When you get promoted, you start out with the feeling that, at any moment, people will discover you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. This is certainly how I felt when I first took up a senior leadership role, and it is only now, three years in, that I’m beginning to feel I’m doing a good job.
No amount of training is the same as being in the role, but a bit of advice is always welcome. With that in mind, here are three things I wish I had known before accepting my job as a senior leader.
1. You don’t have to jump to it
At first, whenever a colleague came to me with an issue, I felt as if they were expecting me to solve the problem or discuss things right there and then. As a result, I often rushed into decisions. But my headteacher taught me an amazing way to gain thinking time while letting the colleague know they weren’t being brushed off. It was the phrase: “This needs more time and thought than I can give it right now. Can you let me come back to you on it?”. It makes the person feel valued, but will also buy you valuable time.
2. You can change your mind
Often, particularly if you are rushing, you will make decisions that simply don’t work in reality. Sometimes we can tweak those decisions to transform them, but there are other times when we really do need to scrap an idea, take stock and start again. This doesn’t show weakness; in fact, it shows the opposite. Just try not to do it too often.
3. People matter
This isn’t really something I wish I’d known because I have always recognised that people matter. But I feel that the higher you move in a school, or any organisation, the more important it is to remember this.
When the pressure is on, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of what really matters in leadership. The success of any school will be down to a team effort, not just that of the SLT. Senior leaders might be paid the most but they don’t always do the most.
Every person in a school matters just as much as the next, from kitchen staff, the facilities team, cleaners and administrative staff to business managers, teachers and students. All have a part to play in carrying forward the school’s vision and values into the community.
As a leader, I endeavour to know everyone in the building and to take an interest in them, because people really do matter the most.
Jennifer Ingham is an assistant headteacher at Blackburn Central High School with Crosshill