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Learning to lead

New headteachers always have a lot to think about. In my case, I'm juggling the job, my doctorate and three small children.

But I am also determined to embed learning for sustainability, from the General Teaching Council for Scotland's new standards for leadership, during my first year of headship. It is described as a "commitment that helps the school and its wider community to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values and practices needed to take decisions which are compatible with a sustainable future in a just and equitable world". This is clearly going to be challenging to achieve in a performance-driven environment.

I recognise that collegiality is the way to get the most out of staff and develop others' skills. However, there are standards and expectations to meet when it comes to many of my responsibilities, including teaching and learning, and health and safety.

I believe it is very important to stay true to the teacher you are. For me, the key drivers are communication, collegiality and integrity. If we are to really serve our communities, and address common problems within them, these drivers must lead our personal practice.

Six months into my headship, I attended the City of Edinburgh Columba 1400 leadership academy to reflect with 16 other headteachers on our personal and professional values. Being out of school with the space to think and discuss collectively was an absolute luxury, with some useful outcomes.

The first was a reinforcement of my professional focus on equality. The second was the realisation that my drive for career-long learning, in order to do a better job for the children and community I serve, is tied to my professional knowledge and understanding.

I started my doctorate at the University of Glasgow last October: a huge commitment financially and in terms of time. So I had to weigh up what it would add to my professional abilities.

I have always lacked confidence, and have often wanted to speak out but was not secure enough in my knowledge to do so. My education is giving me a voice. As a member of the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (Belmas), I've even presented conference sessions on values.

Moreover, I constantly reinforce the value of education to my pupils, staff and the wider community, celebrating it and the privileged role that we have as teachers.

In Scotland we are lucky to still have freedom over our day-to-day practice, but we must be accountable for our teaching and direction.

That is why it is so important that all of us are clear in our thinking and our strategic vision in order to maintain learning for sustainability. And that is why it will continue to be a personal priority for me.

Rehana Shanks is headteacher of Dean Park Primary School in Edinburgh. This is an edited version of a discussion she co-led at the Belmas international conference last month. www.belmas.org.uk

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