Reflections: first term in senior leadership

In August 2018 I started a new position as the IBDP Coordinator at a school that had recently adopted the IBDP to replace its A Level program. This was my first time in a senior leadership position and I want to take sometime to reflect on that first term.

Prior to this role I had worked as part of the founding team of a secondary school. During that time we took the school through IB MYP and DP authorization, CIS accreditation, where I planned resourcing of the science department, as well as planned and developed the university and careers program. It was a busy time, and I learned a lot about things that I would not have got exposure to if I had stayed at my previous school. Through observation, I spent a lot of time watching and reflecting on the actions of various senior leaders.

So, naturally, entering into senior leadership for the first time, I felt that I had some ideas of do’s and dont’s of leadership, to help guide me in my initial steps. I also felt that I knew some of my natural weaknesses that I needed to work on. Looking back I think the biggest lesson I learned at my previous work was an echo of a prior lesson that I learned in my first year of teaching: It is ok to not have all the answers. It is ok to admit to knowledge gaps.

Starting in a new school always brings new challenges, and this term was no exception. It was odd, being new, being in leadership, and feeling like I was expected to have answers in the first week about processes and systems that I was still just getting my own head around. In addition to picking up new classes (I am still in the classroom 10 hours a week) one of which was a Y13 biology class, and having to learn the ropes of IT systems I hadn’t used before as well as the expectations of policy and procedure, I was implicitly and explicitly asked by staff about various points of procedure which I just didn’t know how the school did it. I had my own ideas of how things should be done, but I certainly did not want to impose those from the start.

In my first week, I was, figuratively, thrown under the bus being required to present to the whole primary and secondary school about priorities for KS5 and the rest of the secondary school. I also was front and center, leading multiple sessions during the staff inset. During all of these sessions I was careful to thank those who had put the work in before my arrival and show humility in the way I talked about the DP and my ideas. I was also happy to admit that this was my first DP Coordinator post. I think that this went some way to helping me build relationships with staff members.

On top of planning and marking (It was the first time I was teaching IGCSE biology in 4 years) during that first term my time was consumed mostly by:

  • Managing teachers
  • Developing policy
  • Developing exams processes and procedures
  • Developing the DP options process

Before becoming a senior leader I thought that most of my time would be taken up with managing student behaviour across the board but this term I was surprised to find just how much time is taken up by teachers! 🙂 Not all of this is good or bad, much of it is healthy relationship building, and I had already clocked in my last job that this was an area I needed to work on: relationship building.

I like to work on my own, not surrounded by other colleagues to talk to or distract me. I find planning and prioritisation hard when my time is broken up, and I like long chunks of uninterrupted time to focus on my work. In my last job I had already told myself that I needed to get into the staff room more but this term this has been an imperative. Why send an email if I can have a conversation? I have come to understand that this is so important for a senior leader and as I write I am reminded of an old Head who always used to admonish me to come and see her and not send emails. However, I currently believe that this is a responsibility of senior leadership not teachers. At the time I was teaching four classes of biology, two classes of TOK, running the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and setting up the careers program. I didn’t have time to try and find people (in fact a lot of that year I spent in tears). This Head should have been coming to find me, instead of showing a profound lack of understanding about what I was doing with my time.

As DP Coordinator I need to be aware of the pressures my teachers are under and get out there to support them. However, when issues between staff arise, this can take up a huge amount of temporal and emotional space as I learned this year. I have also seen how destructive certain habits can be for individuals.

Developing policy has been a key focus for the term. As the DP program is quite young, there are a lot of policies and procedures that need attention. Initially we have been focussed on developing academic honesty policy and I wrote about that here and here.

Since October, my time has mostly been absorbed by planning the administration of the mock exams to be held in January (getting the dates in place is another story) and developing a process for the DP options/subject choices procedure for year 11.

I also had the importance underscored, more than ever, of working in a team and holding the party line. When decisions are made as a leadership team that might be unpopular and that you are either personally neutral to or don’t really agree with, it is really important to support the party line. Not doing so, can serve to undermine the effectiveness and efficiency of that team. While it may be tempting to admit privately that you disagree with a decision or that the decision wasn’t yours, the result of doing so will not be positive.

2 thoughts on “Reflections: first term in senior leadership”

  1. Will, a most moving and sincere post- you certainly take the reader on your journey as you begin to unfold and bloom in your new role . I’m delighted to hear that despite the arduous journey you are taking , life is good and I sincerely wish you the very best in your new role and life. Hope to comment on your other posts and the biggest message that comes through is through perseverance and a mindset that you can , what matters are those relationships you build at your crucial induction phase ….our job is about people- parents/ students/ teachers … you know this … keep all in perspective and you will thrive. God Bless Az

    1. Az, thanks for the kind words of encouragement both on the role and for my writing. I very much appreciate it. I hope you have found your groove this year! 🙂

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