Influence is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself.
My first Principal, Steve, was truly dedicated to the school, staff, students, community and profession and to me. Less than 3 years into my first teaching job, I was in his office and he told me that he was retiring at the end of the year. I felt gutted and had to take a moment to swallow down the lump in my throat. Fast forward to the day that final interviews were taking place to find our new Principal I remember a conversation:
Me: “How are you feeling?”
Steve: “It does feel a bit strange.”
Me: “You will never be forgotten though.”
Steve: “Dan, one thing that you will learn is that schools quickly move on and I will quickly be forgotten.”
That thought resonated with me for a long time and saw that it was the case, with the students at least. However, the impact that Steve had on my career, way of thinking, philosophy of education and influence of a Principal on staff has been huge. This conversation happened 7 years ago but I still always talk about the influence of Steve and use many of his sayings, quotes and ideals as I attempt to influence others.
I was very lucky to have a fantastic second Principal, Lee – promoted from being Vice Principal, who was different in his leadership style but believed in me and was a huge influence and his support no doubt significantly contributed to my success in securing my first job as a senior leader. Like Steve, I regularly allow Lee’s thoughts, philosophy and belief of education to enter my thoughts when considering policies and leadership.
“Not all headteachers have their heads screwed on. But those that do, make their staff feel valued. They put relationships first and they get the most from everyone.”
Reading a recent blog on Brian Clough, made me think about leadership. I am a Manchester United fan and although the past years have been tough the club have proved under Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer, like they did in the early days of Sir Alex’s career, that they value the stability of a leader because of their influence on others. We talk about the importance of nurturing talent, giving opportunities, having a philosophy and so many players owe their life to the influential leadership of Sir Alex. This is the same for schools but we don’t talk about it in the same way as we do with something like football or politics.
The Nuffield Foundation states that:
“The Department for Education claims school leadership is one of the greatest influences on pupil outcomes, yet there is little quantitative evidence in the UK of the causal impact of headteachers on their schools and the mechanisms through which they exert influence.”
Now what is my point, where am I going with this all. Since I moved on from my first school under the leadership of Steve & then Lee, I have been at one school for less than 4 years and the 3rd Headteacher (2 permanent & 1 acting) has just announced he’s moving on at the end of the year and so the whole melodrama of who will replace him, will there be an internal candidate, who can play politic the best, uncertainty and speculation will be rife once again. My current Head has demonstrated how important kindness is in leadership. His first words to staff were “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I will miss his kind heart and calm persona.
I enter this period with a feeling of uncertainty and unease, I crave the stability and certainty that Steve & Lee offered. Once again, the school will change direction, with a new philosophy, vision, where will my place be in all of this, how once again is this going to unsettle the students.
Should Principals/Headteachers have a contract length like a football manager or a fixed term like a government that can be renewed and extended but provides a guarantee of stability?
New leadership can bring an awful lot of excitement and I advocate change and driving a positive, new vision if it supports our core value of making our school the best in the country and it is the best thing for our students.
I am not a headteacher, but I aspire to be one and I have learned so much from Steve & Lee and I know that they have been hugely influential on my career and in turn life, to which I am thankful. However, the events of the next few months will not just influence the school but my life as well. School leadership can be the most influential job in the world on everyone. They have the potential to make or break, develop or dampen, influence and inspire. Whatever happens though, I respectfully disagree with Steve. He isn’t and won’t be easily forgotten. He was a Head that cared, listened, inspired, remembered and influenced me on my journey into educational leadership.