Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Lessons From Leaving

Just seen that I didn't publish this before I left the UK!

As you no doubt know by now, I'm leaving the UK and have already left my job as a primary Headteacher of an inner city school. (If you didn't know this you can read some thoughts behind this decision here.)

I'm not going to bang on for long but through the slightly extrapolated process of saying goodbyes and actually leaving (I'm still in the UK as I write and still have another week to go...) something has dawned on me - I care much more than I realised about the people around me.

This might sound obvious and ridiculous but it wasn't until I was forced to face this fact that I actually realised it!  Previously I'd been fairly blasé about moving on; I care deeply about the children in my school and am concerned about their futures but I rationalised this by leaving them in the hands of the new head and moving on to care about my upcoming children.  But what of the adults? Here's a couple of thoughts:

In the day to day running of the school I thought they felt I valued them but... During a conversation about me leaving, a colleague told someone else that I didn't normally say nice things to them but what I'd written in the card I'd sent had really touched them!  This hit me hard - I thought I did say 'nice things'!  It's not that I go around grumping at people (I believe that no matter what the situation, a leader has to keep up the game face; how can you expect your staff to feel positive if they see you stomping around?) and I enjoy a laugh as much as the next man but maybe I'd assumed too much and missed the obvious.  On reflection I think my colleague was probably right, I don't think I did say enough 'nice things'.  For the sake of clarification I'm defining 'nice things' as professional qualities or performance, not new hair styles, successful fake tans or new car.

But why?  One possible explanation is one of the main reasons I'm leaving - the constant 'drive and strive' to be better. Nothing is ever good enough. I expect lots from my staff and I don't apologise for that and yes all schools can always do better before we get into some melodramatic debate about dumbing down schools. Given our friends at the DfE were knocking on the door on my first day, muttering something about my school being on 'the list', it was clear things were going to be tough. But maybe in all that franticness and to some extent hoop jumping, the simple act of saying 'nice things' was lost.  And maybe, ironically, recognising the 'nice things' would have brought about even greater improvement.

So what? I've learnt a couple of things, I think.  Firstly, recognise and credit the 'nice things' outside of the formal performance management or pupil progress type meetings. Secondly, and this makes me nervous, I'm going to front up and include a 360 review type activity about my leadership. Previously I've shied away from activities like this but I will do it.  (Somebody please email or tweet me in a year's time...!).

The other realisation is the impact that you can have as a leader. One card I received from a member of staff said 'I have completely changed as a teacher and you have really pushed me to think how and why I teach. I've really tried hard to be as good as you think I am' which I'm taking positively! The irony is that this card is from someone who easily ranks close to the top of my list of 'best teachers' I've worked with in the last 20 years.  I don't do this job for the glory, and I don't like to be in the limelight as I just see it as my job, but it does go to show the power of being a leader and moments like this make it all worthwhile.

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