After Headship… what next?

It was a quiet morning in early August when I packed up my final box of bits – a whistle, some books and big ball of blu tack – and finally left my headship at Rustington after 11 happy years. Driving five minutes across town, I found myself standing at my new desk in the Schoolsworks office, wondering where to put my tea bags. The transition from headship to being the Deputy Director of Teaching and Learning happened all too quickly. Transitions happen to all of us at some point or other and they’re not always easy. So how do we cope? What do we rely on when we feel a bit lost? It’s still early days but in my new role I’ve discovered a few things about myself and others which may be of help those going through their own transition.

Is there a plan?
Despite sounding like some sort of insect repellant, my new role of DDTL is to support the senior exec team in the wider development of the Trust and deliver school improvement. So one of the first questions in my mind was ‘What’s the plan?’ In mentoring the two new Heads of School at Rustington and Downsbrook, I already had a pretty full diary. Once I added in all the board meetings, trust inspections, data reviews and teaching observations, my weekly schedule resembled an air traffic control inbound flight list. In my Headteacher’s office, I knew what the plan was. The plan was to the make the very best of every moment, providing every child with a day of rich, memorable learning experiences. I am amazed at just how much planning and strategizing goes on at school level. All our schools leaders, and their unsung, hard-working leadership teams, constantly have an eye on the horizon. Looking ahead to make sure they are ahead of the game and ready for the next phase. It’s often like playing multiple games of chess. Ultimately though, these plans have to turn into positive actions and I’m learning the power of the simple question, ‘So what…?’

Look for the positives
One of the many joys of leading a primary school is the sheer unpredictability. The next moment of hilarity or heart-stopping tale could change your day in an instant. Many was the time I wandered a corridor, mulling over something tricky, when a little hand would tap my leg and beckon me to bend down and hear how many baby guinea-pigs had been born that morning. These delightful conversations would always help to counter-balance the many challenges. Working across more than one school means that I now have to actively look for those positives and take more time to find them. With those well-known ‘degrees of separation’ in mind, it’s good to watch others do well. I can now see for myself that all our schools are teeming with wonderful moments and that’s a joyful thought in itself. But it’s not always good. Dealing with allegations against staff and serious complaints from parents can be draining – but there is no finer way to top yourself back up than spending ten minutes in Early Years! Thankfully, the shared services team who inhabit the Schoolsworks Office bring their own sense of fun and are a joy to work with. The ability to find time to smile, wherever you work, is a true gift.

Keep moving
Finally, I realise I’m going to have to keep moving. A tap on my old office door ‘Can you come and help get (boy’s name) out of the toilet please?’ usually kept me on my toes during the working day. A full day of activity at Downsbrook – with its many miles of corridors – often registered upwards of 10K on my steps app. But between school visits, too much typing and too many biscuits means it won’t be long before I start taking root. I’m going to try a new tip found recently on the internet (bound to be good then!): you must read an email standing up but write one sitting down. It will probably make people wonder if I need the toilet, but it will prevent me from sinking deeper and deeper into a sedentary abyss. And the privilege of being able to move around our schools – appreciating their energy and enjoying their journeys towards increasing success – is enough to put a spring in anyone’s step.

Nick White, DDTL