Leaving Headship - 5 Things That I Know Now...
Just over 3 years ago, I left my job as Head Teacher of a primary school. I walked out of the door on the last working day before Christmas 2016, cried in the car on the way home and haven’t looked back (or shed any more tears about it) since.
For someone who really loved her job, the vast majority of the time, the fact that I’ve had no doubts about my decision has come as a bit of a surprise to me. Also, to several friends and members of my family who still ask me every time they see me, ‘So, still no regrets then?’ ‘Nope!’
As I’ve said all along, if you are a Head and in it for the long term, then that’s great news. The profession needs people who are committed to the role and making the world a better place for the children and staff in their school. However, if you are thinking about a change, then here are 5 things that struck me, when I decided to move on.
Expect A Reaction!
People don’t like change.
When I first told my team that I was leaving, we went through a 2-week period of mourning. During this time, several tried to change my mind, others hugged me at every opportunity and some tried to avoid me. A teacher, who had been with me since I became a Head, sidled up one day and said, ‘We’re not being rude by not talking to you. We just can’t at the moment, because we’re so upset with you.’ There’s not a lot you can say to that – especially if you’re feeling a bit wobbly yourself.
Of course, if you work in a school there are lots of different groups who get told about your departure at different times – the local authority, the governors, the staff, the parents, the children, the local community. This means that, over a length of time, there are a lot of people trying to persuade you to have a rethink, randomly grabbing you for a cuddle or completely blanking you!
The good news is that, eventually, everyone accepts that you are definitely going and you can then finish your notice period relatively calmly. Until, perhaps, the very last day and your goodbye assembly…
Consider Others’ Feelings
When I said I was leaving, the most interesting reactions that I got were from my fellow Heads. Not one person asked why – and I’m not sure if I was more surprised or saddened by that. In fact, the majority said that they were envious and would leave too, if they didn’t have a mortgage, children to put through higher education etc.
Whilst many people love being school leaders, others are clearly struggling. It helps to remember this, if and when you are lucky enough to be in a position whereby you can try something new and take a few risks.
And when you’re out of the loop, you have to accept that you’ll no longer stay in touch with all of the people that you used to see and chat to on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot of the friends that I made through being a Head. But people move on, and a few no longer respond to your messages. I tried my best for a length of time but, eventually, I decided not to take things personally (rightly or wrongly!) and to stop stalking folks by email or text. In the words of Frozen (well almost), I had to ‘Let them go, let them go!’
When One Door Closes, Another Opens
Before I left, several people made very kind and much appreciated offers to meet up on the other side. Some were self-employed themselves and were happy to share their journeys and offer advice. Others were keen to talk about future work opportunities – yay! And some checked in on me, over a cuppa and a cake.
In the main, these were people that I didn’t know all that well when I was a Head, and they certainly weren’t close friends. But they are now and I’m extremely grateful for their support. Now, I’m in the privileged position where I can also offer a listening ear, coaching or words of encouragement to other people who are contemplating their future.
It’s Not Your School Anymore
Although that’s stating the bleeding obvious, it takes a while for everyone to get their head around it. Especially if you’ve worked in a school for 20 years, as I had.
Since I left, the school has had 7 different leaders at the helm. I think it’s been hard for the people that I have kept in touch with, not to report back on a regular basis. It’s also been hard for me to hear about some of the changes and challenges that the school has faced, and the knock-on effects that having a stream of people in charge has had.
However, to keep yourself well and focussed on your new ventures, you really do have to distance yourself, wish the people who are still there lots of luck and happiness and hope that the school goes from strength to strength soon.
And You’re Not (As) Important Anymore!
Until I left, I don’t think it had actually occurred to me how important Head Teachers are. As well as being the person who sets the ethos and culture of their school, they are often the linchpin of the local community. Like celebrities or royalty, they can’t walk past people in the supermarket without folks wanting to see what’s in their trolley.
Of course, Heads do have to earn the respect of their staff, the parents and the children but there is also a lot of respect for the position. Now that I work in a lot of other schools, I have to work much harder than I did as a Head, to earn people’s trust and confidence.
So, although I craved the anonymity of life after Headship, it has still come as a bit of a shock. The good thing now though, is that me, my bottles of wine and my big bags of crisps can rattle around Sainsbury’s in peace, and no-one else gives a damn!