Look on the bright side of strife

24th September 2004 at 01:00
answers your leadership questions

I have just taken up the role of deputy head of a large primary. A senior teacher there applied unsuccessfully for the job and I have been told that she was the popular choice of the staff and head, but that the head was overruled by the governors. I am experiencing some hostility which I am finding difficult to deal with.

What a pity you have been given this information. I wonder about the intentions of the person who gave it to you. You don't know how accurate it is but your behaviour will certainly be adversely affected by it. You will be filtering for antipathy and, of course, you will find it.

Your situation is not unusual; it would be odd if there were no internal applicants for a deputy's role, and it is always a key anxiety for the successful external candidate. It would be a courteous gesture if the unsuccessful teacher declared unconditional support for you.

Is there anything in the head's behaviour which would lead you to think that your appointment was not fully supported? It would be in order to ask for some feedback on your performance throughout the selection process; what were the unique selling points which convinced the panel you were right for the job? Such information would boost your confidence and help you find the resilience to deal with this situation.

Are you inadvertently presenting some reluctance to engage, a tendency to be somewhat distant? This can be the result of a dent in confidence and would make it difficult for you to build a rapport. When we sense an atmosphere, we often retreat into ourselves, brooding about it and sinking into some negative self-talk.

You need to toughen up - an essential quality if you are to carry out the role effectively. Be convinced that you are the best person for the job and change your behaviour. Start thinking about others and less about yourself.

Get among the staff; ask questions, listen carefully, remember and refer to details - be meticulously discreet, but appear as though you've got all the time in the world to listen. Don't ever say: "In my last school ... " Work very hard; you'll have an unmanageable workload as deputy, but make sure you develop some useful routines for dealing with it. Release colleagues from the classroom -this is guaranteed to win round the most hardened antagonist. Remain optimistic, appear cheerful and well-balanced. Do not engage in undermining gossip, and do not be tempted to encourage disclosures about what other people are saying or thinking. Don't appear too needy; an overt desire to be liked is unattractive. Concentrate on doing the job well, with integrity and purpose.

Find an inner core of strength - and use the support and friendship of like-minded people outside the school. Get out and meet other deputies; invite some of them to join you in a support group.This will allow you to share issues, unpick problems and find solutions. It will help you look objectively at evidence, rather than reacting to skewed perceptions, seek creative options instead of repeating old mistakes, and help you get back on course, focusing on your aspirations and intents.

Discover the joy in the school. Search for brilliance and bring it to everyone's attention - celebrate it. Before too long your colleagues will associate you with a sense of well-being; they will anticipate a positive response and will gain energy from the atmosphere you create. I feel sure you will survive these early uneasy days and emerge a stronger person.

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. Got a leadership question? Email pdenison@thevillageschool.demon.co.uk


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