I woke up this morning to silence, I lay peacefully, working through the mental check list (what day is it? Sunday, phew, I can lie here a bit longer then). I enjoyed the silence, revelling in it, enjoying the fact that the world around me was not yet conscious. Then, I sat bolt up-right in bed, something was wrong, where was the noise? You see, recently we had a flood in the lower ground floor of the house, and late last week, in order to start the drying process a company installed 9 fans, between them the make the noise equivalent of a 747 jet engine, so really my house shouldn’t have been silent. I padded downstairs to attend to the tripped fuse box.
Silence – an indicator of positivity and negativity!
Two years ago I was lucky enough to see Paul Simon at Hyde Park, it was a great weekend away in London with friends. We had been planning it for a while and for me, in terms of timing, it was just right. The weekend arrived about 3 weeks after I had told my staff team that I would be resigning as Headteacher, I needed to get away and forget about school.
That Sunday afternoon in London was very special to me for a couple of reasons:
It was a long set (26 songs in all), at one point I wasn’t sure he would play ‘Sound of Silence’… it came right at the end to send us away into the warm London evening.
It’s a song that has always resonated but none more so than as a Headteacher – to be silent is part of the job, to not voice your frustration or annoyance, to remain even-keeled and compelling, often means being stoic and silent. By all means be vocal with your praise and positivity! There will be an inner circle who you will feel able to share frustrations with. There is a hierarchy here, bigger frustrations or concerns to a trusted DHT or CoG… but some are not to be shared at all, for some we remain completely silent.
To be a Headteacher is to be many things to many people, it is joyful and wonderful but it is also incredibly isolating and in that isolation sits the sound of silence, especially when it comes to our inner concerns – who the heck do you share those with?
As Headteachers we often check in on each other, as chair of the Secondary Headteachers Association I made a point every meeting of asking each HT ‘How are you?’, I’d always get a similar response along the lines of ‘I’m ok’ – the eyes often betrayed the truth – it is easier to say I’m ok than to open the Pandora’s box (actually a jar) of emotions that would result from expressing anything else. I knew because that’s how I felt too… Actually I’m not ok, I’m really struggling but in a world of uneasy alliance underpinned by accountability-driven competition I’m not sure I should talk to you about this, especially as I, myself, am only just coming to terms with the fact that I am struggling. It is easier to remain silent.
That was 4 years ago.
We were a local authority in crisis, no money, no strategy, no support. Just the unrelenting constant threat, a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.
Now we have a society and an education system in crisis and I am worried. I am worried on behalf of HTs. A crisis should be short lived, Biologically that’s how we are wired, become alert to a threat, stress response, threat passes, return to normal relaxed state. HTs have been operating for 14 weeks in a state of heightened stress… for most on top of the already significant stress and pressure of being a HT. We must give these HTs permission to share their concerns, to ensure they do not fall back to the Sound of Silence response.
We must be sensitive to personal preference and not assume a one-size fits all solution but we must provide HTs with support in these challenging times and beyond, through:
We fight for these things at HeadsUp (@HeadsUp4HTs) where we celebrate and positively reinforce the brilliance of those who take on Headship whilst being aware, through personal experiences, of the darker side of the treatment many HTs receive.
We have decided that we will no longer be complicit in the ‘sound of silence’… and unlike Paul Simon we will deal with it right now and not leave it to the last act.
@HeadsUp4HTs is a growing network of HTs past, present and future. We provide support for HTs in crisis through one-to-one coaching/mentoring support and network events and meetings. We campaign together to change the system/landscape for future HTS.
If you would like support please connect on twitter and send a DM, or visit www.inspireducate.co.uk and complete the contact form or google form link on the HeadsUp page.