Why staying in one school needn't hold you back

It's a myth that staying put hinders career progression, according to Dr David Hall, associate headteacher at Bay House School in Hampshire

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Teaching has always had its share of urban myths, but chief among them is that staying at one school is a hindrance to your career. Does staying put mean that you’re afraid of leaving your comfort zone? That you have no desire to broaden your horizons? Are the best leaders those who move from place to place on the way to the top? The answer is no. 

I entered my school and the profession as a newly qualified science teacher in 1997, against the backdrop of the newly elected Labour government’s educational fervour. Over the past 18 years, I have progressed through the ranks and gained invaluable experience in both middle and senior leadership. Each role has required me to adapt and learn new ways of doing things – as I would if I’d moved to another school. 

I would argue that growth in leadership is about being provided with the right opportunities, as well as seeking them out for yourself. This can be achieved in one place. Over the years, the headteacher and governors of my school have sought to retain me and have kept me motivated with new challenges. At the same time, I have recognised that working in a very large comprehensive with a sixth form has given me experience of a diverse range of learners and has broadened my portfolio of leadership strategies. 

Of course, I do acknowledge that there can be inherent risks in remaining in one place, not just for leaders but also for the organisation as a whole. The most significant of these is what I describe as the “monocular” culture. By this, I mean that pervading sense that there is only one way of doing things and that there is nothing to be learned from looking elsewhere. 

Leaders who have worked in only one school can often be exposed to this criticism and it is important to address it by adopting outward-facing approaches in the way they lead. 

Here are two suggestions based on my experience, you can read the others in the 29 May issue of TES.

Take a look at yourself

Effective self-evaluation is the lifeblood of a successful organisation and its leaders. Change happens when someone questions the established way of doing things. Often, those who succeed you will challenge your legacy by bringing a new perspective to the job. As a long-serving employee of one school, you will need to be prepared to critique your own past and lead further renewal.

Build professional networks 

Not having worked directly in other schools does not prevent you from gaining insight into how other organisations operate, or from understanding their cultures. I have been able to establish links with a number of colleagues across a broad range of schools through our association with organisations such as Pixl (Partners in Excellence) and the SSAT schools network. My professional learning, especially the National Professional Qualification for Headship, has given rise to a number of useful contacts. Taking the opportunity to visit schools, spend time in their classrooms and engage in dialogue with staff is always a worthwhile and enriching experience.

This is an edited version of a feature that appears in the 29 May issue of TES. You can read the article on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents. 

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