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Leadership & innovation., Teaching & Learning

Becoming an Assistant Headteacher



As I enter my final week as an Assistant Headteacher, I’ve begun to reflect upon my leadership journey, which, over the last six years has been somewhat of a ‘roller-coaster’. Inspired by a colleague who recently wrote a blog titled ‘How to be a Head of Faculty’ who interestingly, from September, will be stepping up to the position of Assistant Headteacher at my current school, I thought I would offer some pearls of wisdom from my own first-hand experiences in senior leadership.  The title of this blog Becoming an Assistant Headteacher could imply that I am the expert, which is by no means the case. Initially, the biggest challenge I faced was stepping up to senior leadership in my own school, now I know you may think that this is advantageous and in many practical ways it absolutely is. For example, I already knew the students, staff, wider school community, systems, procedures etc. However, for me the challenge was about gaining credibility, earning trust and instilling belief in others that I could lead at a whole school level. People already knew me, many had already made judgements and some would have formed their own opinions about my leadership from the limited interactions I may have had with them up to that point, naturally these would have been both positive and some negative. This poses the biggest challenge, it’s unlike arriving as the Assistant Headteacher, where that’s all you are known as and there aren’t any preconceptions. So, here’s my advice to those of you stepping up to or aspiring to senior leadership:

Moral purpose

What are your core values in education (naturally I’m making the assumption that these are student centered), what is it that define these? Consider how your moral purpose aligns with your school values and vision and how it can contribute to shaping it. Are these shared? Is there an overlap or are they completely polarised? Regardless of constant policy changes, accountability measures, educational fads and a whole host of other challenging circumstances you will face, don’t ever lose sight of your moral purpose and your core values. Having a strong moral purpose builds respect.

Walk the talk

It’s no good talking the talk without walking the walk, this is about credibility. Personally, I have very little time for leaders who are exceptionally well read academics yet fail to practice what they preach. When proposing a new idea for example, ask yourself; would I be prepared to do this myself? Sweating the small stuff keeps you in touch with all aspects of school life.

Remember you are not the expert all of a sudden

Just because you are in a leadership position, doesn’t mean you have become the ‘oracle’ overnight. Don’t claim to be the expert in everything or anything if you’re not. Seek council from others, identify who are your change makers, who are the experts, who have the answers or who can help find the solution and reach out to them. Remember people will expect you to have all the answers so don’t let this pressure force you into assuming you have to.

No place for the hero leader

hero-leadersAll great leaders have an ego, they need one, they need to lead and inspire others in doing so and you should be no different. However, there is a clear distinction between an egocentric leader or the ‘hero leader’, where it’s all about them and their ideas or what they claim to be their ideas (trust me, these have a very short ‘shelf life’) and those leaders that inspire, innovate, develop, listen to and don’t take credit for the ideas of others, whilst at the same time, take great pleasure in celebrating the endless success of their colleagues. I’ve experienced the latter and had the pleasure of working alongside them, these leaders empower and create a culture where high levels of trust thrive…….. they build leaders.

Make decisions

This isn’t about shooting from the hip, nor is it about making decisions without considering the implications of them. Nevertheless, there will be times when you need to be decisive, make big decisions and stick by them. This could come crashing down around you and will test your resilience to the limit, so it’s okay to admit you made a mistake, trying to cover it up isn’t the solution and blaming others is totally unacceptable. Constantly sitting on the fence isn’t an option either, seek and listen to the views of others when needed, be brave, be measured and be fair.

Show that you are human

You will need to establish professional boundaries in your new role as a senior leader, this goes without saying, but don’t become robotic or far removed the ‘people’ side of your job in doing so. Show compassion when it’s needed and humor when it’s required. One very important element of my own leadership I’ve worked hard on developing over the last six years, is seeking to see the world through the eyes of others, this really has helped me understand their mindset, which I believe has helped build my emotional intelligence. With the hustle and bustle of school life we can all become consumed in the daily grind, and sometimes we need to take a step back and make time to stay in touch with the ‘human’ side of our job.

Treat people with respect

Various hierarchical structures exist in schools, but remember, regardless of where we sit within this, we are all human beings. We all have feelings and we all deserve an equal amount of respect, whether you are the headteacher, catering assistant or part-time cleaner.

It’s about conversations not emails

Firing off emails left, right and centre achieves nothing. Sitting in your office all day achieves nothing, well, it may give you time to catch up on low impact administrative tasks, but overall, it isn’t high impact. There will be, at times, the need to circulate various items and of course share resources, updates and so on, therefore emails do have their place. Nevertheless, I’ve found that speaking to colleagues where they know they have been genuinely listened to is priceless. It builds relationships, it builds trust and at times diffuses certain potential ‘tricky’ situations. On average, I cover approximately 25km a week around our school, a large proportion of this time is built around conversations with staff and students. In turn, this builds your presence as a leader.

Good luck to you all, I can honestly tell you that this has been the best six years of my professional career to date.



About garysking

Deputy Headteacher - leader of Teaching & Learning. Change maker and believer in quality first teaching.


4 thoughts on “Becoming an Assistant Headteacher

  1. Gary, clearly a heartfelt blog. A lot of what you say resonates with me. It is clear you are passionate not just about the students you work with but also the staff, which I believe is fundamental to a happy, positive and innovative climate in schools. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Plus, this approach, especially the treat people with respect is just the old fashioned (but completely valid) common courtesy, good manners and applicable to all as humans. Really enjoyed this.

    Posted by Susan Strachan | July 14, 2016, 8:04 pm
  2. Reblogged this on No Easy Answers and commented:
    Thoughts on being part of an SLT by Gary King

    Posted by Rufus | July 16, 2016, 7:13 am
  3. Hey Gary,
    I really enjoyed this read – You covered a lot of interesting points with this especially when you distinguished the difference between an egocentric leader and the ‘hero leader’. That’s something I feel a Head Teachers should really consider when leading a team.

    Obviously you’ve fully transitioned into your new role but I just wanted to bring to your attention this article from Lorraine Couves on how school leaders can make a seamless transition between a leadership role.

    Would you be interested in checking it out? I’d love to hear what you think.

    Best Regards,
    James Miller

    Posted by James Miller | July 4, 2017, 9:59 am

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