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Opinion18th October 2016

“The Greatest Challenge”: My first year of leadership

Next up in our series of Ark teacher blogs, Jonelle Monte, Deputy Head Teacher at Ark Bentworth Primary Academy, discusses the challenges and triumphs she has faced in her first year of leadership.

Little over a year ago, I was a Year 6 teacher at Ark Bentworth – 12 months later and I’m about to begin my second year as Deputy Head. I always aspired to be a leader but never expected it to happen in such a short space of time.

I’ve faced challenges, made mistakes, experienced triumphs and above all have learnt incredibly quickly. Throughout this, I never forgot the key values that mean the most to me: trust, honesty, stability and hope.

Developing emotional resilience was key. Rather than tackling a challenge and learning from errors, I would turn away and avoid the situation. However, in leadership you can’t bury your head in the sand. You have to make decisions and people rely on you to be resilient and stable.

A year and a lot of practice later, I’ve learnt a lot about myself and my behaviours and feel I have triumphed in many areas of this challenge. I have learnt to handle situations without getting upset and can take constructive criticism as a positive.

My relationships with colleagues were about to change too. I was excited to be promoted, however I needed to establish my own credibility and authority. I didn’t want to alienate those around me, or for it to seem like the promotion had gone to my head. This was much more difficult than I had originally thought. I felt lonely, and like I had no one to confide in.

The few months of uncomfortable moments and conversations whilst everyone adjusts are definitely a disadvantage of being promoted within a school. However, I already knew everyone’s strengths and areas for development, so used this as the foundations for building new relationships.

After a year, the relationships I have with my team are stronger than ever. As a team, we are open, honest and trusting; all seeking genuine constructive feedback from one another.

It’s a case of learning to manage vs learning to lead. My first focus had to be on managing, and that was a challenge in itself. I never thought that managing adults would be so much harder than managing children! Seeing the bigger picture was a challenge as I was used to managing in my classroom, with my own systems in place.

After a few mistakes such as failing to ensure that the right staff were in the right place at the right time, I became more confident in maintaining whole school systems and structures.

However, I assumed that being on the leadership team and running things smoothly was all that was needed to make me a leader. But when my line manager told me that my next professional development step was to lead rather than manage, I realised my original challenge had become much more difficult. What do leaders have? Followers. It’s not that I hadn’t understood the difference, I just hadn’t thought about it before.

One of the main points I worked on was ensuring I was always aware of the morale within my team and therefore was always able to put their needs before my own. I started to think carefully about deadlines and workload. Rather than simply scheduling to suit me, I took the time to consider others.

I also started to understand that managers give directions, whereas leaders ask questions. I made a conscious decision to discuss ideas with my team and ask for feedback. It was a challenge to be challenged, but having that open dialogue created trust and built their confidence in me.

Together, as a team heading into another new year, we know what we want our school to be like. A challenge still lies ahead – the leader in me must continue to inspire and articulate our vision whilst the manager in me must not forget to ensure that the ideas happen. The highs and lows of the last year have shaped me as a leader in many ways and I am excited to see how the next year will unfold.

At Ark we focus on offering our staff the best development opportunities, throughout your whole career. If you’re interested in joining the Ark network you can find out more on our Careers page.