If you have read my other posts you will know a little about who I am and where I used to work. Due to an amazing day on Twitter when my followers went from 96 to over 1200 I have been asked about why I have named the Twitter page and this blog the Crap Headteacher.
June last year was a nightmare. My father had just died, we had joined a Multi Academy Trust alongside another primary school and secondary school and I was a mess. To be honest I had been suffering with stress and anxiety for quite a while. The only thing is that I was the last one to see it. I had been a headteacher for 6 years and I don’t think there was a single day that I did not feel a bit of an imposter. There were better teachers in the school than I had been, I worked in partnership with lots of headteachers who all did a much better job than me and to top it all we were just about to have a review of the school as the CEO had concerns about my leadership.
To cut a long story short the review happened and that was the last time I was in the school. I was like a rabbit in the headlights, I had no answers to the questions I was being asked, I had no plans or strategies and I had no more fight left in me. It was clear to me that everything in the school that was wrong was my fault. The standards were not good, assessment systems were not fully embedded (even though we had only introduced a whole new system in the previous October) progress was not as rapid as it should be and teachers were not being held to account. That was it. I couldn’t do it any more. I finally cracked and the breakdown that many others could see coming caught up with me.
It is only now that I can look back with a more critical eye on what happened. Yes, the standards weren’t above national. Yes the progress was not as good as it should have been and I always had a problem with the “difficult conversations.”
That is why I was a crap headteacher. All of the measures that government, OFSTED and the board of directors looked at were not great. If you looked at the numbers and the percentages I was a failure.
However, for some reason I was getting lots of messages of support from the staff. People were telling me that parents and children were asking after me. The local priest said that he had had messages from parishioners saying that they were praying for me. I bumped into a family from the school and the child flung their arms around me. Even the parent hugged me and asked how I was and when I was coming back.
The thing is that I was good at some things. I wanted the staff to feel supported, to feel valued, and they did. I wanted the children to feel secure and loved, and they did. I wanted the parents and the parish to be part of the community and welcomed in the school, and they did. The atmosphere of support and love was evident in the school.
We had lots of families who needed support, either because of mental health issues, parenting issues, safeguarding or just someone to listen to them. The staff were fantastic at this. We had a womens’ refuge near to us and whenever we had an admissions application from a certain address the staff started to organise uniforms and clothing for the children. I used to meet with the parent and the children, find out what they needed and who was allowed to pick the children up. Sometimes they stayed, other times they moved on at very short notice. Did we get the uniform back? No. Did we care about that? The answer is no. If a child had to move on quickly at least they had a sweatshirt, trousers and a coat.
We would have family workers and social workers in the school almost every day. Sometimes a disclosure was made first thing in the morning which led to my whole day being taken up with phone calls, seeing teachers and families and urgently writing reports for conferences. In the midst of which there was usually something trivial come from the local authority wanting to know how many children were wearing school uniform or something else just as unimportant.
Staff would arrange things and let me know afterwards, they knew that if what they were doing was for the good of the children that I would agree. We once had a large family who was at risk of being evicted. I asked in a staff briefing if people would bring in an extra tin of something when they went shopping or buy two packets of pasta instead of one. The staff didn’t know which family it was. It didn’t matter to them. In the end I took four carloads of food to the family. That was the type of school it was. We would feed the children who had come in without having breakfast. Staff would pop out at lunchtime to buy tights, or socks for children who had none. I often found a child asleep in a corner of a key stage 1 classroom as their parents had been fighting all night and the child had not slept.
Members of staff would meet regularly with parents who could not read or write to explain how to help their children. We would send out a newsletter each week and I saw parents coming to staff to have it read to them. Children would arrive late because we had rang the house and found the parent still in bed with a hangover while the children tried to sort themselves out. We often went out to pick the children up.
In all of this I tried to be in every classroom, every day. Not, I hasten to add, to observe the teaching but to check on the staff and children. I had a chair in my room which the staff had christened “the counselling chair” where they could come and let off steam or have a meltdown. (I was criticised for this. Apparently it was another example of my poor leadership) In every classroom I knew every child. Not just their name but about their family, their circumstances and their interests. I knew which children to have a bit of banter with, which ones I needed to remind to behave and which ones needed a regular cuddle. One of my proudest moments was when a recently qualified teacher asked me to leave her room as she didn’t want me to wind the children up.
I valued relationships above all. I wanted to boost the confidence of every child and make sure that the school was a place where they felt safe and loved. I think that I managed to do some of that. I loved aspects of my job and I still worry about some of the families and children that I worked with. I still remember the names and faces of the “little darlings” that every school has.
I know that the situations that I have described will be familiar to some. Our school was not unique as far as deprivation, attendance or other factors were concerned. What made our school unique was the staff and the relationships.
I am no longer a headteacher, crap or otherwise. I have been doing supply work and loving it. Time has helped me get perspective and my family have persuaded me (forced!) to write a blog and get a twitter account.
I still feel like an imposter. I still find it hard to believe that anybody will be interested in what I have to say. However, I do know that, no matter how down you get, no matter how bad you think things are, no matter how lost you feel as a teacher or a school leader, you have the privilege of working with little people who will give you a hug when you need it. They don’t care how crap you are as long as you tell them their painting is superb and their ability to zip up their own coat is fantastic.
Take care of yourselves.