7 things every new school leader should be doing

If you’re finding yourself at the helm for the first time, don’t worry, says Alan Shields, and remember relationships are everything

Alan Shields

New school leaders

Well… for new school leaders, the first term is well under way. Depending on your personality, and your school, you’ve probably felt sick with worry or bursting with excitement…or perhaps an odd mixture of both.

As an experienced teacher, you will be skilled at making the very best use of your time. Every moment of every lesson has been carefully utilised to help your pupils achieve, but now your time is pressurised like never before.

Just how should you use your time in your new post? One thing is for certain: if you don’t have a plan about how you are going to use your time, if you are not intentional about it, life will just happen.

Here are my tips to use your time wisely. 

1. Time spent building relationships will, of course, be crucial. You need to take time to get to know your people; pupils, parents, colleagues.  

It’s a good time, perhaps, to remind yourself of that old saying; we have two ears but only one mouth for a reason.

2. It’s a time for listening, for asking gentle questions and for trying to understand the context and culture of the school. It may not be a time for Churchillian speeches about your vision for the school and all the changes you plan to make.  

3. Sometimes the best way to communicate your vision is to drip-feed it to your people, to live it out through what you do and how you do it.  Visible school leaders are particularly valued by parents. Relationships built at the school gate can prove to be invaluable.

4. As you build relationships with those around you, it is important to remember that things are not always exactly as they seem. Take time to get to know your team and avoid jumping to conclusions about people.

5. Some colleagues, it seems, are enthusiastic about everything while others appear to be negative about anything new that comes along.   Every staffroom, however, has its barometers.  These are colleagues who will give an honest reflection on your latest idea or initiative.  In the fullness of time, you will seek these people out and value their counsel.

6. It will be important, also, to begin to build a network outside of your own school.  Experienced colleagues in other places will be an invaluable source of advice, support and guidance. They can bring perspective to the most difficult situations.

7. In the first days and weeks in post, you may feel pressured to make lots of decisions quickly.  Not all decisions, however, have to be made ‘then and there’. Unless it is genuinely urgent, many decisions are better made after chatting with your team, walking the dog or enjoying a soak in the bath.  Some decisions may even require all three approaches.

You are going to change the world for the young people in your school…just take your time and be true to what you believe in.

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Alan Shields

Alan Shields is head of a local authority primary school in Glasgow

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