Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The Unreluctant Leader

I’ve never aspired to a leadership position in my life. As the middle child I was always happiest trying to keep the peace between my sisters. Even my mum used to joke that I should join the Diplomatic Corp when I grew up – “ our own little Henry Kissinger”. Perhaps because I received so much positive reinforcement that this role became my comfort zone. Throughout my schooldays and university everyone seemed to come to me with their problems and I listened and responded – probably making very little difference but at least I had my place in our extended social group.

When I became a teacher I only ever wanted to teach my classes. Despite many offers and even pressure from principal teachers and senior managers to apply for vacant posts I kept my dignity by “staying with the kids”. I watched others begin their climb up the greasy pole of promotion and comforted myself that I was remaining true to my principles by refusing to compromise my beliefs. As time went on and I took a career break for the kids it suited me not to have any additional responsibility. I could arrive for work – concentrate on my own job and leave at the end of the day – with no unnecessary bureaucracy which seemed to so fill the time of those in promoted positions. As I came back into work full time I watched a succession of head teachers lead schools in different ways and once again I wondered why they would want such a job – so distant from the kids and so full to trivia.

The only time I ever considered applying for a job was a couple of years ago when Alison took some time off due to back trouble. My motivation was quite simple – I didn’t want anyone else coming into the department telling me what to do. In the end I didn’t apply – but for six months I had to support the acting principal teacher who everyone said wasn’t really up to the job. Throughout that time people used to come up to me and ask why I kept supporting him – they didn‘t know about my childhood programming.

Yet here I am – to all intents and purposes I am the head teacher of our school – by default, or at least that how it seems. Eve Anderson from the authority was in school again today and wanted to formalise my role – although she said that she wasn’t sure if it would mean anymore money at the moment as the council’s systems have all but shut down – I’m still waiting for my January salary. So why has it happened – why does someone with my peculiar set of skills – which I wouldn’t say are the traditional “leadership skills” - emerged as the leader? It’s certainly something I gave a lot of thought to during my recent expedition up North and I wonder if it might be to do with the need for conciliation, negotiation and mediation which are required to bring a community together. Certainly it seems to be having some effect and by all accounts the school was paralysed when I was away last week. Yet it’s not because I’m dominant- or at least I don’t think I am - it’s just seems that people need someone to give permission- even if it’s permission to do their own thing. I worry a bit that they become dependent upon me – in much the same way as I’ve seen many schools become dependent upon the leader. Perhaps it’s just part of the healing process – it gives stability and some certainty in a world where both are so sadly lacking?

Part of me – the secret part – is exhilarated by the responsibility, the opportunity and the fact that people do seem to defer to my opinion – even when I try so hard to present my ideas as the same as anyone else. I’m ashamed that I’ve reacted like this and I’d much prefer it if I was much more reluctant – but I’m not.

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