Sunday, 23 March 2014

How to develop a thicker skin

The way I became Head of Faculty is a long and winding narrative that I am not going to unburden myself of here. Needless to say, it wasn't  expected, planned for or happy circumstances that saw me become first Acting Head of English and then appointed to the post permanently.

I will, however, mention that, after advertising the position twice, there were just two candidates on the day of my interview and only myself left standing by noon: a fact that often seemed a harbinger of doom on some of the darker days that followed over the next twelve months...

As a result, I was perhaps even less well-equipped than the average new HoF to take the reigns of a Faculty that swelled that year to a hefty 18 teachers. Even with every ounce of bravado mustered, the task ahead was equal parts exciting and daunting.

Unsurprisingly, what followed was an extreme lesson in people management. "But what about leadership?" I hear the more experienced and perceptive of you ask. I'm not sorry to say it took me a lot longer to crack that egg. In the first twelve months it was more of a crash course in survival, of which my loving partner bore the brunt.

But, a lot has changed since the days of heavy doses of Bach's rescue remedy and more Kleenex Balsam that they stock in the local Asda. This job has changed me - for the better. I'm harder, stronger, older (Batman). So, to all new HoDs and HoFs out there I'd like to pass on the following nuggets of my experience:

1. Remember, it really isn't personal.
If someone doesn't like the a-mazing idea you've been refining through various stages at increasingly unsociable hours of the day: don't panic. They don't like the idea! Honestly. Yes, I know, it doesn't always feel like that, but it's true and unless you let people talk - and listen - your ideas will always be half-baked, worm-holed and likely to fail. Kick it around. Let it be criticised. Then put the pieces back together and watch it fly.

2. Switch off. Totally off.
This one's simple. I don't work on Saturdays. Find your own rule. Stick to it. No matter how crap your week was with a little time and space you'll be able to fix that grin, roll up your sleeves and mutter 'Nolites te bastardes carborundorum' before you know it.

3. Meet up with friends who aren't also workmates.
Let me start by saying that I think it's thoroughly important to have friends at work. I am lucky to have many, not least @evilg08, @mrszshah and @missrcapper. But, a bit like the one above, teaching has a way of swallowing you up if you let it. Nurture your friendships when you don't need them and your friends will be there for you when you do.

4. You don't own people/No one is truly irreplaceable.
It was a hard-learned lesson (in a McDonald's drive through of all places) this one. A year in and I'd finally done it: compiled the A team! This was the group of teachers that were going to send our 3LP soaring, Buzz Lightyear style. Then, it happened. One of my brilliant, talented, hard working teachers dropped the bombshell that she was applying for another job. Mid-year no less. My instant reaction was to cry "Betrayal!" and lambast the slightly traumatised McDonald's employee just then handing me my change. But, once the snot had dissipated, I realised that, even if she did leave, my school and Faculty would go on. Different, yes, but not defeated.

I am now pleased to say that my hide has a rather wonderfully elephantine quality to it. Which is not to say the explosive tears and accompanying unattractive red blotchiness don't make the occasional appearance. I'm lucky to say that, at these times, I have a Head teacher prepared to hand me a tissue or two whilst I descend into a blithering wobbly mess. Thankfully, these moments are now limited to just one or two episodes per academic year. And all I now find myself thinking is that I hope the next one won't be on that nail-biting Wednesday in August... 


  1. A really honest and engaging post. Nice!

  2. I've found myself in this position after our HoD never returned following maternity leave. It's a bloody hard job, but it's encouraging to hear that I'm not alone!