In between the Ivory Tower and the Coalface: Reflections of a Senior Leader


I think that sometimes SLTs can get a bad rap. Maybe there’s an assumption that once you’ve reached the dizzy heights of the SLT that you’re a little too close to the ivory tower (in which the head teacher’s office is situated) and a little too far away from the coalface. I’ve been privileged, in my small school, to be part of a SLT and to retain a responsibility as a classroom teacher, albeit a part time one. This has enabled me to maintain an understanding of what it’s like to have a full on teaching timetable on top of the intense workload and constraints imposed from above. It’s meant that I’ve been on the shop floor the whole time which has helped with building genuine, empathetic relationships with colleagues. I’ve never implemented anything that I wouldn’t be happy to do myself and have understood the necessity to be kind and to treat others as you wish to be treated.

People flourish in an empathetic and inspiring culture. People need the right environment, the right guidance, the right resources, and a real sense of belonging to be the best that they can be. This much I have learnt from my time in leadership: it is all about the creating the right culture. Get that right and the staff and children will thrive and grow, and so too will the school. Get it wrong, and people will start to rot. It’s not a one (wo)man show and requires a team effort, but as a senior leader, you can affect change! Know your core values and stick to them, inspire and guide people with them. I’m looking forward to creating a culture of high challenge, low threat, where values are lived, and all staff are valued and encouraged to be the best that they can be. I will be relentless in my pursuit to create this culture in my new school.

Occasionally, I’ve been labelled a perfectionist, despite being an advocate for ‘practise makes progress’ as opposed to ‘practise makes perfect’. My drive for high standards and to be the best that I can be has sometimes been interpreted as a need for perfection and to be perfect. However, I now genuinely feel comfortable in saying that sometimes, good is good enough! Striving for perfection, both personally and professionally is frustrating, exhausting and unrealistic! I believe it is far better to focus on the things that matter and doing them better, than it is to pursue unattainable, unsustainable expectations. I’ve shamefully wasted hours doing above and beyond on the things that didn’t matter, didn’t impress and essentially, didn’t impact on the pupils. I’ve learned from this and in doing so, have developed more self – respect. It’s much healthier not being so hard on yourself, and much easier to do this when you set yourself realistic goals to achieve. Effective leaders model this to others too. Perfection, in all its photo-shopped and outstanding-rated glory, can jog on.

Author Profile

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

I'm a teacher,SENDCo,Senior Leader,Governor & mum with a passion for leading and learning!

3 stories


Christine Couser Christine Couser @cacouser 4 months ago
This really resonated with me. Sometimes I wish people understand that we too face challenges in SLT too
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