Heads together – the importance of collaboration in school leadership

It is often said that headship is a lonely job.  And I suppose that at times it can be – with sometimes very difficult decisions to be made and few colleagues to share that decision making with, it can feel that you are on your own.  As a head of two schools now, both with different structures, I have found very few lonely moments in my leadership career.  I am, by nature, a team player (I think!) and also a bit of a chatterbox, so sharing and discussing come naturally to me in the process of decision making.

In my first headship I was the head of a school within a large group, the Girls’ Day School Trust.  GDST is the largest educational charity in the UK with 26 4-to-18 schools and an annual turnover of over 200 million pounds.  The collegiate nature of this group, with colleague heads who are essentially doing the same job as you in another similar school in another part of the country, was an incredible strength of the organisation, especially for a new head.  We shared our ideas, feelings, frustrations, celebrations and successes and we enjoyed a well-structured and full programme of activities, conferences and training to help us to run our schools better.  We felt very close to each other and relied on each other often.

Coming to a new country, and a standalone school, the idea of loneliness as head seemed to loom rather larger.  Here, working directly with a board and not within a wider group of schools, we need to consider collaboration much more actively, at many levels.  My senior leadership team here, and my relationship with the board, trustees and wider school community, as advisors, confidantes and colleagues is much more important, and it is clear that our amazing community spirit in school is a crucial part of the collaborative nature of our school.  And I am pleased to report that there haven’t been very many ‘lonely moments’ here either!

What about further afield?  How can I be connected to schools in the UK and elsewhere to get the support, ideas and professional stimulation that come from discussion and reflection on my own practice?  That’s where our professional network is so important and this is something that I enjoy being a part of.  In Brazil, we are just launching an official IB association of schools, which will provide a local context for international school leaders to share expertise and ideas within the IB curriculum framework.  I am a great advocate for the IB and look forward to the official launch later this month.  I can already see the potential benefits for us all.

Beyond Brazil we have the Latin American Heads Conference – of which I am currently on the executive committee.  We are a relatively small group of nearly 50 schools, stretching from Chile to Argentina, Mexico to Peru, Columbia and Venezuela; there are not many Latin American countries we don’t represent.  We are bound together by having English language used in our schools, but other than that we are a pretty diverse group with a lot to offer each other.  Our pupils and staff benefit from the annual LAHC conference and sports events and we share ideas regularly between the schools.

On a global scale we are members of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), an organisation that encompasses 250+ British curriculum schools on all the continents of the world.  The diversity and opportunities offered by COBIS are rich and very rewarding – with competitions for pupils, training courses for staff and an annual conference with hundreds of delegates.  In the UK we are also members of the Headmasters and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), the association of leading independent schools in Britain.  Again, this gives a platform for discussion amongst the 250+ schools who are members and, crucially, keeps me in touch with developments, ideas and best practice back home.  This is crucial for us all if we are going to continue to have a strong British identity as well as a British curriculum and the use of English in our classrooms.

So is headship really lonely?  Perhaps it is if you are not open to the various opportunities that there are for support and collaboration.  We benefit from them all and I cannot imagine doing my job without the opportunity to share.  It certainly makes it a lot more interesting too!

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