Portrait of the perfect headteacher
I remember one wise and successful headteacher taking me to task after I had spoken about delegation of responsibility at a conference for heads of small schools. He argued passionately that the secret of success was to harness the energies and talents of everyone in the school community.
"Don't get hung up on hierarchies of delegation," he said. "One of your parents may be far better equipped to take on the re-organisation of the library than the deputy. In my school, my teaching assistant organises the displays and Christmas concerts. The lunchtime supervisor manages behaviour and follows up attendance issues. Oh yes, and one of my governors deals with our building programme."
This head had taken a huge step towards creating a successful and harmonious small school by involving the school community and thus freed himself and others to concentrate on other things. His example points the way for heads everywhere, no matter what the size of their school.
He worked hard at building relationships and knew the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. He established a friendly but professional relationship with his staff and ensured that he was available to meet parents at the beginning and end of each day. He was very strict with the education authority and other occasional visitors about the times he could and could not see them. He set up a telephone protocol whereby the school's answer phone message gave times when he or the secretary were available and a number for use in an emergency. Most importantly, he knew how to switch off. He only took home work that he planned to do and mentally left the day's problems in a box at the school gate to be collected on the way back to work in the morning.
He was brilliant at communications and made sure that everyone was kept informed. He insisted that key issues were recorded in a staff briefing paper that went to all staff and governors. A daily noticeboard kept everyone up-to-date. He had open meetings with all staff as well as those for particular interest groups. His agendas for staff and governors were a model of good practice. Not only did he highlight the matter to be discussed, but also provided sufficient information for the participants to make useful and relevant contributions. Often, he would indicate the range of available options so that people could make informed choices. A parent edited the weekly newsletter and sought contributions from all sections of the school community. The head's column was a key way of ensuring that the parents and community were abreast of developments.
Our headteacher understood the importance of maintaining his professional links. He was an active member of a cluster of small schools and often sought to use the cluster's resources to conserve his own. He encouraged staff to become involved in curriculum initiatives and bring back the documentation and, more importantly, the ideas needed to support the development and enrichment of the school's curriculum. He pioneered joint meetings of governors to help them share both expertise and the burden of their responsibilities. He was generous in sharing the successes of his school, which endeared him to his colleagues and generated pride in the school. He happily took on the role of mentor to a newly-appointed head, remembering the days when he had been new and naive. He became involved in LEA initiatives in so far as they would benefit his school. But he was careful and selective, maintaining a balance between external pressures and the overriding needs of his school. In short, he knew when to say yes and when to say no.
Over the years he had been careful to manage change sensitively. He applied simple but effective tests to every major consideration of change. First, he would ask himself whether there was need for change and what the benefits would be. Then he would consider the cost, particularly in terms of the time the change would take and its effect on the school's stability.
Finally, and centrally, he would test the change by asking whether or not it was in the pupils' best interests. Throughout, he consulted with parents and children to make sure that his agenda for the school was in tune with theirs.
This headteacher had learnt the secret of making the school work for rather than against him. He had learnt how to use the energy and enthusiasm of the school community to involve everyone in what the school was trying to achieve. He knew how to create a harmonious and effective team in which everyone could contribute. He found ways to spread the workload and share responsibilities so that no one was overloaded and he could go home at the end of the day satisfied that he could leave the burden of headship at the school gate.
Philip Schofield is an educational consultant who provides support and guidance to schools and teachers across the UK and internationally. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org