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Get a head of the crowd with the 3Rs

You've got the job! But the sleepless nights have already started. Of course you'll be able to do it. You wouldn't have been supported or chosen to be a head if you couldn't. Sit back, relax and read on. You could avoid one or two unforgivable mistakes.

Remember "the 3Rs": reasonable, realistic and respected. That's what you're aiming to be. You may think you want to be top of the league tables, to have parents flocking to your door, begging for places but it won't happen without the 3Rs.

So, consider your staff. That team of people who have the power to make or break you. Who can send you home shaking with anger and despair or help you realise all your dreams and ambitions. Handle them carefully. Nurture them with pride. Without them, you are nothing.

Be reasonable on the little things - it's surprising how the big things then will be given a try - and be realistic. Everyone is not like you. Think about what different teachers can do and what you can expect before making any requests. It's your job to nurture, persuade and convince.

Just when you thought you'd got rid of the classroom full of demanding little individuals, you realise you have a staffroom full of demanding big individuals! The difference is, that this is like teaching the A stream. They're all intelligent and interested. They may be off-colour or temperamental at times, but with a realistic approach they can be developed into a great team.

Respect will come if you work hard and you're reasonable and rational; when the parents know that you're approachable and treat everyone with respect; when the children know you're fair and caring. Be patient. It takes time for word to get around. But it's surprising how tiny things come back: sorting out a lost coat, the enquiry about a pregnant mum's health and sympathy if a gran dies.

The first months will be the acid test. Every parent who ever had an axe to grind with your predecessor will be in; every child who was a behaviour problem in the past will try to curry favour. Make your decisions about fairness and boundaries early and be clear in the messages you give. Ask the deputy or senior teachers for their opinions. If consulted, they will fill in a bit of background. If you think you can go it alone, they'll watch you fall into the traps.

Develop your own management style, but in the early days remember that if you're prepared to roll your sleeves up and pitch in with the extras, so will they.

Headship is stewardship. It's about using your talents to the best of your ability. If you cultivate the 3Rs and avoid resentment you'll reach the ultimate goal - a happy retirement when you'll be able to say, "I did my best".

Margaret Sandercock is a former head living in Canvey Island, Essex

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