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If You Can Keep Your Head

Keep Your Head
Keep Your Head

Keep Your Head (Image:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on the child,
If you can give confidence to children and staff when all doubt them,
Make provision for their needs to ensure they achieve;
If you persevere and forge partnerships and not be tired by waiting:
If you can support your colleagues and establish teaching provision to meet their needs
Yet not lose patience when time and resources are unpredictable,
If you can prioritise and organise demands from many
Remaining unwearied and positive;
If you can lead by example and show consistently excellent teaching,
Remaining focused on achievement and exciting learning
Yours is the Earth and the power to make a difference,
And-what is more– you’ll be our School Improvement Adviser for SEND my friend!

I came across the above job ad (not the picture) on the website. A different time and a different place, I might have applied for it. Why? Because it says so much about the vision and values of the organisation who wrote (or commissioned) the ad. Clearly a job interview would confirm my initial feelings about the prospective employer but, if this is integral with their mission and purpose, they must be an exciting organisation to work for.

What is your school or setting like as a workplace? Does it buzz with the excitement of purpose – or is it burdened with just trying to tick boxes and look good in the eyes of inspectors? Is there a clear vision or goal? Do its values underpin everything that happens there? Is there a clear sense of mission and purpose – or is it just existing to serve the purposes of those who should know better but probably don’t?

I want to be part of something that is much bigger than the organisation I serve – part of an exciting vision to change things for the better for children. That’s what inspires the large majority of the teaching profession – that’s what makes them get out of bed every morning and want to go to work.

That’s what made me wish I was in a position to apply for this job…

It’s not about making a point but about making a difference

Success Ladder
Success Ladder


When I first started climbing the primary school leadership ladder – first as an Early Years Leader then as a Deputy Head – I thought I had a point to make, namely, I thought I knew how to do the job, that I could do it better than some others I saw doing it and – and I wanted to prove it. I loved teaching but I also loved being in a position of influence – orchestrating and making things happen.

I eventually succeeded to headship but, along the way, I’m glad to say I learned some very important lessons about why I did what I did.

To start with, leaders aren’t there to make a point: they’re there to ‘know the way and show the way’ – to lead by example.

Secondly, leaders aren’t there to be served but to serve. I discovered that the more I tried to help people do their job better, the more I enjoyed my job.

Thirdly, leaders don’t know all the answers – I had to rely on people more qualified than I, more skilled than I and more knowledgeable than I. It was  a humbling lesson but it probably saved me from burnout and abject failure (although failure is not such a bad thing – the most successful people on Earth learnt their best lessons from their worst failures).

Finally, leaders delegate. There was no way on this planet I was going to be able to achieve all that was expected of me. I had to ask others to take on some of the roles. And I had to allow them to do things their way – not to interfere at every stage or to tell them how to do things (unless they asked or it was obviously necessary for me to intervene). I had to learn to ‘only do what only you can do’.

All of this made me realise that, as a leader, I was there to make a difference. Making a point was way down the list. In fact, making a point needn’t be on my list at all – it didn’t fit; it wasn’t appropriate.

And, actually, it’s a whole lot more satisfying to know that you’ve made a difference than to have the gratification that you’ve made your point…


The way you do anything is the way you do everything

Image: nuttakit / www.FreeDigital

Image: nuttakit / www.FreeDigital

I was supposed to write this post weeks ago. When I mentioned this to an acquaintance (read: ‘friend’) with a pithy sense of humour, he quipped, ‘Is that because that’s the way you do everything?’ A wry grin and his tongue firmly in cheek.

I often include aspects of leadership in my posts and I can’t get away from it here, either. Because it’s true: the way you do anything as a leader is the way you do everything. And the reason for this, I believe, is deep down within us. It’s about what we believe about ourselves, about our relationships with others and what we believe about their perception of us.

All of us have a values system that we live by. We have deeply-held beliefs about life, about rights and responsibilities, community, fairness and justice, education (my own pet subject) and religion. We also have beliefs about our value – our value as human beings, our value to others and the value of what we have to offer. The fact is that each of us has immense and immeasurable value and what we have to offer to the world is priceless (even though publicists try to put a price on an individual’s worth).

A friend and I were discussing what drives people and why some appear more successful than others at promoting whatever ideology or principle they happen to believe in (and, let’s face it, there are a lot of us at it). We talked about the fact that many of us have a passionate belief in something but that we are often overwhelmed by the fear that others might not ‘buy in’ to that belief. We therefore do not push ourselves forward, even though what we have to offer is clearly of value. Our fear of rejection or failure is greater than our faith in ourselves. What turns the tables is the point at which we see that our message is greater than our fear of how it will be received.

In her book, A Return to Love, Marianne Wilkinson writes these oft-quoted words:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world (emboldening mine). There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

© Marianne Williamson, 1992

Returning to the opening theme, we all must recognise that our identity is what drives our behaviour before we can start changing the way we think – and it is about changing thinking. In an education context, we need to embed this discipline in the minds of our children: their behaviour, whether good, bad or indifferent, is undoubtedly a manifestation of what they think about themselves, which, in turn, is a product of their early experiences of nurturing – or lack of.

I often start my workshops with children by engaging them in a simple game: we stand in a circle and, altogether, recite each other’s name in turn round the circle, finishing with the words, ‘Everyone matters in our class.’ I remind the children that, even if we don’t feel that we matter, we must still believe it: it’s a simple case of ‘mind over matter’.

What we keep repeating often becomes a habit.

The way we do anything is the way we do everything, but it must reflect what we believe – not what we fear.