Lessons from Making the Leap

In Making the Leap: Moving from Deputy to Head, Dr Jill Berry explores the lessons which can be gleaned from her own experiences of becoming a headteacher as well as the doctoral research she carried out into other people’s experiences of this transition.

There are hundreds of lessons one could take away from the book. Trying to condense them down is tough, but I’ve separated the key bits of guidance and advice from the book into five categories.

Lesson 1 Purpose:

Your educational values and aims will have been formed over your time working in schools and even prior to this. Be aware of their importance as well as the fact they’re likely to be affected (either strengthened or remolded) by working in a new context. In applying for headships, Berry tells us to be sensitive to the school’s context and aware of our own skills, strengths and preferences.

Lesson 2 Planning and preparation:

These two aspects of leadership are crucial in the lead in period to your headship, the early stages of taking up post as well as the ongoing improvement to the school and on your departure to the next phase in your career.

Lesson 3 Knowledge and Experience:

It’s tempting to think of this as being merely the sum total of your own knowledge and experiences. Berry highlights that your knowledge and experience need to be the right match for the school as it currently is as well as be right to take the school on the next step in its improvement journey. This includes being aware of the knowledge and experience of your new team and how to utilise them best.

Lesson 4 Relationships:

Berry draws attention to three relationships we need to be aware of in making the transition to headship:

  • The first is with ourselves. Our health, mental health and well-being are all pivotal here.
  • The second is with others in the school – your predecessor, governors, SLT, other staff, the community are all groups you may need to draw on or be wary of.
  • The third important group are those outside the school. This includes networks you’ve built in the past, role models, mentors, coaches, family and friends.

Lesson 5 Persona:

Here, Berry discusses the difference between role taking (where you fill the shoes of your predecessor) and role making (where you inhabit the role – making the headship and the school your own). Berry’s research suggests successful heads all, to differing extents, do the latter.

She also suggests we should be aware of how the differences between our perception of our leadership persona and the perception of other people may be harming the improvement of the school.

Finally, there may be a difference, Berry maintains, between the leader you hope to be, the leader the school needs and the leader the school will allow you to be. An alertness to these three things can be helpful in making the transition into headship.

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