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Self-restraint in a school leadership role
Principal of King’s Ely, Cambridgeshire, Sue Freestone discusses the importance of mastering one’s emotions even in the face of aggressive parents who may just need to be heard...
 Self-regulation, or executive functioning, is a capacity we
all possess as human beings.
It is something that develops though to early adulthood and development of this potential in children needs strong supportive relationships with adults and a nurturing environment in order
to blossom. Strong emotions are
a challenge to self-control, but these can be met by supporting young people to recognise and understand their feelings and impulses and to work out which reactions are appropriate. Knowing there is a time and a place for everything and that if a child
steps out of line the school will react is vital. Of course, they also have a life outside school and
we cannot guarantee that they will not occasionally lapse into risky, impulsive conduct. Context dictates behaviour – this is a normal part of growing up. The correlation between immaturity and an absence of self-control is well-documented. The ability to master one’s emotions will have a
huge impact on a young person’s lifetime achievement; their mental and physical health, school success, earnings potential and social status.
For a head teacher self-restraint means setting an example and saving any shenanigans you have in your own life for another time and place. There is plenty of ‘self’ that you can reveal honestly and openly without misbehaving. If the character has sound values,
it means there is no need for restraint as long as there is the capacity to express without insult or too much rage. If you choose this kind of job, you accept that profile. There is nothing you can do about it; the position brings responsibility. It’s not an aspect that always comes easily to me, even after years of practice.
As for dealing with parents, it is unlikely a head teacher will go through a career without having to deal at some point with people who may be unhappy, angry and even aggressive. The ability to
stay calm, even when you feel
you are being treated unfairly, is essential. Your instincts might tell you to defend yourself, but an experienced head is likely to tell you that the key to controlling the situation is listening. It is your job to find a way to be able to reach the parents in order to help the student. It is hard not to take their disapproval personally, but often a parent is frustrated and just needs to be heard.
For a leader, one of the
toughest aspects of the job
is compartmentalising one’s emotions, at no time more so than when a school experiences the death of a pupil or a well-loved member of staff. Regardless of your individual capacity to deal with such a loss, your role will
be to guide the school through the aftermath of the tragedy. You may lead a special whole school assembly or memorial service; you may want to weep yourself, but you have to hold things together; you know you must save your
tears for another time. Supporting a community experiencing a loss
is emotionally draining and takes its toll. I suspect it is wrong for a human being to have to suppress emotions in this way, but it is what leaders have to do, it is part of
the job.
As a young person I was shy,
so had no need to contain my emotions because I was too hesitant to reveal my inner self
in public. But as I’ve gathered years and confidence I’ve learned to contain emotions in contexts where it can be very difficult to do so. Staff and pupils should not see their leader brandishing heart on sleeve. Save that for your nearest and dearest and the people you trust who know you well!
Beach School
Our Lady of Sion Junior School, Sussex, has become an accredited Beach School.
Mrs T Pearson, Senior Teacher, said: ‘Whilst we enjoy the many benefits of being a town centre school, having the opportunity
to experience the ‘big skies’ and wide open spaces which the beach provides, opens another dimension to our pedagogy’.
Beach School now forms a part of the wider ‘Outdoor Curriculum’ throughout children’s time in the Junior School.
Mrs Pearson said: ‘Time on the beach is not always about the Beach School curriculum per se, sometimes it is an opportunity to embrace and contemplate the awe and wonder which the environment can provide in other subjects, such as English, Art and Science’.
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