenario and think of every possible problem then work my way to the ideal scenario by solving every problem on the way. Normally, I hide this side as it can involve lots of questions and often unnecessary conversations and I worry that I’m bugging people and coming across as a worry-wart. But this time it meant that the whole day ran smoothly, there wasn’t a single problem and everyone who was involved (students; the English team; SLT; the exams officer; other members of the school) knew what they were doing and when and it went perfectly!
Since then I’ve been more confident to be myself. I think, if I’m honest, this is the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt. I can’t expect the best from my team and ask them to trust me if I don’t trust myself to follow my gut and handle potentially difficult situations in the way I feel confident in.

What will stay with me:

Watching the media coordinator find her voice as a leader. This was her first leadership position and she was finding the transition from team member to leader hard at times, often feeling like the rest of the department weren’t listening to her or respecting her deadlines. I have enjoyed coaching her and helping guide her through the first year of whole cohort entry.
But I have learnt a lot from working with her:

  • spend time supporting & coaching, but there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I can’t meet with you now, use this time to draft the [whatever] and we’ll meet [whenever] and I’ll have a look at it.” After all, I’m busy and have deadlines too.
  • there’s nothing wrong with admitting my faults & struggles. Don’t try to look perfect and that you find this all easy when supporting someone. They need to know that it’s OK to struggle and how you found the solution.
  • show them you trust them. But not just to do their job; if they’re part of your leadership team (she was my acting second in department) trust them with information (only if appropriate) and sound them out on ideas before you take them to the rest of the department. Not only does that mean they publically support you but people always give their best when they feel trusted and appreciated.
  • tell them when they’ve done a good job. This one sounds easy, but doing it right takes thought. Should it be written or spoken? Private or in front of the team or SLT?

What would I  have done differently?

I would trust myself from the beginning. Taking on an ‘acting’ role is a tough one to manage: you want to hand the department back as you found it but you also don’t want to be disturbing someone’s maternity leave double checking decisions every 5 minutes. It’s often hard to ignore the nagging voice in my head which insists I’m always making mistakes and this time I wish I’d listened to my head teacher’s voice when she told me that she had faith I would do a good job in this role from the beginning.

Listening to my own doubts and second guessing every decision I made meant that I gave myself many unnecessary sleepless nights and teary evenings for the first few months. Yet looking back now, I can see that the department didn’t collapse; children kept learning and nobody handed in their notice! I really do need to stop being so hard on myself.

Next steps…

I need to keep pushing my KS3 agenda. I am going to consider this key stage and it’s teachers as a separate department / team that I am the leader of. I know that I can make good decisions about the best way to deliver English to my KS3 students and I need to be as assertive with my HoCA about my intentions as I have been with my line manager when I was running the whole department.
I will let my ‘Teacher Geek’ out more. The department have always willingly shared resources, but only when asked. I introduced some time to share good practice at department meetings and I want that to keep growing. I will insist on time in department meetings at the end of KS3 units to share resources & ideas which worked well, although I’ll probably keep them at a TeachMeet style 2 minute time limit.
I will put myself out there more and seek out CPD opportunities within the school which will help me grow as a teacher and as a leader and that starts tomorrow with an email to the head asking if I can shadow the organisation of the big October INSET day so that I can grow and experience the other area of leadership which excites me: whole school teaching and learning. Wish me luck…