To manage the changes, school leaders must adapt too. In today's schools, there are so many more considerations for headteachers than in the past: more technology, more expectations, more accountability, more health and well-being issues – not to mention more students!
A leader who can navigate all these elements must possess an abundance of qualities, including creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation, people management, financial skills and more, to lead competently and sustainably while dedicating time to their own professional development.
The X factor
What makes a headteacher exceptional? Intellect; specialist educational, pedagogical and technical knowledge; and classroom experience are critical components of a good headteacher, as are all the soft skills required to work, collaborate and engage with others. But according to Harvard Business School, there is one element that is a defining factor in the success of leaders, regardless of whether they are in the corporate or education sector, and that is emotional intelligence, sometimes referred to as 'emotional quotient' or EQ.
Elements of EQ
The benefits of EQ can appear in many situations in school. For example, feeling unhappy in a work environment because of poor managerial relationships is a common reason for talented and knowledgeable staff to move on. But if headteachers have the emotional dexterity to nurture a supportive and inclusive staff culture within their school, this is much less likely to happen.
There are five elements of emotional intelligence headteachers can seek to cultivate as part of their own professional development.
1. Self-awareness: Recognising and understanding your own emotions is one thing, but awareness of how your demeanour affects others makes a big difference. Self-aware leaders also make the connections between how they feel and behave while simultaneously learning how others react to them at different times. They are conscious of how others view them and generally have a positive outlook that embraces new experiences and ways of doing things.
2.Self-regulation: This is an extension of self-awareness in that once leaders have recognised their emotions and behaviours, their emotional intelligence helps them to manage and regulate them as needed, giving them the skills to be calm in the face of disagreements and prevent tense situations from escalating.
3. Social skills: Strong social skills are a must for headteachers. They are critical for developing relationships, collaborating, motivating and encouraging people and creating a strong rapport with staff, students and parents/guardians. Communication skills fall under this umbrella and being a great communicator means they can more easily bring everyone together to work towards a common goal.
4.Empathy: Being empathetic is more than just being able to put yourself in another person's shoes and understand how they feel. It goes one step further, with an awareness of how you respond to them appropriately in their situation. Being a good listener is a large part of being empathetic – taking on board what people are saying and responding in a way that makes them feel truly listened to. This is critical for educators in their pressured work environments as, if they do not feel supported, their mental health and wellbeing will suffer.
5.Motivation: Before headteachers can motivate others, they need that intrinsic motivation that drives them to go further themselves to achieve their own and their school's goals. People with this kind of motivation naturally set targets and are action oriented. They commit to projects fully, are open minded about trying new things, and always take up beneficial opportunities for their school.
A headteacher with these skills can foster positive relationships both in school and its wider community. This creates a positive culture where everyone feels at ease and is motivated to do their best. Being able to talk to and negotiate with other people well can also open up opportunities for collaboration with local external stakeholders, which can be beneficial for establishing student work experience placements or getting local business leaders to come into school to talk to students about their work, for example.
We hear much about stress in the education profession and managing it is key. The burden for headteachers is immense, as they must know how to manage not only their own stress but also try to alleviate that of their staff. Leaders with strong skills in this area instinctively model good emotional intelligence throughout the school. Setting this example can positively impact students' progress and their well-being as a whole, as well as improve staff morale and reduce turnover.
EQ is a powerful skillset that builds on a headteacher's existing knowledge and expertise, supercharging their effectiveness as they navigate the rolling changes of education for the benefit of the staff and students in their school.
Author: Al Kingsley, CEO of NetSupport:
CEO NetSupport / Chair of a Multi-Academy Trust and of an Alternative Provision Academy. As well as his CEO and Chair roles Al is chair of his region’s Governors' Leadership Group and chairs the regional SEND Board.