'Letters to a Young Generation - Aspiring School Leaders'
Dear Friend, Congratulations! You are here possibly because you are somewhere on a leadership journey. I am thrilled for you. As for me, I am sitting here on the ‘other side’ of the desk after many quiet moments asking myself if I wanted to be a Headteacher. Now that I am here, I feel an overwhelming sense of achievement tinged with joy. But it is the feeling of the crown that I want to talk to you about. Yes, it is true, heavy is the head that wears the crown, but each small success makes it an ounce lighter. So, I want to say to you my friend, right where you are, at this moment…keep coming. I get it. It sounds much easier than it is. On top of the imposed barriers that we face, there are those barriers of our own making. The truth about your journey and my journey is that we have often waited for a stamp of approval in order to move forward. Don’t wait. Don’t be weighed down by the talks of doubt or the systemic failures that seek to make you invisible. You are clearly an inspirational and committed person. To be this far down the path in leadership takes more than just a desire. It takes real drive. You’ve got what it takes. It starts with that quiet voice within. Remember to always be guided by your sense of integrity. Do not mortgage your conscience to climb higher. This will make you tired not only trying to live with your decisions, but also adding unnecessary burden to the already heavy crown. I spend a lot of time reading and researching. Of course, I don’t absorb it all. It gets too much. Knowledge is important but take it in measured portions. Keep yourself informed. Don’t be the one in the room who hasn’t read the latest White Paper, or papers of any colour for that matter. Stand out for the right reasons. If this were a recipe for survival, I would definitely suggest that you add a heap of resilience. I could never have imagined headship at such a time as this. The job is certainly more than the job description. The only thing I have not done so far is put out an actual fire, so in that respect alone, I am not a fire-fighter. I have been all things to all people. A colleague of mine advised me to bring my whole self to school. I didn’t understand what they meant at first. I asked her to tell me more. She said, ‘Bring your whole mama self to school.’ That was the scariest thought in the world. I have always maintained such a strong professional stance that to reveal any other side of myself to others was daunting. But I did and as a result my team is stronger; they believe in me as their leader and – most importantly – they trust me. I have never told anyone this, but I would like to share this with you. As a Black headteacher I have struggled with some aspects of leadership. One example of this is taking parents around the school and wondering whether or not they will decide against the school because of me. I was saddened by this thought at times. How do I feel about this now? I could say that I am beyond that thought but that wouldn’t be entirely true. I still have quiet moments of doubt. I warned you about those earlier. Watch out for them. I can tell you though, that I am heading in the right direction. I am now taking greater control in being a change maker as part of the drive to develop equality and diversity in our schools. I am hoping to make things a little less complex for those on their journey to headship. The truth is that the job in all its glory takes its toll on you. You can do without social nuances that challenge your sense of self. When doubts of any sort invade or disturb your equilibrium, remind yourself that you chose this role. Your purpose and position are a part of your amazing journey. The outward and inward challenges are the rough edges that smooth you into being your best self. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for the days when you feel too tired to put on your superhero cape. I have days where I think, ‘Yes, I have figured this out,’ but there are also days when it feels like I am walking through a fog. It is not about not knowing what to do or how to do it; some days, you are simply tired. Forgive yourself. On the days when no one else but you feel like it is too much, stop. Breathe. You’ve got this. I am so glad we get to meet like this. I want you to understand that you won’t learn everything about your role by watching a webinar, reading a book, or attending a course, because the fact is, it is on the job training. You’ll see. On that note, get ready to make some mistakes. Yes, you will make one or two, but I have news for you: you will survive them! It is all part of the journey. My friend, I am no expert. I have simply lived a life based on making myself be the best that I can be, so I can have something to offer others to build them up. I would also like to think that I am in my role as Headteacher, knowing at least one thing for sure: I am not here by accident. I have so much in me to offer to my staff, my parents, my school community and the children in my school. Everything about me culminates into my personal offer to my school. I want you to think about two other leaders you know right now. Now ask yourself if you trust them. How vulnerable can you be around them? I ask you to do this because you will need at least one trusted colleague. It took me too long to recognise this. It is that person that you can pick up the phone to and share some exciting news with but, even more crucially, shout to for help. My hope for you is that you become a leader that you believe in. Whether or not you turn up with your whole self is truly your decision. Whoever you are when you turn up, be authentic. Each day, forgive yourself and be kind to yourself. Don’t let the crown wear you down. You’ve got this. Faithfully, your friend, Sophia Bryan-Whyte
(Copyright: Sophia Bryan-Whyte)