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School Leadership: Hard or Complex?

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Text saying 'School Leadership: Hard or Complex?' over a blurred image of machinery.

'The work that school leaders do is complex.’ – Tom Rees/Ambition Institute You can say that again! If you've been moving up through the hallowed ‘ranks’ of school leadership, I'm willing to bet that one word you might use to summarise school leadership is 'hard'. Hard and getting harder – the increase being due to many, many issues, not least the pandemic and it's various outworkings. But Tom Rees’ article for Ambition Institute has made me re-evaluate whether that one word summary is accurate. Perhaps it’s not so much that it’s hard, more that it is complex. Do you work hard? Yes, I'm very certain you do. Do you work hard for excessive amounts of time? Perhaps: this will certainly vary between leaders. But is the work complex? Yes, definitely. Checking a dictionary definition of the word ‘complex’ confirms the difference between the two words: ‘complex’ means consisting of many different and connected parts, whereas the most fitting suggestions for the word ‘hard’ are difficult to bear; causing suffering and requiring a great deal of endurance or effort. Your timetable may give clues as to the source of the complexity: one minute coaching a middle leader, the next co-teaching with another teacher. Half a morning planning with one year group, the rest of the time spent teaching children working at greater depth in maths. A meeting with the science coordinator, an NQT meeting, lesson drop ins, overseeing proceedings in the canteen, gate duty, SLT briefing, reading with year 6 children, catching up with the lunchtime supervisors. And that’s just the regular stuff. On top of that are the myriad other things that it is your responsibility to be involved in, most of which come with no notice: the oh-I-was-hoping-to-catch-you-about- type conversation on the stairs that turns into a half an hour conversation; the behaviour report that comes through the online system that you have to deal with; the safeguarding issues that arise; the million things you see during a school day that set the mind racing as to potential solutions – the list really could go on and on. And that's without mentioning the irregular things. When you put it like that – the job certainly is hard because it is complex. It may well be the case that no one single issue is that difficult to handle – it’s just the old thing of keeping all the plates spinning at once. With all those things spinning around in a brain-bound tornado it is difficult to deal with: the hardness comes as a result of the complexity. At this juncture, I can offer no solutions to the problem of how hard the job can be as a result of its complexity. But I think there is some comfort to be found in the acceptance of the fact that being a school leader is complex and therefore is difficult (or hard) to do. In fact, it also points to certain logical solutions: when the job is becoming too hard, the complexity might need to be reduced. This reduction might only be temporary and probably driven by prioritisation, but it could be exactly what is needed to make the job, at least for a short time, a little less hard.

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