We can learn to be consummate leaders

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
There is never a convenient time for a primary headteacher to be out of school for the day. However, I recently left my new acting depute headteacher to her first experience of taking the whole school assembly as I went off to the Scottish Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society conference on leadership.

(My first task at the conference was to suggest that there has to be a better name for this fairly new organisation than SELMAS.) The keynote speech was given by Professor John MacBeath and I sat back and thoroughly enjoyed his contribution, as always. As the chair of educational leadership at the Cambridge University, he should know all there is to know on this subject. The more experienced I become, the more I think I know so little.

So, where should we begin to learn more about leadership theories? Professor MacBeath suggests the Internet and searching for his paper The Alphabet Soup of Leadership.

He describes "heroic leadership" as the expert headteacher who then leaves and the organisation collapses. I immediately felt defensive and saw that style of leadership as one which I might recognise but then I see "expert" and relax again. That can't possibly be me.

In fact, we are all probably a mixture of many types of leader and it is certainly very interesting to visit the theories and reflect on which to use in different settings to motivate staff and get the very best for the children.

We hear a lot about the need to be reflective practitioners and my recent supporter role of a colleague engaged in studies for the Scottish Qualification for Headship confirmed in my mind that it must be very difficult for SQH candidates to be reflective practitioners. They have little time to draw breath, never mind sit back and reflect. Another colleague at the conference described Sundays as the occasions when she waved goodbye to her husband and son to leave her time to complete SQH assignments.

Professor MacBeath asked us to value leadership studies. With that in mind, it must surely be important to give candidates on such an intensive course as the SQH time for reading, reflection, thinking and talking to others as well as assignment work. Professor MacBeath had older teachers smiling when he recalled infant classes of long ago when the children were invited to put their heads on the desks and just think or sleep. Is this reflection time?

It was interesting to hear how an international management consultancy group such as the Hay Group attempts to develop people, leadership and organisations. My faith in their preparation was shaken a little when the Hay team talked about school governors. However, they did make some interesting points.

All headteachers from Clackmannanshire and Orkney have been through a five-day training course to consider the values, traits and motives which guide their thinking. One point they made was that we must keep the headteacher's job feasible. We must not allow it to develop into a badly designed role, but rather maintain a strategic perspective and prioritise work - not on a daily basis but on a two-hourly basis - and build a team focused on taking the school forward.

Professor MacBeath talked about what makes not just a good school, but a great school. I quickly realised that much of my reading for next year's professional development could be planned around this: for example Images of Organisation by Gareth Morgan, Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership by Howard Gardner and Good to Great by Jim Collins.

I had Ian McEwan's Atonement waiting for my first holiday reading but it will have to wait because you have inspired me Professor MacBeath.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in EdinburghIf you have any comments, e-mail scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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