In my twenty years as a secondary school teacher, I've worked under five different Heads, and all of them except one (who left after I'd been at the school for only one term!) have most definitely been a bane. The problems I've encountered with Heads seem to be very widespread, according to what I hear from fellow teachers. Why is this so? What is it that seems to lead, almost inevitably, to Heads behaving like petty dictators, who can't tolerate an ounce of criticism and – at the first sign of such - like a painter with his canvas 'brush out what they don't want to see'. (from my book It's a Teacher's Life!)
What leads to Heads being apparently bereft of moral conscience, treating teachers (and sometimes parents as well) without compassion, destroying their self-esteem, and putting ever-increasing workloads on their shoulders through crisis management and a total inability to plan effectively and organise themselves and their resources efficiently?
In the U.K., the board of governors of each school is responsible for appointing a new Head and from my personal experience, they frequently do a bad job! Perhaps because they believe they know best and won't see behind the facade that a candidate puts up (despite the advice of an experienced, outgoing Head); or perhaps because the majority of governors aren't teachers and have no real idea what teaching is all about; or perhaps they just choose someone to fill the post, whether the person is suitable or not, because they can't face going through the whole process again! It's not unusual for the selection procedure to be repeated because of a lack of good quality candidates.
Even if the appointment of a Head is initially welcomed by staff, when the person actually gets into the job, there can be a rude awakening. It seems almost as though the position corrupts. As a colleague of mine has often said – Heads have too much autonomy, there aren't enough checks and balances, and it goes to their heads. Perhaps, also, there isn't enough training for new Heads to learn about the management demands made on them, and someone who is a wonderful teacher won't necessarily be a good manager, and a good Head definitely needs to be both!
Being a Head is certainly not an easy position to hold. Perhaps certain Heads resort to being bullying despots simply to cover up their inadequacy and feelings of insecurity in the job. All the more reason, therefore, for the selection procedure to ensure the right person is chosen. I think in the U.K. the selection procedure definitely needs to be reformed and the staff in each school should be involved in the process. Prospective candidates need to make a presentation to governors, but why can't they do this to the staff as a whole? When there are school inspections, the whole staff meets the team of inspectors informally over tea. Why can't there be something similar for headship candidates? Why should it all be left up to the governors to decide?
These are just suggestions, but I believe something needs to be done to ensure that the person who is given the job, is someone
“who’ll know what it means
to be a boss;
someone who remembers
what it’s like to be human,
who can manage
resources and people
with realistic sympathy
and organized efficiency,
someone who creates
real, genuine respect —
but who am I kidding?
That’s the stuff of fiction, isn’t it,
(from “The Boss” in my book Family & More)
My hope is that one day this will be much more fact than fiction in the majority of schools.
Have you had a similar or different experience to mine? Please share!