Know thy Self

What do the months of December and June have in common?  My good friend Saira, ‘hippy humanitarian’, would highlight these as the key Pagan months of the winter/summer solstice, a time for much needed and deserved celebration.  For beleaguered headteachers, December and June are difficult months, six months apart where staff are likely to forget themselves, forget their training and indulge in poor choices, poor judgements, and poor behaviour.

Now I fully comprehend the angst that December causes with poor weather, a long term, dark nights, the impending season of parents’ evenings, report writing, ‘goodwill’, forgotten relatives, the realisation that you have put on weight and bought unimaginatively.  December is, I realise, a stressful time which forced joviality cannot hide.  However, June should be a joyous month, culminating in midsummer night’s dreams, cricket, Wimbledon with a six week holiday awaiting; this should not be a time for staff upset, difficult decisions, hard conversations.

Yet, every June I am caught unawares with frivolous, surprising staff fallouts as they become frustrated with the dysfunctional nature of each other.  The relaxation after exam groups depart is counteracted by the realisation that gained time is minimal and will not be sufficient to cope with the workload left for the sixth half term.  A summer holiday of catching up frustratingly awaits far too many staff.  This is a time when I have to know myself, and manage myself as well as my staff, to try to prevent irreversible fallouts.

I now recognise that a key trigger for me in headship is other headteachers, in particular the practice of ‘poaching’ staff/students with total disregard for my school or our professionalism, our job.  In education we have a ridiculous system whereby due to our intransient resignation schedule, schools can be left without key staff for the crucial period June to January, creating another stress point in December.  My ‘blind spot’ is that I can and do ‘burn’ good relationships as I struggle irrationally with the concept that some schools are now acting like businesses, grasping the best for themselves whatever the consequences to neighbouring schools.  Some would argue that now as stand-alone academies (the clue is in the name) all stand or fall alone and that headteachers such as myself have to understand this ruthless concept.  I believe that this is sad and we are not simply businesses but should not forget that our business is education.  Therefore, in Worcestershire we now have selective Saturday exams for admitting year 6 students, schools interviewing without advertising and home education which has become the new exclusion prior to the inevitable reapplication to neighbouring schools.  Yes, June is a month to know and manage myself rather than rant against the flawed system.  The famous 1950s self-help model known as Johari Window divides into useful categories when I come to managing June.  I cannot manage other desperate headteachers who in the summer madness forget their moral compass and their obligation to the job but I can support myself and my staff. The categories are useful reflective tools when looking at your own reaction, in my case overreaction, to your own and others’ decisions.  They are the following categories to understand yourself:

  1. Openness – ‘an emotional man known by all’ – my deputy head’s pithy summary!
  2. Blind spot – at times I struggle to forget and forgive, which is childish and does no one any good. Besides, as the world/the fabulous students show me there is a need for daily perspective.  There are much bigger things in the world than movement between schools with staff being flattered and moving to a new job and I should celebrate the opportunity to replace by necessity, possibly cheaper and I need to reflect on this, not mither on perceived foolish, flawed loyalty – after all, I have worked in seven schools.
  3. Hidden – I know that I will not forget these perceived slights and will struggle to work collaboratively with these people again. This is ridiculous and does harm my school and ultimately my staff and students.
  4. Unknown – qualities which might be the anger I feel at this impossible job which is underfunded, underappreciated and each June leaves school leaders wondering why and how we continue to do this. This is the key to managing daily decisions some of which are unpalatable and many which leave you pondering how to manage without effecting the vulnerable students and staff.  This rage against the tide does no one any good and is wasted energy.  Losing good staff with little notice is all part of being a good school where everyone wants a bit of you.

Thank goodness I have a great leadership team who recognise, support and listen, managing my ‘blind spots’, sending me out to ‘litter pick’, ‘chunter’ and run to joyous July, preparation and reflection for September when we will do it all again!  Maybe aged 52 I will learn to manage myself; hidden emotions as well as blind spots.  Maybe I know myself, weaknesses as well as strengths, and this is an emotional job where people surprise you daily, particularly in June!