Firstly, thank you for your post and the interesting points you have raised. Your experience of shared Headship continues to resonate with my own. As we have often discussed, there is little material or support for shared headship so it often feels like we are making it up as we go along. When I first took on the role 3 years ago, I certainly had some rather simplistic and idealistic ideas of how I thought I would lead the schools. Some of these ideas came to fruition (albeit in a different end form) and some just didn’t work. Before I answer your 3 questions, please indulge me in some general thoughts and observations about shared Headship schools.
Firstly, I now strongly feel that shared Headships are not in the best interests of schools, their community and their people. They serve the purpose of finance which, frustratingly, is a necessary purpose in these times of austerity. Schools need a leadership presence, someone to live out the values and vision on a daily basis.
Secondly, shared Headship can work to manage schools but not effectively lead schools unless their is adequate management structure and capacity across the schools. If you have a dynamic PT in both schools who can manage the day-to-day, you’re more likely as Head to be free to lead improvements.
Thirdly, shared Headship schools need to maintain their unique identity which means allowing for and supporting 2 (or more) sets of culture. Trying to create 1 culture is going to take time and effort which could be invested in moving the individual schools on.
Having said all this, shared Headship is not going to go away so we need to find solutions to the issues, not just complain. I would suggest the following top tips to future shared school Headteachers.
1) Invest time in the management structure within both schools to ensure the day-to-day issues can be resolved without the input of the HT. This involves setting up protocols and procedures that all staff can follow.
2) Accept and acknowledge that each school has and needs its own identity and culture. Improvement happens best when it fits with a school’s norms (Sarason, 1996). There will be some improvements that will work across schools but most will need to be school specific.
3) Spend time in every classroom and both staff rooms as much as possible. When split across schools, it can seem like the HT is never there. It is important to be seen as much as possible.
And now to your questions…
In answer to question 1, building capacity is vital to school improvement (Stoll, 1998). But it is not easy. In one sense, small schools are a hive I’d capacity building because everyone has to contribute to the daily success of the school. However, this form of capacity is not the same as professional capacity which sees individuals growing and contributing to school improvement. I would suggest you need to identify meaningful opportunities for individual growth that support whole school improvement. In my setting, all staff now lead on an school priority. They are given time with the WTA to develop this work and then share it with l staff. So far this has been successful in building capacity and is sustainable.
Addressing question 2, Brookfield (2017) suggests that ‘one of the best things institutions can do to support good teaching is simply provide opportunities for people to talk to each other about what they’re doing in the classroom’ (p115). Perhaps providing regular opportunities for the good practitioners to share, discuss and extend their thinking and practice will support other staff? I am reminded of a talk I heard about change management where innovators and laggards were discussed. The main point was that in any organisation, you will always find both of these types of people and managers needn’t fret about either because both will continue on their own trajectory regardless! Instead, we were encouraged to focus our time and energy on the ‘early adopters’, those people who buy into an idea and go with it. As leaders we should invest ain and nurture these people within our teams.
Finally, in relation to question 3, as hinted at in my opening remarks, when I first started as a shared schools HT I was convinced that the schools could work together seemlessly. I would have challenged your colleague’s remark. However, more recently my thinking has changed. Whilst I don’t completely agree with your colleague, they do have a point. Stoll (1998) says ‘Successful school improvement is based on an ownership mentality, where schools define their own direction, irrespective of external demands’. This suggests that trying to make improvements across multiple schools will be problematic unless you allow for individual ownership. This is further supported by the importance of acknowledging individual norms (see above). This is not to say that there is not value in working together but perhaps a ‘one team’ approach is going to take more energy and time than first thought? Take heed of Brookfield’s (2017) advice when he says ‘A healthy sense of perspective regarding the limits of your own influence is an antological survival necessity’ (p87). You are only one person and can only do so much!
So, these are my thoughts and reflections, for what they are worth. I hope they provide some support to you, Liz, as you continue on your leadership journey.
Brookfield, S. (2017), Becoming a critically reflective teacher, Jossey Bass Ltd
Stoll, L. (1998), School culture, School Improvement Network’s Bulletin, 9, pp.9-14.