Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you want.
Applying for leadership posts can be, has been and often will be, an emotional and challenging process. Even when unsuccessful at interview, the long term reflections reveal true value in the experience in addition to the benefits of seeing another school ‘at work’, the handful of ideas you assimilate and those ideas you discount.
Recently, I applied for an aspirational leadership post at a high profile Academy, one that really stretched my experience and expertise. This post reflects on the process and leadership lessons learnt along the way.
In applying for the post I wrote a bespoke application letter, reviewed, updated and polished my resume. Always useful. I invested professional time learning about the political parameters that frame Academies, the context of the school, the educational philosophy of the Principal, mandatory Ofsted reports and correspondence, adding two new education leadership RSS feeds to my reader along the way.
With an invitation to interview, comes the selection tasks and as you would expect, the outline for this task was rigorous;
- a tour of the building with students
- a discussion with Vice Principal and representatives of heads of curriculum
- a meeting with the Senior Vice Principal and students on how the new building impacts on their school experience
- an interview with Principal and Chair of Governors
- a presentation on change management
- two written tasks, one on data and the other on our “observations on teaching and learning”
A formal panel interview and presentation on how teaching, the design of the building and ICT can be combined to “create a thriving learning environment that enhances achievement.”
The presentation enabled me to consolidated my understanding of what, where and how I had made an impact in my present post, highlighting performance data and achievement, before turning my attention to the two written tasks. I spent a day with an experienced school leader, learning and reviewing FFT and Raise Online, undoubtedly time well spent, before preparing for the teaching and learning task.
I used this written task as the impetus to complete a “teaching and learning matrix” I had been working for some time. An assessment tool to help focus and accelerate lesson observations. Sadly, until now it had not been a professional priority and it kept on getting ‘bumped.’ Now it was bumped to the top of the to do list. Now complete in draft, I plan to share with colleagues and hopefully use it.
Next, I moved onto school building design, which also provided the content and context for the student task, which in turn underpinned a significant effort to prepare for day 2.
A learnt a fair amount about my professional self in preparing the application. A lot a great deal about Academies, the use of data and building design in preparing for interview. I even tick off a few tasks along the way. I learnt important leadership lessons at and after interview which I expect to employ at the next opportunity.
So, here is why I feel applying for jobs can be valuable experience, even if you are not successful in securing the post;
You get to learn about yourself, and reflect on your professional self.
You are forced to investigate and question broader educational questions than you usually are ask to on a day-to-day basis, (less so if you are applying for an internal post).
You are encouraged to address areas of weakness, for they are likely to be exposed, at the very least be aware of them.
Every school visit presents opportunities and new ideas, make note of them and share them with your colleagues.
Every selection and interview process is unique, what aspects / tasks were most revealing? For example, asking candidates to “lead a session” with students, I felt, revealed more about my character than the more formal student voice interview. Asking candidates to report on a particular ‘out in the school’ theme, provided unbiased, non-prejudicial feedback for the leadership team.
Competition for leadership post demands personal resilience and promotes adaptation. Hopefully you will receive insightful feedback and you can choose whether to adapt, if not, you learn resilience.
My final leadership lesson, was confirmed a few days after interviewing and highlighted the subtle differences between 1 and 2 day interviews.
When interviewing over two days, you do not have to be in first place at the end of day 1. You only need to ensure that you are interesting ‘enough’ to be taken through to day two. More listening on day 1 and then pitching to ‘what you heard’ on day 2. A good friend and experienced school leader put it into words that I completely understood,
A bit like football tactics, keep the ball, draw them in and then counter attack when they are stretched and if necessary throw men forward?