As a new leader how do you get started with school improvement? What about during a pandemic? Find out in Christalla Jamil‘s article.

Having commenced my new role in April 2020, the first challenge for me, apart from risk assessments and coping with school closures, was planning an effective strategy for school improvement. There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Staking my ground ahead of where opinion was and convincing people – not simply following the popular opinion of the moment – was now my mission if I was to succeed in bringing much needed improvements to my new settings.

Challenges

Leadership, of course, is about people. It’s about how we inspire, enthuse, engage, persuade, support, cajole and sometimes direct people. It’s about how we envisage, describe, shape, mobilise and sustain change in institutions to make a better future. It’s about how we imagine, communicate and map transformation.

So being appointed as a new executive headteacher during a global pandemic was going to present me with a new set of challenges in achieving this:

  • How was I going to form relationships with my new communities?
  • How was I going to be able to interact?
  • How do I move between the present and the future, between what is and what could be, between mind and heart, between leaders and my new family of schools?
  • How do I bring about sustained improvements for learning?
  • How will I know if staff are seeking to improve?

Listening

I decided I had to become an effective listener first, before designing a bespoke programme on our journey to become even more effective. Questionnaires were sent out and the journey began. To be fair, people knew exactly where change was needed, what needed to be kept, what needed to be adjusted and what needed to go. This aligned well to my plan. Was school improvement different during a pandemic? No. The journey has been the same but the timescales have differed due to closures and unavoidable absence.

Authenticity

My journey illustrates my authenticity. I took time to form effective relationships. I earned trust. I communicated my expectations clearly from the start. People knew what I expected from them, what their areas of accountability were and how to achieve success. I learned to listen well. I stayed true to my values. I networked effectively. I chose which research and which approaches to base the needed improvements on. I took risks. I accepted that I did not know everything. prioritised wellbeing for staff, for our communities and for myself too. Self-care was and is key to my success.

Has it been an easy journey? No. Have I faced additional obstacles? Yes. Are improvements apparent even during a pandemic? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. Have I stayed true to my values? Yes.

Is being a headteacher the best job in the world? Most definitely, yes.

Effective teams

Building effective teams, getting ‘buy-in’ by establishing a self-improving model of initiatives such as instructional coaching, quality bespoke CPD and being honest are certainly the strategies that work for me. Our schools never sleep. Staff challenge each other. They challenge themselves. They are able to review and reflect and so evaluate their performance effectively. They know where we are now in order to keep improving. It is what ‘we’ do.

School improvement continues to excite me. Being an executive headteacher is a privilege. It is an honour to work with incredible staff, to impact on deserving communities and continue to learn, serve and grow together.

Author

  • Christalla Jamil

    Christalla is an experienced executive head teacher with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. She is skilled in inspections, coaching, primary and early childhood Education, educational consulting, leadership and school improvement. In her 'spare time', Christalla is a National Leader for @WomenEdEngland and encourages others to be #10%Braver.

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