No one really likes to be pigeon-holed but according to research produced by the Centre for High Performance, there are five different “types” of head teacher: the philosopher, the surgeon, the architect, the soldier and the accountant.
The researchers interviewed 411 school leaders, scrutinized their education, background and experience and logged their actions and impact using 24 performance measures and 64 investment variables across a seven-year period up to 2015.
Philosophers are the largest group and these are inspiring heads who like to talk about pedagogy. They try to lead by example as senior teachers and don’t see themselves as managers. They tend to leave the staff and students alone.
Surgeons are incisive and dramatic decision makers with a laser sharp focus who try to turn schools around quickly by cutting and redirecting. These tough and disciplined heads show no mercy and waste no time introducing new rules, firing 1/10th of staff and excluding final-year students. They typically move the best teachers to the final year, reduce class sizes and increase revision for quick wins.
Architects are scrupulous and careful planners with an eye for detail. They take a holistic, 360-degree view of the school, the community it serves and its role in society.
Soldiers focus on the bottom line by trimming back every ounce of fat and tightening the budget. These tenacious leaders like efficiency and order and drive down and cut costs to meet the school’s budget constraints.
Accountants focus on the top line and try to increase the size of the school by recruiting more students as a way of improving the financial equilibrium. These resourceful and systematic types try to grow their schools out of trouble.
You might be a passionate wordsmith, a surgical mastermind, a creative financier or a tenacious cost-cutter but the research found out of the five leader types, only one had any real long-term impact…the architect. These visionary, unsung heroes are also the least rewarded because their grand designs take time to build and results aren’t instant.
See the full report here.
Not my type
So who do you think you are? You might instantly recognise yourself as one of these or depending on your experience, you could well have been a different type of head a few years ago. You could mix and match these types too depending on changing circumstances and contexts. Equally, you might not comfortably ‘fit’ into one of these categories at all and feel like you need to add another type of your own.
Whilst most headteachers might see a bit of themselves in these types, all such categories are just labels and they don’t necessarily represent everyone. Another piece of research categorises teachers into four main types in a similar way. ‘Why Teach?’ is a report by ‘Think and Action Tank’ LKMco which identifies four broad and overlapping kinds of teacher – idealists, practitioners, rationalists and moderates.
Headteachers and teachers are an eclectic mix of personalities with their own identities – and they need to be too as they serve diverse school populations that don’t comfortably sit into neat boxes either.
As we avoid labelling children, we should be just as vigilant to avoid giving school leaders and their staff labels too because once made they can be hard to shift.
Unfortunately the only type of heads we have are stereotypes because we are too eager to put people in boxes and call them names.
What type of headteacher are you? You are you.
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.