The chimps in my head have been going a bit mad this week. For more on the concept of chimps, see here: https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/into-headship-spring-conference-2/ Basically, they are a concept described by Amanda McMillan, Head of Glasgow Airport, to describe the internal self-critical voices which undermine, criticise and try and cause mayhem when we face challenge in our lives.
The focus of their antics and questions this week has been the question of how one ever really knows that the time is right.
A month tomorrow I am going back to school after a 16 month secondment with my local authority central education team. The decision to go back is mine and largely based on the facts that a) I miss being in a school and b) the travel and lack of routine associated within the secondment have been hard on my family. I also know that if I want to be a head teacher then school experience at senior management level will be crucial in terms of making applications. I had only been in my DHT post for a year when the secondment opportunity came up and it was not ideal timing but I was aware that such opportunities do not come up often, so I went for it.
The secondment experience has been excellent, I have learnt a tremendous amount and I hope that I have also given something back in terms of providing support to schools and the authority in relation to policy development and practice guidance around supporting pupils with additional needs.
Having made the decision to return to school, however, I can’t help feeling that perhaps the timing is not quite right and that I should have tried to secure an extra year in order to ensure that the work I have done is fully embedded and has maximum impact. The chimps are telling me that I am letting the schools down with whom I have built relationships and for whom I have been a voice on the end of the phone or a response to an email. They are telling me that I am letting down the colleagues in my team with whom I have created relationships and made things happen. And above all they are telling me that I am selling out on the cause for which I somewhat recklessly gave up my DHT post in the first place; being in a position to make a real difference to the ways in which we support and ensure the wellbeing of the most vulnerable children in our society. Worst of all, they are telling me that I have probably lost what it takes to teach and I won’t be able to cut it in the classroom any more when I go back! I am hoping, with these latter voices, that they are similar to those that every teacher gets on the Sunday night before returning to school and that, like riding a bike, I’ll be fine once I am back in the saddle!
I know that I have to out-think the voices and stay true to the decision that I have made. But in the moments when I am tired and when my resolve is low, the doubts creep in!
Another big party opportunity for the chimps arose when I heard this week that a peer in the first ‘Into Headship’ cohort has secured a headship. Of course, my first reaction was to be utterly delighted for said colleague who has been a fantastic depute and will be a fantastic head. The person will be moving to work in another authority but as that is the said colleague’s home authority, it is a personal win-win. So why is it that this news got my chimps cavorting around and turning cartwheels? “Now that person has done it, you should be looking!” they started. “All the good secondary headships are going to get snapped up by the bright new Into Headshippers!” they continued. “You can’t afford to hang around!” they needled…..”You’re already forty-six! So-and-so is MUCH younger than you and the average age for first headships nowadays must be about forty…You’ll be left on the shelf!”
And so on.
Now, in reality, there are a few things that I need to remember to help silence that chatter. Firstly, my colleague has managed to secure a headship without needing to move house. For me, that is going to be an unlikely scenario and it therefore has huge implications. We made a major move nine years ago and then another just two and a half years ago; my children now need some stability for the next few years. I know that some children are not bothered by upheaval and thrive on change but, in our case, that is not so and I have to be aware of that. If we stay here until they are ready to leave home, we are talking another eight years and I will be fifty four. Maybe too old to start the headship journey? But my commitment to my family and my job as a mum are not secondary to my personal desire to lead a school or my commitment to other people’s children.
Secondly, my colleague has several years of being a depute under the belt and I don’t. I have just a year of experience and I need to take time to prove myself as a senior leader. And who knows? Maybe when I go back to school and have more time to develop as a depute, I will find that it is enough for me and that I can find ample opportunities within that role to give me the professional challenges that I think I crave.
When I signed up for ‘Into Headship’, I stated that I was ‘a fully qualified teacher whose next post will be that of a Head Teacher, likely within 2-3 years.’ And it is still my aspiration to achieve that. Were a headship to come up locally, I would certainly apply. (Cue chimps telling me that applying does not mean getting….but that would be the case anywhere). But for now, I need to shoo the fluffy guys back into their tree, focus on the here and now and curb my natural tendency towards impatience and impulsivity.
I know some people have a life plan. I have heard people talk about the steps in their career trajectory which stretches from leaving school to retirement. But I also know that life is about making choices that are sensible within the context of your own circumstances and living with them. We need a plan and yet we need flexibility to respond to the circumstances that life throws at us. As Dimmock and Walker in relation to school leadership:
“There is clearly a need for leadership to be responsive, and at the same time focused in a systematic and consistent way that sustains pressure for change over the long term. To make this possible, however, school leaders need an organizational design on which to architecture their long-term effort. The concept of organizational design offers the facility for both long-term consistency and short-term adaptability and responsiveness.”
(Clive Dimmock & Allan Walker (2004) A new approach to strategic leadership: learning‐centredness, connectivity and cultural context in school design, School Leadership & Management, 24:1, 39-56, DOI: 10.1080/1363243042000172813)
“Long-term consistency and short-term adaptability and responsiveness” seems to be a good mantra for my life just now.
Because, as my old favourite John Lennon sang: “Life is what happens to you, while you’re busy making other plans” (John Lennon, Beautiful Boy).