What questions would give you the most information about your new school and help you fit in to your new team?
You are the new Head teacher- congratulations! You have a team of experienced leaders in situ, some who have perhaps been there from the start of their teaching career and risen through the ranks. The knowledge they have about the school, staff, pupils, governors, buildings and local community are second to none. Well- certainly better than yours especially if you have come from outside the area.
I have seen head teachers come and go, the ones who have got the best out of me (as their deputy) have believed I have the knowledge and experience. They have had a 1-1 with me well before they start the post and then continued to meet on a timetabled and regular basis. The worst head I worked with made me believe in them initially because of their seemingly passionate and strong beliefs about the doing the best for disadvantaged students. I even stopped looking for my own headships at this point because I believed I would learn a lot from this person. In hindsight this was the worst thing I could have done. At the point of entry of the new worst Head, I had done my NPQH, been selected for and completed the Trainee Head teacher programme and been really successful in my placement school as an Associate Head. This article is not about me feeling sorry for myself at all, I did learn a lot but mostly about how not to do things!
The worst head ( whom I shall call WH from now on) did not meet with us individually at all before starting. We were an amazing team of people who had led the school to its best set of results ever. We were all confident leaders, up to date in knowledge and worked well together. There was a collective sense of humour amongst us too. A difficult team to become a part of? Possibly, but we were all eager and looking forward to working with WH. We had never been a team that said that won’t work!
The questions I think might have helped WH understand more about the team and the individuals WH had inherited are:
1. Find out about the personal lives of the team – do they have children? Do they live nearby? What is their biggest achievement outside of education?
2. What are the current priorities for the school?
3. In the past five years, what areas has the school focused its energy on?
What was the impact of this focus? Why do you think it was successful or not successful?
4. What are your main areas of responsibility? What are your main priorities in the next year?
5. What is going well in your area? Why is it going well? Has this area always gone well? If not what did you do to improve it?
6. What are the issues you face in your role? What is the current reality of these issues & what is happening now? If these issues were solved what would be the outcome? How can we move one step closer to this outcome?
7. Does your job description accurately describe the role you perform? What is missing? What is additional?
8. What are your career aspirations? What have you done towards achieving these so far? How can I help you? Are there any roles you would like experience of?
9. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the staff? What about the teams you lead and manage?
10. What about the Governing Body? What are the strengths and weaknesses here? What training have they received? How well do the GB and SLT work together?
11. What should I know about the pupils? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Are there any groups which have particular needs which should be addressed? Do you have any pupils or groups which are a serious cause for concern? Do we have any talented pupils that I should be aware of? What recent successes should I know about? What did the most recent student voice activity tell us? What do we plan to do with this information?
For example in our school, we had a very talented swimmer, gymnast, footballer and artist. The summer production of Bugsy Malone had been incredible.
12. How are we developing leadership in our young people? What did the School Council change last year for the better? What are they currently working on?
13. How do we work with our partner schools and alternative providers? What should I know about the local schools primary and secondary?
14. How do we work with the local community? What are the local community strengths and weaknesses?
15. How do we work with our Parent Body? What would they say the strengths and weaknesses of the school are?
15. Is there anything else you think I should know?
It is unlikely that you will get the same information from each member of the Leadership team. Some members may not have detailed information but their perception about an area is still important. It will help you as the new Head understand individuals and how they approach their role. Once you have met all the SLT individually you can start to make your own judgement about the working relationships of the whole team and the staff as a whole. You may also find the gaping hole which needs attention, or the issue which is driving everyone to distraction. Imagine a win win situation sorted in the first fortnight?
Once in post, please live up to the expectations of your team. Meet with each one individually at least once a fortnight. Never cancel at the last-minute (especially after asking them to prepare feedback on a variety of topics) unless there is an unimaginable emergency! Never leave your very busy SLT member waiting around outside your office because you have overrun for more than five minutes. They invariably could be doing something far more productive with this time which will directly enhance the work of the school. Yes you guessed it – WH did this all the time. I did not have a 1-1 line management meeting for 5 months once. Not because I avoided them, but because I invariably was cancelled by WH PA and not important enough to reschedule a meeting. Not a great confidence builder.
As a new Principal, I recommend the use of DISC. This is a personality profile, which I will write about in another blog, but mention it to you as a useful tool to complete and then for subsequent coaching the individual and team.
Have you any questions you would add or remove? I would be interested to know what you think.
Amanda Clegg has been a teacher for thirty years in secondary schools. She has held posts in senior leadership teams for the last fifteen years including that of Principal. Amanda is a Coach and works as an Educational Consultant and Science adviser.