Being a follower is pure bliss

1st August 2003 at 01:00
IF you want to see distributed leadership in action then come on holiday with me. The best part of it for me is the fact that I make no decisions.

None whatsoever. Honest.

I become a follower rather than a leader. I do not care what we do, where we go, where we eat, or how we get there. I just follow on meekly. I abdicate all responsibility to my husband or whoever else I happen to be on holiday with.

They don't seem to mind. When you are used to the buck stopping with you it is a great relief to pass on the mantle of responsibility, even if it is just for two or three weeks.

My personality changes when I am on holiday. Instead of the usual assertive, up-front, in-your-face sort of person, I become shy and retiring. When the service is bad or the food is cold, I do not complain. I avoid confrontation and aggression at all costs - I just want peace and quiet.

Another thing I do not do on holiday is take risks. I take enough of those every day in my working life. My holiday destination needs to be tried and tested and of the four-star mode. I participate in nothing more adventurous than a guided tour to a local place of interest, or a short trip to the bar. Adventure holidays are for those who work in boring, safe and uninteresting places.

I lead a school that could be described as challenging - not in the official sense (we are well above the Government's GCSE minimum targets).

But we are inner-city in every other sense of the word. Rather than being a "leading edge" school we are more"on the edge". In fact, we could fall over at any minute.

Actually, it is a great place to work. Every day is different and exciting.

My staff (being very young and enthusiastic - bless them) are full of ideas and always want to try something new.

The kids are demanding but full of fun. They do not take kindly to strangers and new staff have a really hard time for their first year, while the rest of us fall over ourselves supporting them and convincing them it will get easier with time.

If they hang around long enough they reap the benefits. The good news this year is that only 11 teachers left this term. The bad news is that I am not replacing five of those who left, as I have a budget short-fall of pound;220,000. I only hope I can find a way around plugging my budget deficit other than going down the staff reduction procedure road. Another worry to put away for the summer.

Distributed leadership is the order of the day at my school. I will distribute responsibility to anyone who will take it - as long as they know I am in charge. An autocrat, me? No, just a normal headteacher who is totally convinced she is invincible. Not quite like the Pope - but nearly.

This is, of course, a tiring position to be in. You can understand why I turn into Ms Meek amp; Mild for two weeks a year. The challenges of leading such a school are many, and despite being described as a woman with boundless energy, I do get exhausted.

So what do I do when the summer holidays arrive? I get sick of course.

Well, I don't have time to fit in normal ailments during term time, so I wait for the first day of the holidays and wake up with the lot.

I've learned through past experience not to go away until two or three weeks into the holidays when I have enough energy to enjoy myself. It takes me three weeks to get out of the term-time sleep pattern, waking up at 8am rather than at 5am.

So does the summer holidays mean six weeks of total relaxation? I don't think so. It is more likely to be one week being sick, two weeks catching up on work, two weeks away, and one week preparing for next term. If you thought heads used their holidays participating in hobbies, reading classical literature, improving the mind, visiting art galleries and going to the theatre and enjoying other worthwhile pursuits, then you are wrong.

My perfect holiday involves watching Richard and Judy, reading loads of mindless books with happy endings and no big words or difficult plots, a beach, an umbrella and a gin and tonic, no phones or email and no people I have to talk to, but plenty I might want to.

Two weeks of mindless, carefree non-activity is all I require (in fact, it's all I can bear) to set me up for the autumn term. Work-life balance? I don't understand the concept - I just can't wait to start the new term.

Kenny Frederick is head of George Green's school in Tower Hamlets, east London

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