September 2011

The know zone

  • On the level
    However unpopular or culpable an employee seems to be, any dismissal process against them has to be just and impartial, says Richard Bird, even one instigated by the secretary of state. More
  • Nobody's fool
    Now you've budgeted for your staff, make sure you get value for money in whatever you ask them to do, says Sam Ellis. There's no easy way to do this, but an online tool may help. More
  • Lead vocals
    Quotes from Albert Einstein, Socrates, Bill Cosby and Confuscious More
  • The guv'nor
    Philip Capper was named school governor of the year at last year's UK Teaching Awards. He is chair of governors at Ysgol Bryn Elian in Old Colwyn, Wales. He recently retired from his full-time job in the offshore fishing industry. More
  • b-live to work
    The b-live Foundation was set up six years ago to help and inspire young people to make informed career choices through partnerships with schools, employers and other organisations. More than 230,000 students are currently being supported. More
  • Adding value
    Getting the best from staff More
  • Examination thoughts
    From September 2012, external exams for GCSE will be done at the end of the course so there will be no modular exams part-way through. Is this a good move? And if changes are to be made to GCSE, are there others that would be more effective in improving them? School leader s share their views. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Commanding performance, Don't know much about biology... More
  • Ever-shifting pension debate
    Held just two weeks before the teacher unions' one-day strike on pensions, the June Council meeting was dominated by this topic and debate over how ASCL should proceed. More
  • Answering the right questions
    The shocking events in England's cities – and the involvement of young people in them – underline the need for the profession to seize the debate about the purpose of education, says Brian Lightman. More
  • Stick to the plan
    Nigel Poole presents his 20 top tips to becoming a valued, respected, hard-working, cheerful, credible, versatile and all-round impressive leader. More
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Nigel Poole presents his 20 top tips to becoming a valued, respected, hard-working, cheerful, credible, versatile and all-round impressive leader.

Stick to the plan

I've been a senior leader for 17 years and a teacher for 30 years. I've watched, learned, trained, studied, distilled, emulated and synthesised practice and understanding from highly impressive – and not so – leaders in five counties and on three continents.

Lots of former members of my senior leadership team have got promotions for which I always take the credit. So I'm forever training up the next lot. This, I tell them, is the key to success.

1 If you are paid the big bucks you have to earn them. Put the hours in. Arrive early, leave late. Attend evening/weekend/holiday events. Expect a break of 25 minutes max at 'lunchtime'.

2 You have to be seen to work extra time. Just because you know you put the hours in at home isn’t going to swing it with your peers. You must be highly visible at all times. The odd late night and weekend email is never a bad thing.

3 Sing your own praises: no one else will! Look out for 'campaign medals' – things that go on the letterhead also look good for you.

4 All the trappings – the office, the nameplates, the titles, the parking space, the occasional treat – will be begrudged by someone, somewhere at all times.

5 No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot and will not keep everybody happy all the time. Someone will always not rate you but if you're doing your job properly that's their issue, not yours.

6 As a senior leader, every aspect of your behaviour is up for scrutiny and comment, from what you wear, to how you look, to what you say, to what you drive, to what time you arrive and leave, to how you keep your office. I am immeasurably weakened every time I revert to smoking, whereas eating chocolate is seen as more eccentric and harmless. Chewing gum is not a good look. Not shaving is not great. Deviating from business dress is unwise. When I sit on a table in the foyer, I'm kidding myself if I believe I'm exuding gravitas. Driving a flash car goes down badly. Having your own parking space likewise. An untidy office does not inspire confidence. Every time I swear, my integrity is diminished. You can't get your mobile out and check Facebook.

7 Once you enter senior leadership, there's no going back – you're one of them – not one of us and you're fair game.

8 Senior staff stick together. Confidentiality is all. You cannot leak anything, ever.

9 Everyone will feel uniquely qualified to comment on your every action, however unqualified they actually are. Grow a very thick skin, very quickly.

10 The most important criteria for credibility is: can you cut it with the kids? If you can't boss the kids, you won't get respect. You have to show this all day, every day.

11 No one will excuse your poor teaching as a senior leader. You have to deliver there, too – despite all the competing pressures on your time.

12 You cannot ever be in a bad mood. It doesn't matter what's going on in your life – no one will cut you any slack.

13 If you're feeling rough but still come in (which you should always aim to do) don’t expect anyone to do you any favours – staff assume if you’re here, you're fully firing however bad you actually feel.

14 It doesn't matter that you qualified as a teacher of English, you will be expected to teach subjects for which you have received no training whatsoever and excel at them. Immediately.

15 Staff and colleagues expect you to carry your fair load of the rubbish jobs; if you don't do them, who will?

16 You can't expect to stay in your comfort zone. You will get tasks you're not good at and become an instant expert.

17 Falling back on experience is never enough. Practices change, legislation evolves. You have to keep up. Read.

18 Stay ahead of the game. Know your stuff and if you don't know it, bluff. Then go away and find out – pronto.

Don't go out of school too often. Staff don't rate people who are highly regarded in the county but are invisible in school.

20 Everything is always your fault. Don't fight it, don't waste time defending it – just put it right.

Nigel Poole is head of The Petersfield School in Petersfield, Hampshire

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you'd like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Sara Gadzik at ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

Stick to the plan