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Talking Head's Blog - my first year in Headship. Fundamental philosophy still remains the same.

Leadership Biography

January 13th 2017

Name: Amanda Harrison

Phase: Secondary

Sector: Mainstream

Region: Cheshire

Years Served in Education: 19 years

Years Served as a Headteacher: One year

Leadership Journey:

Began as an English teacher and found promotion quite rapidly to Head of English. Internal promotion to Assistant Head in charge of teaching and learning. Within three years secured first Deputy Head role in charge of standards and curriculum. Began to think about possibly moving into headship but wanted to challenge myself, so moved to take on Deputy Headship of a school which had just gone into special measures. Working closely with the head moved the school out within two years.

Leadership Coach/Mentor/Inspiration:

Too many to name! I have been so fortunate to have had the privilege to be mentored and coached by some exceptional heads but particularly Clive Hampton, formerly of Eirias High School and Peter Rubery from the Fallibroome Trust.

Twitter Handle: @mamandaharrison

Leadership Reflections

Why do you teach?

I have had an unusual journey to headship in that I came from a quite dysfunctional background and left with very little in terms of qualifications. I went back to ‘school’ in my thirties after wanting to see what I was capable of. To say that education transformed both my life and my families would be a huge understatement. I was the ‘lost’ child in the system and my driving force now is that no child gets left behind. Education has the power to change the lives of so many people and we are privileged to be allowed to be part of that for the young people we serve.

Why did your role/ school appeal to you?

My current school appealed to me because of the quite severe deprivation within the community we serve. We have a moral purpose to help and support the young people we nurture, to achieve the best they can and to show them the opportunities open to them. The school I lead is a pivotal part of the direction this town will take in the future, and the young people in it are the citizens that will build future generations. I want to be part of the journey that will help to improve the social and economic prospects of the town through working to improve the life chances of our students.

How do you create a culture of wellbeing?

We work hard to try and make our staff, at all levels within the organisation, feel valued and supported. We do this through a range of initiatives: one day in lieu for every member of staff to attend a significant event in their life, for example a child’s first day in school. We also finish each term by coming together for just one hour as a team for a refreshments and entertainment, something like a quiz with a couple of bottles for the winning team.

At Christmas we do a whole school Secret Santa, which is a logistical nightmare to organise but great fun. This year we are also investing in a wellbeing day. Staff choose two sessions throughout the day and come together to build relationships and put themselves first. We have things like French cooking with fish, group dog walking in the woods, silk scarf painting, to name just a few. In total we have over twenty sessions on offer.

How do you recruit and grow your leaders?

Recruitment has been a big issue this year. We have had over a dozen roles to fill, including two crucial roles for a Vice Principal and Assistant Principal to our new leadership team. We were amazed to attract over 84 applications for the Assistant Principal role and 48 for the Vice Principal role. I firmly believe that this was because we focused our adverts on not only what we were looking for in a candidate but also, crucially, what we would offer to new recruits in terms of our core beliefs and opportunities to develop their own career paths. Schools need to try and make themselves attractive to potential candidates and think very carefully about the strengths of their organisation and how they can communicate them within their marketing of roles.

What are the values that your shape you as a leader?

My values are deeply entrenched in recognising that all who work within the organisation, at all levels and both staff and pupils, have a right to feel safe and valued. It is not always possible to keep everybody happy when you have to make difficult or unpopular decisions, but it is always possible to try and do it with kindness and empathy for the effect it will have on the person concerned. It is these kind of decisions that keep you awake at night as a Head. For the organisation you lead, what is a relatively small decision for you to make, can on a larger scale, have huge implications for the wellbeing and life chances of the individual. Not to be over dramatic about it, but I try very hard to consider what will be the effect on each person involved and how can I do this the kindest way possible? Great teaching and learning only happens when the equilibrium of all involved is working effectively.

What makes you get out of bed every morning?

The simple fact that I love my job! That I have succeeded against all the odds and therefore so can every student in our school! I absolutely love it when you meet a student you have previously taught and they are so thrilled to see you again and are keen to share their successes and where they are on their life journeys. It is those moments that affirm that what we do is make a difference every day – and how many other jobs can genuinely say that? Teachers impact on the future – what a privilege.

Leadership Advice

Always try to avoid making snap decisions and take some time to reflect but also, don’t dodge the issue!

Nothing is more frustrating to the team you lead if you avoid making clear, decisive decisions. Your job is to make the difficult judgments and carry them.

Leadership Inspiration

I am currently reading Andy Buck’s Leadership Matters which is making me think about some of our processes and how we could tighten them up.

However, I recently read Legacy by James Kerr, who talks about the leadership qualities within rugby’s All Blacks. It really resonated with me about culture and mind-set and how the little things can make a huge impact. As a leadership team we have all read it and often share our thoughts on key aspects explored within it to shape our thinking.

Leadership Mantra

Plant the trees you will never see.

Education has the real power to change the future and we are constantly planting roots for future generations and communities. That is a huge, and at times overwhelming, responsibility. However, it is also a real gift and privilege and we must never forget that.

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