Why I read it
Aside from the fact that Dr Jill Berry is, I believe the term to be, a legend of the game, I actually won this in a prize draw at the Southern Rocks conference in 2018. I was an Assistant Headteacher in charge of Learning and Teaching, and had brought members of my L&T Group with me for what was a brilliant day of learning and fun – in fact, I met a few members of Team English and the delightful Doug Wise. At the time, I laughed aloud when I won Making The Leap – it seemed laughable to me that I would even consider becoming a headteacher, let alone be good enough to become one. As a Deputy Head now, I’m not making the leap, but I am interested in the wisdom and experience of Jill Berry!
Jill outlines the process of becoming a headteacher: understanding when you are ready, choosing a school, the application process, the transition, the opening months in post, and then becoming established. Jill applies her own wisdom and experience as a headteacher, but, just as usefully, shares her doctoral research. The six participants in her study, who were making the move from Deputy to Head, are featured throughout the book, adding multiple perspectives and insights.
As I read the book, I quickly realised that almost all of the pearls of wisdom could be applied to preparing for, and beginning, any professional role. The takeaways below are aimed to be transferable so that readers can apply to their own role or aspirations.
- Start with why – sometimes we are taken by the current when it comes to our career – circumstance doesn’t always match intention. Berry encourages middle leaders to think about why they are looking to step up. Such questions include: ‘what do they believe the new level of responsibility will enable them to achieve, and how will that be more rewarding and fulfilling than their current role?’ Or, ‘what is appealing about the extended sphere of influence accorded by the position to which they aspire?’.
- Inheriting a role vs inhabiting a role – Berry dedicates a chapter to managing the ‘lead in’ period. There are many practical ideas, here, but chief among them is how we ‘inherit a role’, for example in the way we inherit a culture and context;the question is, how much do we change a culture, and how much will the existing culture change us? This idea of reciprocal socialisation is fascinating to consider, as we work out how we both inherit and inhabit this new role.
- The perfect leader? – the perfect form and method of leadership builds in your mind during the course of your career, but this may change over time. The author suggests that, in post, there is the leader you most want to be, and the leader the school requires you to be at that stage.It will take careful consideration at each step to decide how to apply both values and pragmatism to your given context.
- Sustainability is the key – while the book is a celebration of moving into headship, it also warns about how to give yourself the best chance of achieving the right balance. From finding a mentor or coach, to contributing to education beyond your school, or focusing on gratitude among the busy days, Berry provides a range of ideas to help heads in what is such a demanding role.
‘In my opinion, being a head is not dramatically different in nature from being an effective head of department, the leader of a pastoral team, or a deputy head. Leadership is both simple and complex. It is simply about getting the best from all the individuals within the teams for which you are responsible, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’
As Sam Strickland attests, you cannot truly know the role of a Headteacher until you do the job. Berry calls one section ‘Continuing to build the bridge as you walk over it’, citing many examples where research participants faced unexpected events in the early part of their Headship, such as a bereavement in the school community in the opening weeks of September.
Why is this my favourite moment? I found the honesty of Jill and her participants truly refreshing. We are all muddling along, doing our best, and trying to apply our knowledge, experience and instincts for the benefit of those we work with. The vulnerability shared here, that even headteachers feel imposter syndrome and regularly deal with situations they feel are beyond them, was humbling and a real motivator to keep challenging oneself.
Read this if…
You are considering moving into another professional role – it doesn’t have to be headship
You are a Deputy Headteacher who is thinking about ‘making the leap’!