A Bluffer’s Guide to School Leadership

As I start my first SLT role, I’ve been reflecting upon some of the leadership teams I’ve worked under and have come up with my ‘Bluffer’s Guide to School Leadership’. This post reflects the things I’ve learned that some school leaders do and things that I won’t be doing in my new role. I hope you enjoy this, my first post on my brand new blog. 


Leadership is one of those jobs where, when you’re not a member of the ‘team’ you wonder why and how some of them actually made it on to that team. On a bad day it can often feel as though ‘they’ (and yes we rarely talk about them as though they are on the same team as ‘us’) are weak, ineffective, have the emotional intelligence of a Nazi warlord and spend all their days in their offices with the door closed. Sound familiar?

Please don’t misunderstand me, the good days do exist. I for one have worked with and for some fantastic leaders. I have a huge amount of respect for those that have taught me so much through being consistent, positive and clear in their vision. Those that I can only hope one day to emulate and follow in their footsteps.

Please note that this article is a tongue-in-cheek reflection of a number of different experiences, all true, that I have experienced during my years in the teaching profession.

 Welcome to the Bluffer’s Guide To School Leadership

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Your office

Go to ‘notonthehighstreet.com’ and buy yourself lots of ‘thank you teacher’ gifts and leave them strategically across your office. Additionally, speak to one of your non-teacher friends and ask them to photoshop your face on to an image of someone collecting a ‘teacher of the year award’. Print the photo and put it in a frame in your office. If anyone asks, just say you keep the award at home for safe-keeping.

Have a decent size box of tissues on your desk to give the impression that 1) you’re a caring leader – but 2) more importantly and subconsciously the staff know that if need be, you will make them cry.

Leadership books

Get on Twitter and search for edu book clubs. Find the books that others have read and recommend. Save yourself a fortune by not buying the books but simply reading their reviews and the back covers of the books on Amazon. The ‘Look Inside’ feature is a winner. Then in meetings subtly drop in quotes from their blog posts and bits from the summary on the dust cover. This should successfully make you seem knowledgeable and help to sustain that persona that you love to maintain. Win.

Maintaining your persona

Buy a Castelli or Moleskine notebook. Carry it with your SLT only iPad everywhere. Take photos when walking through classrooms and then nod approvingly/disapprovingly as you see fit. Enter random classrooms with a ‘just passing through’ catchphrase saying ‘carry on’ with a quick flick of the hand as you steam through the room. Before you leave the room, talk to the child nearest the door – have a conversation about football whilst glancing through their book (maybe take another photo) and then leave the classroom without saying anything to the classroom teacher. This should help keep the buggers on their toes.

CPD budget

Spend a significant amount of the budget on coffee for your office. The Nespresso brand is particularly nice. Make sure you make a quick brew just before break time just to fill the hallway with the aroma of your exclusive and expensive coffee. Stand in the hallway with you mug whilst looking smug and going ‘mmmmmmmm’ as colleagues skulk past hoping not to catch your watchful gaze.

Leadership furniture

To keep up the appearance, spend some money on decent leather chairs for your office whilst telling colleagues it’s because ‘we are a professional school and we have professional meetings in our offices’. This is bound to be very popular with your classroom teachers who get to use the same chairs as the children (particularly popular in the primary classroom).

You might also like to consider turning the PPA room into an ‘executive meeting space’ so that you can commandeer it 24/7 so that teachers have no space to complete their planning, preparation or assessment. Additionally why not catch teachers on their PPA time and ask them to tidy up the room or wash up the cups to get the room ready for the meeting.

Staff dress

Implement a staff dress code and then randomly pick on colleagues as they walk past you in the corridor asking them to do up their ties, whilst enjoying the comfort of your own cheap Matalan suit.

Staffroom

Make good use of the staff room whiteboard to leave messages for colleagues stating there will be an impromptu work scrutiny at random with little or no warning for top / middle / bottom students. If you really want to throw your weight around, make that a 3.45pm deadline for the books. Priceless.

Posture and duty

Practice your best leadership posture and make sure that you use it at all times when walking the corridors. Remember – you can slouch and put your feet up on your desk when you are back in the office but when out and about at least make it look as though you know how a leader walks and stands.

Make sure you regularly do gate duty at the beginning and end of school day and then tick that off as being a ‘visible leader’ knowing that you really do walk the walk. Why not try and get the end of day gate duty on a Friday so that you’re one step closer to your car when everyone else has left the school site.

Don’t learn all the names of the children in school – just pick a handful and talk to them every week so that when needed you can call on them in assembly or in the corridor to make it look as though you know all your children well. Additionally, when on duty, put the fear of God in to all children by shouting, “You child, in the (insert colour of school uniform here) blazer/sweatshirt! Come here!!”


Have you got any Bluffer’s Guide leadership tips you’d like to share? This piece was inspired by the brilliant ‘Think before you teach’ by Martin Illingworth. His introduction to the book about the ‘No-brainer Academy’ chain was inspired and thus inspired this. Thank you Martin.

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24 thoughts on “A Bluffer’s Guide to School Leadership

  1. Love the blog . Don’t forget to hint that you know some very important information but you can’t tell anyone because it’s “confidential” !

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  2. Leadership is a very challenging and demanding role. All leaders can do is their very best for the children. Being a leader is difficult…you are not regarded as one of the staff any more. There are difficult decisions to be made and leadership is not for the faint hearted. I think if you were writing this blog in a year or twos time from now it would read very differently! Good luck in your new role.

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    • I think without a doubt it would be very different although I will ultimately still be me and my humour will always come through in my writing. This is very much a tongue in cheek piece at some long gone by experiences. It is a reflection at the start of what I take to be a serious journey and challenge and as such it seemed fitting to write about it at this point. I hope that I will be able to maintain my humour and see the funny side no matter how difficult it gets. I did in my previous career which went quite far up the ladder and so far I have done in this one. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment – I appreciate it.

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  3. Brilliant! Whilst ‘just passing through’ classrooms, you should also call aside the TA and say loudly ‘uh, what on earth is going on in here?’ without ever speaking to the teacher about it. That’ll really show your ‘finger on the pulse’ style of leadership too 😉

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    • Thank you Mike!! Ha! It’s good to know they are identifiable – so far this has made me smile – it’s just not ever really said out loud… if it makes you smile and you can see the humour – for me it’s not a bad way of acknowledging it!

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  4. My only contribution to this is on a more serious note – a simple piece of advice that most ‘Leaders’ tend to forget. ….. Remember’You’ used to be one of ‘Us/Them’ and always be true to yourself. Don’t get drawn into being something you not and NEVER ‘Hate’ what you become….. it means that you didn’t remember you beginnings. Good luck and I know you will be great – #SE

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  5. Humour is important, Claire, and as a senior leader you really need not to take yourself too seriously. Yours will take you far!

    Good luck – hope you’re looking forward to the start of term.

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    • Jill thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Humour has always been my saving grace – no matter what there is always a comical side. I’m very much looking forward to the new role and school – it looks set to be an amazing place to be! Can’t wait to show you it and be a part of it – as a teacher and a member of the SLT 🙂

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  6. Thanks Claire – it’s a great piece! Very funny; sad too!
    I’ve got to come clean…
    If pinning up thank you notes from children and parents on the notice board in your office counts and then (I hardly dare admit it…) leaving them up for over a YEAR, then I am definitely guilty !! Oh no – how sad am I? Though at least I didn’t write said thank you cards myself. Hope you are enjoying your new role. Retaining and even growing your sense of humour is definitely key to thriving, not just surviving, senior leadership. I spend a lot of time laughing, mostly at myself (😂), and enjoying the huge privilege of working with students, staff, parents and governors in so many different ways. I also stack lots of chairs and sort out plenty of lost property! #balance

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