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What's the recipe for a happy and successful head?

Should you prioritise learning, people or morality? Prioritise all three – and have a laugh, too, says Colin Harris

What makes a successful and happy headteacher, asks Colin Harris

I speak to a lot of prospective new teachers. And they ask me a lot of questions. Normally it’s things like: “What are the advantages of teaching?” “Is the workload as high as people say?” And “Would you go into teaching again if you had the choice?” However, last week there was a new one, and it’s one that really stumped me. A young woman asked me: “So what kind of headteacher were you?”

I didn’t know how to answer – surely such a subjective question should be answered by those who worked with me. As none of them were present,  I was left to try and stump up the answer myself.

Was I the instructional headteacher, one whose focus is on the pupils? This heads’ influence comes from their "expert knowledge" and they place learning within the classroom as their top priority,

Or perhaps I was the transformational leader whose focus is on the people within the establishment? For them, the main task is to build on the capacity of each and every member of the organisation, and work towards a common goal, together.

Maybe I was the moral headteacher, one who focuses on underlying values and aims for morally justified actions within a democratically run school.

Then again, I could have been following the managerial, technical or organisational mantra. This leadership is extremely formal and repeats keywords like "goals" and "efficiency".

What kind of headteacher are you?

Or was I a participative head, whose leadership is distributed amongst a decision-making group? This leader shares the load and aims to increase the organisation's capacity.

Hmm. I still didn't know.

It's difficult to analyse your own approach to headship. I had been a teacher in many schools before ultimately taking charge – this meant that when I became a head, I knew exactly which approach I didn’t want to take.

As time went on, I knew exactly what I wanted my school to look like. I wanted the child to be at the centre of everything I did or proposed to do. I wanted a staff team that worked together towards this common goal. I hated excessive paperwork for both myself and my staff, and didn’t want to be told what to do by people who couldn’t do the job themselves. I hated the negative influence of Ofsted. I wanted parents to be at the middle of all that the school did. And I wanted children and staff to be happy.  

I kept all of these aims in mind, and, thankfully, humour and laughter permeated every part of the school.

So I guess the answer to the question is that I didn’t fall into any one category. I suspect that no one really does. What I can say, with absolute certainty, is that I loved every minute of it.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories

To read more of his articles, visit his back catalogue

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