‘School leadership reduced me to a quivering wreck. Here’s how I recovered – and then thrived’

My run slowed to a shuffle and then stopped altogether. I was 10 miles from home and the cold March rain hammered down. I sat on the muddy verge by a particularly soulless stretch of the A38 and burst into tears. Simon Botten, headteacher at Blackhorse Primary School in Bristol offers some advice in Tes.

School leadership is wonderful, but undoubtedly stressful. The daily firefights just to keep the school running, the thorny complaints or staffing issues where all you can do is come up with the least-worst option, and constant pressure to drive up standards with Ofsted lurking. 

Some heads reach breaking point and decide that the joy of the job isn’t enough to outweigh the pressures it brings –  a draining of talent that our education system will struggle to replace. Mental illness is often the secret disease that eats away at school leaders and staff at all levels, often not being recognised until a crisis point has been reached – sometimes with tragic consequences. 

But this blog is not about clinical depression. Musings of a headteacher about stress will no more cure clinical depression than a broken leg. This is simply my own observations on how to stay sane after 11 years of headship, for those headteachers or leaders who are trying to manage the stress of a stressful job but are not yet at the point of needing real help. 

1. You are brave and capable

A wise person once said to me that “leadership is confidence” and he was right. To some degree, leadership is a confidence trick which we all deploy to persuade others, and often ourselves, that we (and they) are made of the “right stuff”. All successful headteachers sometimes have to fake their resolve and confidence because they, like everyone else, have no magic crystal ball to see what the future holds.

2. Accept that you are expendable 

Headteachers are the only member of a school team whose job is directly linked to the school’s success. Making peace with the fact that our tenure as the leader is only guaranteed when the school is succeeding is one of the most difficult – but important – psychological thresholds which we can overcome.

8. Look for the good – remember why you’re here

Nothing lifts the soul like remembering your core moral purpose.

So when the spreadsheets won’t give you the answer you need, spend a bit of time in the part of the school where you can see your impact. Maybe even teach a lesson… if you’re very brave, teach a lesson in Reception.

Read more helpful observations  ‘School leadership reduced me to a quivering wreck. Here’s how I recovered – and then thrived’

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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