Help! I'm in a swoon over the head;Opinion

12th February 1999 at 00:00
WHAT A plethora of a menu to choose from. I am surrounded by newspaper cuttings - performance reviews, more money for teachers and the Scottish Qualification for Headship for starters. I am going to take a deep breath and talk about headteachers. But don't start savouring the prospect of me being carpeted on Monday morning, and think carefully before you read any more.

Have those who know me ever shared those wicked wee thoughts you have about your boss? You see, I've saved them up for a rainy day and it's you who should worry.

The anecdotes are, inevitably, in the nature of black comedy or even farce. Remember that any detected similarity to real characters and situations may be deliberate but don't chastise yourself with too much self-loathing - no one is perfect. So here goes - imagine that I am speaking very slowly. Come to think of it, maybe you should pour yourself a glass of wine.

Think of the exhausted teacher who went away with his class for a school trip. Can you comprehend his horror, when he returned, to find that the head had blitzed his classroom. Yes, the thought of such an invasion sends the Bravehearts among us into a menopausal sweat, but my friend's discomfort lay not in the unearthed rather dodgy photograph of himself at a recent stag night or in the natural penicillin located in the bag of two-year-old tangerines.

No, his shock was caused by the Post-Its which were now affixed to various sites in his classroom. Talk about a visitation in the style of the plagues of Egypt. The comments were in the ilk of "Tidy up this drawer" and "Straighten up the left-hand drawing-pin".

Quite sad, you say, and you do get them in all professions. True, I wouldn't choose to dispute that, and I have been doing a little research on what teachers expect from their heads. The main points are leadership, a willingness to challenge bureaucracy, an ability to delegate, a degree of trust in the capabilities of individual staff and the capacity not only to criticise but to praise where appropriate. Nothing new, you counter. Enlarge slightly? No problem.

Many wise owls have attempted to define leadership but it has to be a melange of the other qualities cited above. Leaders have to anticipate and to plan ahead. To take their staff with them, they must be prepared to question the system and not be constipated by the edicts from above.Teachers must realise that heads, like the rest of us, are public servants, and ultimately are paid to do the job of managing the school.

But "teaching and learning" strategies, above all, are the domain of all educators and the best headteachers inspire their staff to experiment in the classroom. In my school, many of my colleagues are trying out new ideas but that can only happen with a headteacher who is prepared to take risks and view the possibility of change as something which can be channelled for the benefit of the pupils. The fact that teachers enjoy trying out new teaching methods is a bonus.

So you don't want a boss who rules like a frantic Furbie but someone who can delegate. I am presently chairing a group which is shortly hosting a joint event for primary and secondary teachers in our area.

Yes, you've guessed it. The boss delegated the task to me and what I appreciate is that I can go to him for help if I need to but he's not giving me a mark every day on my progress.

Rumble me further? We learn from our managers, don't we, so I am delegating some of the activities to others, and honestly we have much enjoyment when we meet.

The last word. Praise really does work. We know that our pupils respond to it, so why shouldn't we? It's an uplifting feeling, when you have done a good job, to be praised for it. A public accolade is not necessary - a short note in your pigeon-hole is enough. And, finally, I come clean - I've had such a missive. That's why I know it motivates.

Praise to the headteachers who know it too and, most important, don't forget it.

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