As schools enter a fourth half term of partial closure, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on a number of things.
Headteachers are leaders; often great leaders. They begin to train for their roles by learning how to become a teacher. They learn about curriculum, assessment, safeguarding, child psychology and child development. They learn about reading schemes, how to teach mathematics, and often study a single subject to degree level. As teachers, they go on to learn about how to manage pupils’ behaviour, how to manage other adults in the classroom, how to interact with parents / carers, and how to lead a subject. As aspirational individuals, these leaders of the future prepare for middle management, for deputy headship and eventually for headship.
As headteachers, they are charged with many, many things. Families hand over their most precious charges to their care. Staff expect, nay demand, the world of them all day every day, and delivered with a smile, too. They are expected to lead single-mindedly with a focus on ever improving outcomes; keeping a keen eye on the strategic leadership of the school by the DfE, OfSTED and others.
So, in the current circumstances, how many headteachers have a keen eye on the strategic development of their school? Perhaps this is a focus between risk assessing for Lateral Flow Device (LFD) testing in school and sanitising the dining room between bubbles at lunchtime? Maybe it is an area of focus between re-writing their attendance register for the thirteenth time in five weeks and ordering the Edenred vouchers? Possibly, it is something that headteachers squeeze in between reading the daily update from the DfE and trying to order more laptops for families that cannot engage with remote learning because of the technical barriers that they face?
The phrase ‘unprecedented times’ is now so overused that it has lost its real meaning. However, no music degree, knowledge of Bloom’s taxonomy or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have prepared headteachers for what they are currently leading, managing or (how it often feels) simply getting through on a daily basis. However, headteachers are resourceful, resilient, tenacious individuals who have spent a professional lifetime of ‘making do and mending’. They have the capacity to dig deep and keep going throughout everything that they encounter. They have one single-minded mission, and that is to do whatever is necessary for their children and their staff. That’s what makes great headteachers great.
So, how do those great headteachers make best use of their school adviser in these challenging and ‘unprecedented’ times? They use them in whichever way suits them. School advisers are there to support, to protect, to listen, to ‘mop up’, to counsel, to offer supervision and yes, to offer challenge when it is appropriate so to do. Like being the very best teacher or being the very best headteacher, being an adviser is neither a precise science nor an art; it is a combination of the two, with the proportions varying each time.
Your adviser will be there for you in whichever role you most need them to fulfil, either in person, on the telephone, by email or virtually. They will help you, guide you, support you, listen to you and remind you that the strategic work is still out there waiting for when you have the head-space and the mental capacity to deal with it.
Wearing the dual hats of both headteacher and school adviser, I am mindful of John Maxwell’s words: “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” As leaders, keep on adjusting those sails until calmer weather once more returns.
Headteacher and School Adviser