New heads need friends on high

7th September 2007 at 01:00
This time last year, I was just starting a secondary headship, which means that I can easily empathise with those whose first year of headship is just beginning. With just one year's experience behind me, I humbly offer 10 peices of advice I wish I had been given.

1. Make a friend of another new head.

Despite some confident posturing, they need reciprocal support as much as you do.

2. Be brazen.

Save time by asking other heads directly to share their work with you. "Do you mind my looking at your new XYZ policy?" Most are willing to help a new colleague.

3. Be sceptical.

Treat successful headteachers, whose innovative ideas you will be encouraged to emulate, with friendly but self-preserving scepticism. Ask what they managed to achieve in their first year.

4. Join both headteacher unions.

Advice is then always available by phone. If you are feeling seriously under pressure, they are discreet (not everyone else is) and focused on your well being in a way that no other professional source of advice is.

5. Accept you cannot possibly read everything.

Restrain yourself from subscribing to journals that look useful. They would be if you had time to read them. Learn the skill of selecting unread emails for deletion.

6. If you want to, teach.

Ignore those who tell you it is not what you are paid for, your focus is strategic and so on. If you enjoy it, it's worth it, despite the additional burden on your time. You will gain credibility with students and will stay connected to the classroom.

7. Don't overdo it.

Be aware that while you are quite rightly conscious of the work-life balance of your staff, it can be very easy for yours to tip out of control. People will warn you about this, but practical strategies to control the huge workload are harder to come by. This is a significant issue and I have no glib solution to offer.

8. Shop early.

Do your Christmas shopping in the summer holidays. I'm sorry, I'm too late with this one. It sounds frivolous but I so wish that had been suggested to me.

9. Be yourself.

This is an outrageous cliche, but if we can't stay true to what we think is important, there is not much point doing the job.

10. You need friends.

Most importantly, tell your friends not to give up on you, however snubbed they feel when you repeatedly turn down social invitations.

Finally, remember that not enough people want to do this job. Your students are fortunate that you do.

Mary Smith

Headteacher of Maidstone Girls' School, Kent

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