Mary-Jo Hill

26 Jan 2021
Overriding management is dominating leadership right now. The usual role of the headteacher is being lost like a slow incoming tide.

Headteachers are some of the most inspirational peeps I know. They have an innate drive to a shared purpose, curiosity, better childhood experiences and the wonders of learning and the need to impart this. Even with these attributes, it is hard to maintain effective leadership amongst the endless management tasks. Not only then, but it seems that we are all going through a crisis in confidence. So how are headteachers’ drivers currently being met?

What are we really missing?

Home learning this week was intercepted with: the barbers. Cutting hair is a real skill. The latest attempt involved a negotiation for me as ‘hairdresser in situ’ to pay the client (my 12-year-old) the price of a dairy milk bar for me to cut his hair. In all fairness, it was certainly cheaper for the pocket than the local barber rate but in the game of hairdressing it felt kind of strange to pay my client: this co-creation from the customer has certainly tipped a balance. We indulged in a bit of a pretend chat about what we had been up to: Holidays planned (if only) and local gossip.

The 7-year-old indulged the game a little more and told me the story of ‘Rosy Parks’ and ‘Martin Luther Junior’ with some wise words. The eldest swerved the experience, probably wisely. The end results are not worth sharing. Hairdressers are missed already of course, as anyone trained in observation will have been marvelling at zoom calls still seeming semi-professional.

The ensuing slow degradation of how we manage to keep up with basic physical needs is a clear distraction and a welcoming social intro chat towards the real things that are consuming us. The real things are big. The crisis in confidence is real. What are we really missing? For sure, the craving for a challenging year 10 English class last week was strong with the incoming text of Amanda Gorman and her ensuing book of poems. A gift of a text to study and perform with students in the flesh.

Crisis in confidence

The loss of leadership in action for a headteacher and the usual role that was known is being lost like an incoming slow tide. Ambitious plans for whole school development are put on the back hob at a gentle simmer. We can see it happening and are not sure how to flow with it. Motivation. We all need it. Intrinsic can only take us so far. We need external validation. What keeps a headteacher going right now? The barrage of gov.uk emails are really not cutting it and the leadership beat starts ebbing away.

The joyful and playful has been replaced by the logical and responsible. And practical and ultimately dispensable as highlighted in the week’s great throwback song. I mourned the loss of North Norfolk Radio a while ago and am persisting with the Greatest Hits replacement and gradually warming to the change. However, I owe them this throwback memory whilst in the car on an essential trip: Supertramp. I used to own cassette tapes. You won’t think I am old enough, I know. Played this one over and over on my cassette player. Check out the lyrics because it starts us thinking along the lines of where we are right now. Here it is:

The need for connection

I have no greater accolade to give than trusting headteachers and teachers, and parents to make the best of a current situation. They know all their stakeholders very well indeed. Better than most businesses. But they are really lacking something important that keeps them magical. The thrill of the vision and those on the journey with them. It is really hard. Hats off: if only we still wore hats.

So the professional conversations I am having right now with headteachers – who are struggling to sleep, working ridiculous hours as they cogitate every decision made and processing the impact of those decisions as they astride their usual role of containment – are overloaded with all sorts of computations, consequences and frustration.

The important and intense moments of connection incidentally found in the usual school day are not evident. They have to be sought. Another thing to add to the list. But perhaps one of the most important things right now for many headteachers. How to connect, however small, with staff and students on the incidental and the tacit and the greasing oil that makes a school a community? The online zoom assembly, however noble and valued may not be just cutting the grade for feeding the headteacher soul right now. How can a headteacher connect right now? The point at which the song crescendoes: ‘Please tell me what we’ve learned. I know it sounds absurd. Please tell me what I am?’, has never been more pertinent. Oh this term is going to be one of the longest we have known.