The dichotomy between the catchy chorus and the pig squeal.

Senior leadership. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you work, there will always be difficult conversations to be had, unpopular decisions to be made and other staff will resent you for not having a class and earning more than they do. That’s a fact. It’s not a fact that leaders like to acknowledge, but it is true. It is discordant and can be unpleasant to many.

However, there are good bits. Sorry, there are great bits to senior leadership. Crucial to being an effective leader is taking your staff with you on your journey, everyone looking out the windows of the car and seeing the same vision, heading in the same direction. Yes, there are bumps on the way, and bickering in the back seat, but everyone wants to go there together, and you have convinced those who don’t to jump in and see how it goes anyway. These are the staff meetings when everyone is nodding, people start getting enthusiastic about the message or idea you are delivering, they start buzzing about how they can directly apply it to their practice, in their classroom. Everyone is singing along.

Heavy metal leadership. What is this? It’s not the waving of an iron bar to convince all to follow you or have their heads smashed in. But the music. It’s alternative, it’s not mainstream, but everyone has at least one heavy metal song they like, go on, admit it! Heavy metal songs are often known for having two distinct parts, intertwined to create one piece of music, just like leadership brings its highs and lows.

    The catchy chorus.

Here everyone can sing along. Even those who don’t really like this sort of music can sing along with a smile on their face. It’s easy music. Who hasn’t found themselves singing along with ‘Ace of Spades’ or ‘Run to the Hills’ or ‘Paranoid’? Don’t deny it, at least one of those is now going around your head and you are either singing the words or humming the riffs. They’re catchy, they appeal to the masses. These are like the highs of senior leadership. The fantastic data which, when analysed, praises the hard work of the teachers. The lesson observations in which teachers have clearly taken on board your previous comments and feedback, acted upon them and show genuine improvement in teaching and learning. The exciting new ideas you have gleaned from research, colleagues or twitter, which cause teachers eyes to light up with excitement. The catchy ‘hook’ of leadership is when everyone is on your side, you are a team altogether, a force to be reckoned with, and it feels great as you sing along and play air guitar to the same tune together.

    The pig squeal.

This doesn’t sound quite so pretty. It can offend, it can hurt ears and it can seem just plain nasty. Sound like senior leadership to you? Well it should. Not everyone can tolerate, let alone enjoy, the severity of the pig squeal and most will choose to shy away from it. It is what puts most people off heavy metal music. This is like the lows of senior leadership. The lone voice delivering the difficult messages that resonate around the walls of the staff meeting. The key stage team meeting where poor progress data is discussed and met with hostility. Furthermore, this (debatably) tuneless shriek is even more unsavoury when delivered face to face, in a one to one situation. These pig squeals can be the real lows of senior leadership. The difficult conversation with an under-performing member of staff. The unanticipated encounter with the aggressive and dissatisfied parent. The challenging meeting with the demanding and pugnacious Chair of Governors. So much of what senior leadership encompasses is often hidden from view, but lies secretly underneath the surface and plays a cruel tune.

The cousin of the death growl makes us cringe and debate whether we really want to listen to the song, just as these difficult situations can find us asking ourselves whether this is really the career for us, can we really do this? Many are turned off from senior leadership by the dissonance of the pig squeal. However, the beauty of heavy metal music is how it intricately weaves the catchy chorus and the pig squeal together, thus the contrast between the two extremes are needed to fully appreciate the music. Therefore, in this respect, heavy metal music symbolises the dichotomy within the leadership of schools, as senior leaders are taken on a roller coaster of highs and lows.

And so, as senior leaders in schools, each new day we download another heavy metal song, with its awesome opening riff and catchy chorus that we sing along to with our colleagues, uniting in its melody, and try to enjoy the cacophonous pig squeal, which helps us to ensure we are challenging ourselves to deliver the very best for the children in our school.

Next post coming soon… \m/


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