Daunted by a group role

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Pat Denison answers your leadership questions

I am a year group leader in a primary school, appointed in September to my first leadership and management post after four years in teaching. The school I have joined is a fast-moving, forward-thinking organisation and I know I have to hit the ground running. There is a lot to learn about the way the school does things, such as planning, delivering the curriculum, assessment, data collection and analysis. I do have some non-contact time to help me cope with all of this, but I feel it's all too much - it's hard enough to get to grips with my class. I am feeling exhausted and my team look depressed; I get the feeling they don't have much faith in me.

I assume your year group leader's post requires you to play a major role in the school's leadership and management team, and you are therefore expected to contribute to the drive and direction of development and improvement plans. You are also a class teacher and need to be a role model of exemplary practice, living and breathing the school's high standards of teaching and learning.

This is a significant leadership post. Your interview and selection process should have established that your relatively short teaching experience had nevertheless given you real opportunities to show leadership potential - an ability to influence and improve quality, to get things done through and with others and to shape an effective team. You convinced the panel that you had what it takes to fulfil such a role.

You are now undergoing the kind of knock to your confidence that has you wondering whether the panel made the right decision. This is debilitating and frightening, and convinces you that you are inadequate. This is a deadly combination: the magnitude of the role, the strangeness of the school's practices and norms, the gap between your performance and the standard you want to attain and your feelings of powerlessness. .

The first thing to realise is that this is literally a "state" that you're in. You are a perfectly sound human being, but this temporary mix of toxic ingredients has depleted your reservoir of resilience.

If you haven't got one already, buy a journal. Don't just use an empty school exercise book; treat yourself to a beautiful hard-backed leather journal that is a pleasure to own. You deserve it. Also, get yourself a day-to-a-page diary.

Carve your job up into separate strands and look at each. I would identify management - all the things you need to do; leadership - the things you need to be; and self - your toolkit for survival.

Under management, list what you consider to be the major accountabilities of the role. These would probably involve organisation, structures and systems that enable the year group to run smoothly, so people know what they're doing, what's coming up and where the periods of more intensive action are (such as report writing, data collection and class assemblies).

Make a fairly detailed plan of action for the tasks you need to complete to make sure the systems work. Be absolutely clear about when you're going to do these tasks - sort out which days, which times, how often and for how long, and put them in your diary. Colour-code them so you don't have to plough your way through scribble to find them.

For the leadership strand, get together with your leadership team and talk.

Ask questions and explore responses, unpicking what leadership means and what it looks like. Which behaviours reflect the leaders you aspire to be? What are the statements you make about who you think you are, through everything you do? How do others perceive you? How does what you do impact on how they feel? Use each other as trusted mentors. Ask for feedback and support in interpreting it and acting on it. You need a coach. If the school has not yet trained staff in coaching and mentoring, request that it does. In the meantime, find one from outside - it will be money well spent.

You won't become a brilliant leader overnight, but you will be more accepting of yourself as a learner on a journey of self-discovery and acquisition of skills, attitudes and experience. Describe to your team what you hope to be and invite them to contribute to your portfolio.

For self, discover what drives you, blocks you, gives you most satisfaction. Recall times when you've felt, professionally, at your best, at your most resourceful. Try to identify the factors that need to be in place and aim to replicate them. Use the journal - you may find the process of describing feelings and responses uncomfortable at first, but with perseverance you will find it a powerful tool for self-reflection and a wonderful reminder of what it is that convinces you you're in the right job.

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email pdenison@thevillageschool.demon.co.uk

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