Wednesday 21st June - So what do you actually do then?
The above is a question that I get asked a lot. Most often by my friends but sometimes by people I meet and parents too. At first it seemed an odd question but the more you think about it, it actually makes sense. It's easy to figure what a teacher does because they spend every day in class teaching children face to face. But the Headteacher doesn't have a class so how do they fill their day?
You'll learn by the end of this blog that a Headteacher never has to try to fill their day – that happens with ease.
Once a teacher always a teacher
I don't have a class of my own. If I'm honest this is the one downside of being a Head. Since I qualified in 2004 I have always loved the excitement and buzz of being in front of a class of children teaching them and helping them progress. When one becomes a Headteacher this is something that is sacrificed but that doesn't, and shouldn't mean, that teaching falls off of the radar.
My title is Headteacher. Not School Manager. So as far as I am concerned it is my job to teach. After all, if I don't ever teach how can I possibly talk to other staff about teaching? The answer is, of course, that I couldn't. But that's not the only reason I still teach whenever I can – the real reason I teach when I can is because I love to. Whether it is teaching a lesson on fractions or leading a heated discussion about the themes of a book with children there is nothing as exciting and rewarding that you can do as a profession.
Alongside teaching children it is my responsibility to monitor teaching across the school. Along with our excellent leadership team we look at the teaching and the learning across the school very carefully with a view to continually improving learning at Coupals (no matter how good it is). Some schools have very complicated systems for monitoring teaching but I prefer a much more simple approach: to be in classrooms every day. I visit every classroom everyday and see the learning that takes place – this is the best way to know exactly what is going on in our school and how well the children are doing,
In some schools, including some that I have worked in, Headteachers have nothing to do with teaching and learning. To some people this seems perfectly normal but to me it always seems preposterous. Imagine a chief of surgery who doesn't operate – I bet you can't.
Because of this one of my main responsibilities is to lead on teaching, pedagogy and assessment. This means that when we make decisions about the school, the way we teach or what the children learn then it's my job to find new ways, or to look at ideas shared by other teachers, to improve learning in the best interests of the pupils. This is a massive responsibility but one that I relish as a Head.
Strategy, strategy, strategy
Schools talk about management and leadership a lot. Management has always bothered me. I am not a manager. Someone once said to me that management was doing things right while leadership was doing the right things. When it comes to leading the school my focus is always on doing the 'right things.'
As a Headteacher it is my job to strategically plan and lead the school. Strategy is important because things change in a school whether in terms of people, resources or external influences (and there are certainly a lot of those). Essentially the strategic planning and running of the school is simple: we do the best we can for every pupil with the things we have available. To be able to do this we have to have a worst case and best case scenario and an understanding of how we can use resources to achieve the best outcomes. Whether it is organising staffing for the following year or developing people in school to take on leadership roles in the future to maintain the success of the school - good strategic leadership is behind it. I often joke that strategic leadership of a school is like a sliding puzzle (like the ones you find in a Christmas cracker) and that you often, just as you think you have solved problem, find that something is not quite right. As sad as it may sound, this is one of my favourite things about the job.
Money, money, money
If I had written this blog when I first became a Headteacher this next section would have read quite differently. One of the most challenging, and important, aspects of my job is overseeing and organising the financial running of the school. Schools are under huge pressure to spend money effectively and ensure good value and this, in the current climate, is getting harder and harder with spending as it is. I am not going to dwell on this, and might explore the idea in another blog, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that by 2022 schools will have seen a 7% cut in their budgets if spending continues as it currently is. But that is not the point in this blog!
Ensuring value for money is focused on one thing only. The best interests of the pupils. The teachers we employ, the resources we buy, the initiatives we fund and run are all done in the best interests of the children. The reality of our current educational climate is that we cannot luxuriously fund lots of things but have to take a more measured, strategic (there's that word again) approach to identify what has worked well in our school and others' before implementing things in our school.
Overseeing finances and balancing the books is, without hesitation, my least favourite part of being a Headteacher. Whether it is right or wrong to admit that there is one way that I remind myself that it is so important: running a school with financial efficiency means that money we save (or more importantly don't waste) can go back in to the teaching and learning of our pupils. Like with everything in school, it always comes back to childrens' learning.
If I'm honest – I tried several sub headings for this section but none of them were interesting. The idea of compliance, and ensuring that our school is compliant with statutory rules and regulations, is not the most glamourous or interesting to some but it is critical to running an effective school.
It's important to stress that I don't do all of this – that wouldn't be humanly possible. Our school has a bank of policies, procedures and information which are central to our school running smoothly and to ensuring our pupils learn well and succeed. Some of these documents are statutory (for example our procedures around Safeguarding are legally required) while some are best practice. While these are created by lots of teachers within the school I am responsible for ensuring they are all in place.
Working with pupils, for pupils
If I had to put an amount on it, I would say that at least 50% of my working day is spent with pupils. On a typical day (though in my experience there doesn't appear to be such a thing) I will talk with pupils in assembly, speak with them when I visit classes to hear about their learning, deal with issues between pupils, give pupils good news (and sometimes bad news), be a listening ear when things have been difficult and quite often apply a plaster.
Working with the pupils is without a doubt the best part of being a Headteacher. Whether it's talking to children in class, or one to one on the playground at lunchtime or teaching a class, working with pupils is always a joy. All of the interactions I have with a child in a day are driven by one simple idea, one that has arisen several times in this blog, doing the very best we can in the best interest of our pupils. One short interaction with a child can change their perspective of their day, week, year or (on some rare occasions) their life. This regular interaction is the most powerful thing I do as a Headteacher.
So what do you actually do then?
When my friends ask me this question I generally explain all of the ideas above. There is no such thing as a typical day in a school and there is always something which comes as a curveball. When I think about it, my job is to lead an incredible team of people giving their all for the young people in their care. That makes my job a great one to do. But if I had to sum up what I actually do in one line, I'd probably use a line that you're quite familiar with by now: 'I make decisions in the best interests of our pupils.' Sometimes those decisions don't make sense to parents, fellow teachers or even sometimes children but the fact that they were made in the best interests of our pupils means that they are the right decisions. So rest assured, next time there is a decision that you are unclear of, or that doesn't seem to make sense to you, remember this cast iron guarantee: it has been made in the best interests of the pupils at Coupals.
Maybe next time someone asks I should answer with a question: 'What don't I do?'