Three pieces of advice for school leaders

It was a pleasure to participate in a panel last week at the WLSA (World Leading Schools Association) biennial conference for leaders of some of the world’s top independent schools, and I particularly enjoyed the fruits of the preparation which had gone into it. This included the curation of videos of current leaders sharing their thoughts and ideas about how they were planning to take learnings from the Covid pandemic and turn these into practical – and better –strategies that will be embedded into the future direction of their schools. One message was clear, above all – Covid has accelerated change, and we want to use this momentum to effect a step change in education.

I was asked to speak on a panel of Global Principals by virtue not so much of my 13 years in the past as a School Principal, but rather because I spent much of the past 18 months advising school leaders, Boards and schools generally across the world, through what has been – undeniably – the most disruptive period in education in living memory. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to support so many leaders; equally, I harboured a sense of relief that I was not in charge of a school this past year, because it has been incredibly hard for school leaders – really, really, really hard. It is testimony to the utterly dogged, determined persistence of school leaders across the world that children and young people (and their families) have been able to keep their sanity, and I absolutely bow to them in admiration.   

One of the questions I was asked was what advice I would give to school leaders moving forward, and I responded with 3 key points, which I wanted to share with you:

  • First, scrap what you don’t need. Operate on the Marie Kondo principle … if you have done without something for the past year, you don’t need it. Save yourself time, energy and space by binning any processes you haven’t used. If you want to keep the best of your new structures, necessitated by Covid, then some things need to go. Dump what you don’t need.
  • Secondly, don’t lose the questing innovation which you put in place in order to tackle the hurdles you faced. Make the effort to continue to encourage the innovators and disruptors who emerged during the pandemic, and create structures – task forces or working groups, perhaps – which support and value them. Keep the restless energy bubbling away as you plan for the future.
  • Thirdly – and most importantly – invest in yourself. If you aren’t fit and well, if you don’t have a clear head, if you don’t know who you are as a leader, if you don’t have make time to learn and grow … well, how are you going to be able to lead as effectively as you can? Too many school leaders (and still, I would observe, far too many female leaders …) put themselves at the bottom of the list of priorities in school. It is time to change! If your school is going to thrive, and you are going to have the impact on the world which you are destined to have, then you need to take yourself to the next level, and this actually means investing in your own learning, coaching and mentoring. You deserve this! And so does your school. And the wider community. And the world …

So – thank you to Charlie Jenkinson for inviting me to be part of this conference; it was great to be able to share this message! Roll on 2023 …

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