You’d think by February we’d have fully exited panto season, but the sudden arrival of snow that appeared at the end of last week was another opportunity for school leaders to be cast as either heroes or villains.
As a headteacher, just seeing the weather forecast at the start of the week was enough to let me know that a difficult decision lay ahead, and with any difficult decision, you can guarantee someone people will feel you made the wrong call.
In the grand scheme of things, making the call on opening or closing the school due to snow is not the most difficult decision a headteacher has to make. It’s not even the most likely source of parental gripes (I refer you, dear reader, to sports day). But it is certainly a timely reminder that, in our public-facing role, there are plenty of opportunities to upset people without even trying.
It’s advice I always try to share with new teachers: you will be cast as both hero and villain in this profession. Only, pay little heed to either, for the reality almost certainly lies somewhere in between the two.
It’s particularly important to remember that as humans we’re far more likely to ruminate over the words of complaint than to celebrate those of praise.
How many of us have left a parents' evening having heard nothing but positives from most families, only to dwell on the snide comment from that one parent who seemed to have an axe to grind?
When I was a new teacher, I remember collecting in report slips at the end of the academic year, and enjoying the words of thanks that many parents had shared – just for the whole thing to be ruined by one parent who wasn’t happy with the marks I’d allocated on one page of the report. I stood by my decisions, but inevitably, found myself explaining things to my headteacher the following day. Thankfully, he was an excellent head who supported me and although the whole thing did peter out, I was still left feeling like the villain.
Naturally, the converse has also been true from time to time. On odd occasions, parents have told me how I’ve been one of the best things ever to happen to their child, and while pride does have its place, a little humility serves us well, too, like with those one-off complaints; the likelihood is that the parent who singled you out as a solution to the world’s ills probably just became a little carried away.
That’s not to say that all praise should be dismissed – far from it. I encourage staff to hang onto those notes of praise, the thank-you cards and the positive report reply slips. Not because we should eschew modesty, but because those few words represent the top end of reality. For the most part, the parents who aren’t knocking on the door with complaints are more than happy with the work we do, they just don’t feel the need to say so.
As for the moans, they’ll come and go. If your school opened, but you couldn’t get in, someone might have grumbled. But chances are someone else was hoping you were okay. So while you may not be a hero, it’s very unlikely that you’re truly a villain – but don’t let me rule out the hero status on your behalf.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979