Headteachers come in all shapes and sizes with a mixture of strategic, operational and personal skills, but those who stand out are those who lead with passion.
These are the fiercely determined headstrong leaders making a positive difference for the children and families in their community. They go the extra mile every day and feel an all-consuming sense of purpose.
Magnanimous, humble and always on the go, these are uber-passionate balls of energy who are hungry for improvement and fully engaged and committed to their goals.
Not everyone has had the pleasure of working with an uber-passionate headteacher but those that have, or do, are better teachers for it. They make all the difference.
Working with a driven and dedicated headteacher knocks your senses for six and you can’t help be get caught up in their positivity and contagious energy, excitement and enthusiasm.
Uber-passionate headteachers are on a mission and being in their team is a privilege. They lead with their heart and soul and have the tenacity to get things done. They are inspirational and big-thinking who seek new challenges, growth, and continuous improvement.
So, what makes uber-passionate school leaders stand out?
Governing bodies faced with the daunting challenge of selecting the right candidate at interview to lead their school would perhaps consider the following characteristics, alongside others, in helping them make a decision.
1. Put the school first
Uber-passionate leaders don’t try to advance their own agenda but put their focus on the needs of the school. They have skill in identifying and unlocking potential and giving it the wings to fly.
2. Champion children
Uber-passionate leaders put pupils first. They have a deep-seated desire to help their students achieve and a determination to secure the best life chances for their students. They want the best for them and so try to remove any obstacles in their way.
Uber-passionate leaders rise above the worrywarts, cynics and pessimists. They seek solutions rather than problems, they intelligently critique rather than criticise, and they look for the good in every situation.
4. Build Teams
Uber-passionate leaders breakdown silos, they promote cross-collaboration and engage their staff to work together. They are open-minded, appreciate differences, and respect divergent opinions.
5. Understand problem-solving
Uber-passionate leaders make the problem-solving process more efficient by recognising that each issue or problem has its own nuances that may require a distinct strategy. They make problem solving a seamless process so it enables the school to grow and get better.
Uber-passionate leaders are outstanding communicators and they listen with intent to genuinely understand the needs of all stakeholders so that no-one is left behind, ignored or missed.
7. Are visionaries
Uber-passionate leaders bring a school together by building a clear vision. They are future-focused and have the capacity to engage others to realise their goals. They have the ability to motivate, inspire, and create a collective conscience so that everyone ‘buys in’.
Headship is about selling your vision so that the whole school community is pulling in the same direction; it is the art of mobilising others to want to struggle for shared ambitions.
8. Are mavericks
Uber-passionate leaders dare to be bolshy; they are unconventional in their approach and thinking and do things differently. They are the catalysts of change who shake up the system to improve the life chances of children by bending rules and breaking rules.
These maverick buccaneers rebel against the education system and circumvent when they need to and revel in the joy of living and leading dangerously.
9. Promote diversity
Uber-passionate headteachers are supporters of diversity in education and they look to appoint, develop, and empower staff who serve their own distinct community. They believe it is crucial to have adults who can share relevant experiences and for students to see role models they can identify with.
They also recognise that diversity of views and perspectives enrich conversations, educational provision and the school community.
10. Embrace challenges
Uber-passionate leaders see opportunity in adversity and recognise that mistakes and failures are a part of success. They show drive and determination, they like challenges and relish the opportunities and dangers implicit in them. They instinctively see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Uber-passionate leaders are fuelled by positive energy and surround themselves with like-minded people. They have no time for mood-hoovers and always look for ways to enrich school wellbeing.
Positive leaders invest their time and energy in driving a positive culture and lead with confidence and address and transform any negativity that might sabotage success.
Uber-passionate leaders are thoughtful and aware of what others’ lives and experiences are like. They build robust, trusting relationships at all levels and are focused on what’s best for the individual, the team and the school.
They create environments where everyone feels a greater sense of commitment to their school.
Uber-passionate leaders are resourceful, recognise potential and utilise others’ strengths and expertise. They nurture human capital and encourage all their staff to take risks and grow professionally and personally.
Uber-passionate leaders anticipate rather than react. They anticipate change, prepare for change and lead change. They can identify opportunities and threats, embrace and promote innovation, have the ability to see things early and have the power to connect the dots. They are free thinkers and do not subscribe to the “herd” mentality.
15. Take risks
Uber-passionate leaders are risk-takers, execute ideas, and do not sit on the fence. They adhere to a punk leadership manifesto who do things differently, think for themselves and throw their hats over the wall.
Their risk-taking is never reckless but active, concerted, purposeful, challenging and liberating. They are entrepreneurial and strive for excellence. They don’t play it safe because it always creates mediocrity. They know that without taking risks, they stay in a comfort zone so they deliberately seek to break new ground.
16. Never stop learning
Uber-passionate leaders are lifelong learners. They remain teachable, aware, and tuned into key trends and model a commitment to lifelong learning through their own practice.
They empower staff to continually improve practice, encourage professional dialogue, support career-long professional learning and collaborative enquiry, and promote the use of research and evidence-informed practice.
17. Have unwavering self-belief
Uber-passionate leaders trust in themselves, they do not take criticism personally, and are undaunted by obstacles.
Their self-confidence is an essential part of their leadership, they think positively about the future and are willing to take risks in order to achieve the best for their school. They have the self-assurance and the belief that they can make a difference.
18. Role model
Uber-passionate leaders know that school is the place where young people first look at adult behaviour and so they are self-aware, ethically minded and professionally committed to high standards of behaviour. They have a moral purpose.
As a role model leader, they inspire the school community and inspire trust, respect and confidence as someone who won’t let them down.
Uber-passionate leaders have an open-door policy and encourage their teachers to talk about any issues without judgement.
They truly go out of their way to actively interact with their school population, they listen to their concerns and seize upon problems. They make it their core business to build positive relationships that will benefit the school for years to come.
Uber-professional leaders have the capacity to deal effectively with stress and pressure, they cope with everyday challenges and can rebound from disappointments, mistakes and adversity. They have a sense of hope, purpose, and belief in themselves as leaders, but they also know that resilience is something they have to work on as it is fluid and contextual and evolves and changes over time.
They form meaningful relationships with others undertake actions to effect change and mediate the challenges they face.
Some headteachers lead with their title and then there are some who lead with passion.
Those that choose a headship for the power, control and money aren’t school leaders who are doing the job for the right reasons. They are more interested in their own reputation than in helping children.
What research tells us is that successful, experienced headteachers have a passion for education, for pupils and for the communities in which they work. Factors fundamental to success are achievement, care, collaboration, commitment, trust, and inclusivity (Day, 2007). They are modern day heroes making a mark on society.
The only reason to be a head is a passion for trying to make the world a better place. They are adventurous leaders who are comfortable handling change and who in turn succeed as change agents.
An uber-passionate leader doesn’t put on a magic leadership cloak before they go to school because they don’t see leadership as something they ‘do’ or turn on and off. It is who they are.
About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.