Headship: a multicoloured trip to the lav

It has been two terms since taking on a new headship. For anyone interested in knowing what it’s like, taking on a new school, I can only describe it like this:

It is like looking through a kaleidoscope whilst trying to find the toilet during the middle of the night.

A new school is so exciting. As you explore each nook of the building, cranny of the curriculum; as you dive into the data and ponder the provision, you begin to see its potential. Enjoy this moment for it is the most luxurious time of your tenure. Nothing is, yet, your fault. You flit between experiencing what the school has to offer and evaluating its effectiveness. As you do so, you begin to make two lists: things that you’ll protect and things that you’ll change.

The school opens up to you. It lets you know what it’s about in big and bold colours. Each day, as your understanding develops, the kaleidoscope shifts slightly, and a multitude of epiphanies are reflected back at you, indicating all the possibilities that could be available.

It is immensely liberating. Although be careful not to get too giddy. You must carefully pass on your ideas to the new people who surround you, and, know when to take their counsel. You must nurture these new relationships in order for you to ring the necessary changes whilst enshrining what is scared. New Heads be warned: kill a sacred cow at your peril. (Kill a false prophet by all means but make sure you, and everyone else, knows the difference between the two!)

I can’t decide what I like the most: realising that you need to completely change something wholesale, or, knowing that all something needs is a little tweak. Either way, it’s the being able to enlighten everyone to your way of thinking that’s the real buzz. Do it right and they’ll either be grateful that you’ve overhauled something that was causing them gyp, or, they’ll be pleased that you’ve recognised what works but given it a little polish. Those early quick wins set you up for the long game. It’s a positive and energising period of your leadership – and hopefully others will think so too.

But, then again, finding yourself in a new school is sometimes just plain weird. They do things differently round ‘ere. It’s sort of the same but, then again, totally different. There will be times when you know what needs doing but acting upon it, in the way that you would normally, just doesn’t cut it. Their systems are different. Their procedures, although based on the same fundamentals of logic and necessity, are odd. What used to take you five minutes is now taking up a whole afternoon.

Being in a new school is like being in a strange alternative version of your previous reality. It’s like overhearing a conversation and wondering why you can’t understand a third of it before realising they’re speaking in Welsh. It’s like that dream where you’re in your house (but it’s not your house) with your friends (but they’re all friends from different times in your life and they shouldn’t really know each other) and they’re asking you questions (but no matter how loudly you scream they can’t hear).

Or, it’s like going to the toilet in the dark: you know there’s a light switch somewhere on the wall but you can’t locate it; you know there are some steps on the way to the loo but you can’t remember how many; there’s a big chest of drawers on the landing but you can’t see it so you reach out with your arm and tentatively pat the air hoping your hand finds it before your groin; you basically end up moving an inch at a time like a soldier walking across no-man’s land.

The landscape is familiar and yet alien. And, as exciting as all this new potential is, you need to climatize to your new environment. Giving yourself time to adjust to your new setting is an important part of making the right start. It is disconcerting. Especially when you know that if you were back in your school you would know what to do immediately. But don’t let pride stop you from asking questions, saying you don’t know, or, admitting to an LSA that you can’t remember their name or telling a parent that you don’t know how to unlock the school gate. Yes, you might look stupid, but you will come across as human.

Soon, I will be entering the second phase of a new headship. For anyone interested in knowing what it’s like, entering the second phase of new headship, I can only describe it like this:

It’s like steering a ship whilst trying to find the toilet during the middle of the night.