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28 days later–A month into being a novice senior leader

2013-09-28 19.11.07

Thursday marked my 28th day in SLT, so it seems like a good moment to look back and reflect.  It’s not about zombies at all though.  I guess this is a post about first impressions and not-fully-formed ideas and may be useful to those considering the move to senior leadership.  It’s been an interesting month, with the Great North Run and my first mountain marathon.

It’s interesting being a novice again.

My priority has been to establish myself in the classroom and with the staff.  The move from a situation where I knew the systems, young people and staff of one school to being in an almost alien environment.  Yes, there are students, staff and lessons just like every school, but there is a new language of acronyms, behaviour routines and protocols to negotiate.  It’s like being in Iceland, or even Russia: there’s people, buildings and stuff moving around, but you have no idea how to order a beer or a decent coffee.  There’s also line management of unfamiliar subject areas and a list of whole school responsibilities to look after.  It’s been a time to prioritise.  This is where focusing on the lessons and classes first has been important.  Now that they are sorted(ish), it frees up time to focus on other priority areas.  I never really paid much thought to how much cognitive power is needed for teaching.   When I left Priory, behaviour management, who to go to speak to, internal politics, duties, banter, gossip, photocopying and IT systems where dealt with automatically.  I had the time to think about bigger issues.  For the first few weeks, these everyday things that I had mastered at Priory took a huge amount of brain power.  That brought home a simple point: it’s difficult to have a whole school impact when the basics suck up all the energy.  After week three, this has improved and, as things start to become familiar, I’ve been able to spend more time on my whole school teaching and learning responsibilities. 

I started to feel frustrated at not having an immediate impact, and also to feeling as if I wasn’t contributing.  Now I know to have patience: as I get to understand my context better, those things will come.

It’s also interesting having people come to me with problems and no solutions. More on this in a later post.

Get the workspace sorted

A key aspect was to make my office feel like my space.  Sure, the door is propped open most of the time I’m there and not in classrooms / teaching / meeting.  Getting a decent coffee machine, decent Bluetooth speaker, furniture and a massive whiteboard in the office was important – the space now compliments my own style of working.  I teach in around 10 different rooms and it’s the first time since I started teaching in 2003 that I haven’t had my own space. 

This is my fourth school, so I’m no stranger to moving around.  However, this is the first time where there has been nowhere to hide. Everyone knows who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing.   I can feel the scrutiny and the testing. 

Understand the context

Ofsted reports, website and interview tours can not show you what a school is really about.  The only way to do that is to get in and out of lessons, speak to the staff and students.  One of the most helpful actions I’ve done is to find out about the history of the place.  This is important.

Reading Ofsted reports is fun.

No, really.  And a useful source of information on schools that are doing the things you may want to.  In fact, I’ve never done so much reading.  The aim is to understand my new context and know as much as humanly possible about my areas of responsibility.  Also, my success at Priory was about doing things in a different way and I want my impact to be clear.  The question is, what can I bring that will make a difference to young people?  I’ve also skimmed many books on theory and practical tips, mainly over the summer.  It’s dawning on me that the key to many challenges is to improve the quality of the day to day teaching and learning.  I’m very lucky to be working in a school with a clear vision and direction that I believe in and am excited about.

Get a bigger notebook.

I’ve written a lot of notes. I’ve also got a lot of meetings.  I still use my electronic ways of working, but I write quicker than I type and it’s easier for me to form notes / ideas / mind maps in a book.

Sort the persona.

I’m a reluctant extrovert, but acting and looking like SLT has been an interesting experience.  I’ve never been one to shy away from challenging behaviour in corridors, helping out at duties, assemblies and parents evenings, but I can feel the extra scrutiny coming from all directions.  I’m aware of being tested and weighed up.

Don’t become isolated.

It’s easy to become isolated in teaching.  Essentially, you’re on your own for most of the day, and if you don’t pop out and make the effort to speak to people, it can become lonely.  I almost fell in to this trap myself but have ensured that I’ve gotten out and about and spoken to colleagues at the end of the day. 


All in all, it’s a great experience.  I’ve made the right move and look forward to going in to work.  It’s brought home to me that I was ready to move on and feeling unchallenged at my previous school.  I’m out of my comfort zone, learning loads and feeling tired, mentally challenged and loving learning again.  After all, how can I help improve teaching and learning if I stop myself?


  1. Nice post.... I've got one in draft, but am waiting for the first half term, which will be my first 100 lessons back in teaching... Wonder what percentage will be outstanding... hint: not many :)

  2. Thanks Alan. I've bitten the bullet for this as I want to look back on it in another 28 days. Things shift everyday from almost elation to despair! By the way, there's a cream you can get for not being outstanding ;-)

  3. I love the line about Iceland or Russia! A very perceptive analogy.

  4. Very similar to my experiences. Keen to find out what Bluetooth speaker you went for.... I got the Bose Soundlink mini. You?

    1. Thanks Mark - I went for the SONY SRSBTM8 in the end, have a BOSE for the garden at home and they give great sound.

  5. Enjoyed reading this, David.

    Will be interested to read your later post about people coming to you 'with problems and no solutions'. When I became a deputy head and people realised I was a problem-solver, I found that soon they were bringing me all kinds of issues they could probably have sorted themselves. It's hard to resist the temptation to take them on because as a new member of staff (who everyone is weighing up, as you say) you WANT to be seen as keen, efficient and effective. But I also realised that you risk encouraging a kind of dependency culture where people develop 'learned helplessness' because you're doing their thinking for them.

    So I started to adopt a different tack. When staff came to me with an issue I would listen, sympathise and then say, 'What have you done so far?' If the answer was a blank look (because what they had 'done so far' was bring it straight to me!) I asked them to think of a few suggestions for possible action, to try out one or two and to come back to me (at a definite time) to let me know how it had gone. It did help!


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