On my leadership journey, I’m constantly learning, developing my knowledge and expanding on my perception of leadership and the impact it has on schools. I have recently begun my fourth headship, having previously had the opportunity to lead Ysgol Gymraeg Cwm Derwen, Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Evan James and Ysgol Pencae. In each school, my leadership skills have adapted to the needs of the establishment and I have changed my leadership style accordingly. It is my honest opinion that leadership isn’t a simple graph of progress going upwards on a positive incline but rather a rocky road full of highs and lows. A journey that I wouldn’t change for the world.
At present, I’m the Headteacher of Ysgol Gynradd Groes-wen Primary School. It isn’t only a new school, in a brand new suburb of Cardiff, it is also a new school model. I feel privileged to have been asked to lead such an exciting, innovative and groundbreaking venture. The chance to develop the Welsh language in a brand new locality and to embed the culture into the heart of a community that didn’t previously exist is incredible.
But what makes me ready for this new challenge? What allows me to believe that I can achieve and make a success of this new venture?
I have broken this down to four points that will hopefully support you on your own leadership journey.
It needs to be made clear that learning never stops, the minute you believe you know everything that there is to learn then that is the time to retire! From my first headship in 2008 I embarked on developing my skills as a leader. I joined a course run by a local advisory service, ‘Being a new Headteacher’ and I decided to read as much as I could about leadership but not by those in education alone. The point being, we grow as leaders when we listen to others. I have taken the opportunity to accept secondments during my career and this has provided me with the space to grow as a person and as a leader. I have been a systems leader, a challenge adviser, a leadership lead and a lead for Welsh in the Central South Consortium. Taking the lead on leadership was an immense challenge but it provided an opportunity to work with colleagues across Wales, learn from the best and to make sure that programmes of development were created in all aspects of leadership. As with everything, you might not always agree with messages you hear but very often it is about the networks you create and the professional conversations that take place that can truly inspire you to the next step on your journey. In terms of professional development that transformed my leadership, I would narrow this down to change management and coaching.
I apologise for what appears obvious however when I have worked with schools that need support, often it is the communication that breaks down first and it leads to a spiral of negativity. In this context, communication means to all stakeholders. If a leader has to succeed, it is by having the ability to communicate effectively, whether in terms of sharing an important message or otherwise. I haven’t always been successful in my communication, in my very first letter to parents in my first headship, autocorrect had changed the need for wellies in the Foundation Phase to willi. I’m sure you can complete the blanks. From this simple mistake, on a staff team building night out, we went bowling, and they put my name as Mr Willi…. This broke any ice and team building was well on its way. Mistakes happen however, it is how you respond that can allow them to have a positive impact on the learning journey. Pupils, parents and the Governing Body all require clarity. Make expectations known, share thoughts, adapt according to open discussions and make sure that autocorrect doesn’t change your spelling!
Perhaps, this more than anything, is crucial to your success. It is easy to read how to be a leader and to try and adapt to all the latest trends but to be true to yourself is more difficult. What is your vision? What drives you to achieve? What values are close to your heart? When I went for my first Deputy Head post my feedback stated that I sounded like a text book and didn’t share anything of myself. I took this to heart and it totally changed my perspective. I believe strongly in celebrating Welsh Culture, providing opportunities for the Welsh language, to create a warm and caring environment where everyone has a voice. This meant that each time I went for an interview I shared my own vision with an adaption for the locality, community and needs of the school. If I didn’t get the post then my vision wasn’t right for the school and the school was therefore not right for me. I would suggest that school leaders should have faith in their beliefs and although subtle changes might happen, ultimately, being true to yourself will allow you to be the leader that you want to be.
When I began my first headship I wanted to be everything to everybody every minute of the day. I had a young staff that needed development, I needed to create a leadership team however I felt that I needed to be the person that was everywhere all of the time. This was certainly not a sustainable model and one that I have tried to avoid replicating but sometimes old habits die hard. Delegation was a skill to be learnt, to be treasured and to evolve.
Being Super Humans also implies that you will get everything right, however one of the most important lessons (as indicated above), is to learn from your own mistakes. Like everyone else, I have made mistakes but I have measured my impact by how I have responded to them. What could I have done better? How could I improve my approach to a situation? Quite simply, learn from mistakes and try not to take them to heart so that it impacts negatively on the way you move forward. This can be easier said than done but you must try and keep everything in perspective at all times.
Finally, when things are becoming overwhelming, learn to walk away and look to a peer, a friend or professional support to keep yourself on an even keel.
To be a leader in a school is a privilege that should never be overlooked. At the heart of everything we do is the welfare and progress of each pupil in our care. Sometimes it is far too easy to remember the complaints, the dark days, the lonely times instead of providing a focus on those special days when a child reads a book for the first time, when your sport team is proud to have competed in a competition, when a child performs on the stage in the Eisteddfod and when parents say Diolch!
Richard Carbis, Headteacher, Ysgol Gynradd Groes-wen Primary School