Finding my Headteacher Mojo

Emme tells us about how she found her MOJO again after the pandemic

To be honest, I don’t know if I ever truly had a ‘headteacher mojo’. I was asked to act up as principal of my former academy, following the dismissal of the previous substantive principal. I admired and respected my CEO and agreed to do it for a term and see how it went.

One term turned into two; the end of the school year; a section 5 inspection, which moved the school up an Ofsted grading; a substantive appointment; a new deputy; two HMI visits; a second section 5 – where we got good for everything and data that showed outcomes improved by 30%. So I decided to remain as a principal. I liked the challenge from respected peers (CEO, deputy CEO, other principals in my MAT and HT in my LA). I enjoyed the data drops, the competition between other academies in my MAT and relished moving from bottom of the table of 10 primaries to second from the top!

I realized that, actually, even though I had never aspired to being a head, I was pretty good at it. That gave me confidence to move to a bigger, LA school, which was on the floor.

It started well. New systems. New curriculum. Having newfound freedom and autonomy as a maintained school. Working collaboratively with the other heads in my cluster that were likeminded. We were set to improve KS2 outcomes from 33% to a predicted 73%.

Then COVID struck.

We all know how that felt. We became isolated. We became operational managers, responsible literally overnight for the lives of our teams. We were working within completely new parameters and I felt totally out of my depth. Gone were the heads meetings. Gone were the moderation meetings. Gone were the data collections – I even missed inspections! Week after week of producing risk assessments, rotas, home learning videos, zoom meetings became mind numbingly tedious.

As we became less afraid of the virus and more aware of the impact of the actions we were instructed to take, I became more and more angry with what I was being asked to do. On Zooms with fellow heads, I felt like an outlier. I found ‘safe’ ways of getting more of my children into school. Fortunately, I had had time to build enough of a relationship with my new staff that they trusted me. Despite having more children in school after the first lockdown, I missed the collaborative nature of my previous job so much. I missed going to other schools. I missed parents in the building. I missed assemblies, performances. During the first tentative ‘return’ in September, 2020, we had a fire drill and I filled up with tears when I saw all of my school in the same ‘socially distanced’ outdoor space, for the first time in 7 months.

January, 2021, almost destroyed me. When we opened for a day (with a full staff team, despite pressure from the teaching unions) and then we had to send the children home. I spent the rest of that year simply totally uninspired and ready to pack it all in.

What saved me? Seeing the children ‘recover’ academically. Realising that 30% increase in KS2 outcomes despite no assessments for 2 years and despite so much missed school. Realising that we must have been doing something right. Seeing how much our children needed us.

But I needed more. I needed to become a leader again. Following my sister’s recommendation, I engaged with some executive coaching, that made me question what I wanted for my school and for myself. This involved a very hard look at myself as a leader. I also kept in touch with a likeminded head who had just joined a local MAT that she rated highly. I brought to my school a bespoke well-being programme that meant I had to lead mindfulness with my staff – some of whom were downright hostile towards it at first.

As a result of these inspirational role models, my school is now a member of that local MAT, I am engaged on my NPQEL, I have a new SLT and every child in my school has singing and/or brass or string lessons. Some of them have even performed in front of an audience of 400 people at the Howard Opera Centre in Leeds. And I have led on the well-being programme with my cluster heads. As a result the isolation of COVID I am creating the school that I want to lead and I have found I do, at last, have my headteacher mojo!

Emme Mitchell, Headteacher, Lee Mount Primary School, Halifax

Emme is a participant on LEAP! a group coaching programme for Headteachers, run by Nadia Hewstone (Destino Coaching). In the course the group is challenged to write a blog about a personal experience of headship. We are very grateful to Emme for being the first to share hers.

To find out more about 1:1 coaching and LEAP!, please contact Nadia at nadia@destinocoachinguk.com

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