The challenge of new school leadership.


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So, is it just because I’ve started at a new school that everywhere I look I see others in the same boat? My newsfeeds in Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are full of people excitedly talking about their new adventures and how much their heads are spinning from all the new information.

It is exciting. But let’s not forget that it’s also really hard work. New colleagues, new processes, new students (and families), new curriculum structures, new reporting style-guides and new politics in the staff lunch-room (where to sit and where to leave the coffee mug).

All the above is amplified if you are also a new leader at a new school. People are looking at you and wondering; they’re waiting for you to speak in order to determine if you are full of edu-jargon or if you are actually able to string a sentence together without using the words ‘pedagogy’ and ‘lifelong learning’. They are wanting to know your plans; your vision. And that’s where I come unstuck. You see, at the moment, one week into a new school year, I’m not yet prepared to publicly share my vision. I mean, I know what I value in education, I know what I prefer and I know what makes a difference to students in the classroom. But, my natural inclination is to initially sit back and watch. Who am I to come into a new school with all guns blazing declaring that the processes and practices, so familiar to staff and students, could do with some tweaking? To me, finding my feet, observing and learning about the culture of my new school and building relationships with staff, students and community is more important.

So, you can imagine my joy to discover that my natural inclination is supported by research. My principal has allocated some developmental reading for the leadership team (Dr Paul Browning’s Compelling Leadership – The Importance of Trust and how to get it) and in it, Browning argues that without vision and trust nothing else matters – and the most important of these is trust. Browning picks up Thomas Sergiovanni’s (2005) line that ‘it is vital to firstly build trust before anything else, even before a leader develops a vision.’

But how to do that?

Browning’s research identified 10 key practices that engender trust between a leader and their staff. They are as follows:

  1. Admit mistakes
  2. Offer trust to staff members
  3. Actively listen
  4. Provide affirmation
  5. Make informed and consultative decisions
  6. Be visible around the organisation
  7. Remain calm and level-headed
  8. Mentor and coach staff
  9. Care for staff members
  10. Keep confidences

They seem like common sense practices, but I think at the beginning of a school year and especially as a leader in a new school, they act as a timely reminder.

What I found especially interesting about the research into trust and leadership is the impact it has on student outcomes. Bryk and Schneider (2002) discovered that schools with positive relational trust levels were three times more likely to be categorised as improving in reading and mathematics than those with very weak levels. Of course, it makes sense – set the bar high relationally; build trust amongst the community and then the community will be receptive to feedback, confident in holding each other to account and keen to support each other along the way. This is the kind of workplace we’re all striving for.

So, I’m going to follow my natural instincts. I’m going to spend some quality time working on getting to know my colleagues. I’ll ensure I’m listening carefully, I’ll be seen around the school, I’ll acknowledge when I get it wrong and importantly I’ll just be me.



Browning, P., (2015) Compelling Leadership – The Importance of Trust and how to get it. 

Byrk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools. New York: Russell Sage.

Sergiovanni, T. (2005). Strengthening the Heartbeat, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.





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