I have been a teacher for 31 years, a head teacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about the challenges for early career headteachers: forging your relationship with the chair of governors.
I am in my seventeenth year as a state school secondary head teacher. Last week I was interviewed by an organisation exploring the biggest challenges for early career head teachers. I began the interview with the knotty question, “What do you mean by head teacher?” We settled on the traditional definition of the head teacher who runs the school with a significant level of autonomy, both challenged and supported by a traditional governing body in a critical friend role.
I identified eight major challenges for early career head teachers:
- Forging your relationship with the chair of governors (CoG);
- Managing the fact that the buck stops with you;
- Understanding the finances;
- Establishing your core purpose;
- Being patient;
- Establishing a position on teaching & learning;
- Understanding change management;
- Coping with the loneliness.
In a series of short blog posts, I will address each of these challenges and provide some tips which might help early career head teachers to overcome them, beginning with, forging your relationship with the chair of governors.
Forging your relationship with the chair of governors
Now, all my previous chairs are still very definitely with us, so what follows is my collective learning from having worked with them…
No-one explained to me the importance of the head teacher’s relationship with the chair of governors. It is the most important relationship for a head teacher because, if for no other reason, your chair of governors is your boss!
And you have to forge your relationship with your CoG – it takes some work to get the shape of your relationship right.
Your CoG is there to hold you to account. At Huntington we have an annual budget of over £8m of tax payers’ money. Every penny has to be spent to provide the best possible education for the students who attracted that money to the school in the first place. The school’s governing body, and especially the CoG, must hold me to account for how that money is spent and the quality of education we provide.
The CoG is also there to support you as you pursue the strategic aims of the school. The CoG can help you by sharing that weight of responsibility which can be overwhelming for early career headteachers. Of all the stakeholders to whom you are responsible, if you get the relationship right your CoG can be your greatest ally.
And remember, your CoG is a volunteer, almost certainly unpaid. They give of their time freely and, with 30,000 governors vacancies nationally, we need to look after them.
So, here are my top five tips for early career head teachers for forging the relationship with the chair of governors:
- Establish who is accountable for what from the outset. An open conversation with your CoG, using the Governance handbook and competency framework can be helpful in ensuring both you and your CoG understand both your remits;
- Meet with your CoG regularly: I have found that once a fortnight is frequently enough to update them on key issues and shape the agendas for upcoming meetings;
- Tell your CoG everything – good, bad and ugly – about what is happening. I don’t mean every inconsequential detail of school life, but if you are unsure about whether to tell your CoG about an issue, tell them – it will help you sleep more comfortably at night;
- Establish protocols for dealing with complaints about the school. CoGs are key members of the local community and can often be approached, for instance, by unhappy parents. It is important that, in the first instance, they direct those parents to you, as head teacher, and to explain that a clear procedure for complaints exists which must be followed. It helps strengthen the level of trust in your relationship and prevents the volume of school-related issues becoming overwhelming for the CoG.
- Keep the relationship on a professional level. A healthy professional distance between CoG and head teacher ensures that nothing gets between you working together and your focus on making your school as good as it can possibly be. There is no need to meet beyond your fortnightly meeting for any other reason than urgent, unavoidable school business. That said, if an issue crops up that you deem important, tell them straight away (see tip number 3 above!).