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Important traits of a head teacher

Updated: May 11, 2022

A close-up photo of lots of yellow graphic pencils pushed together, with a single pencil poking above the rest

Being responsible for an entire school is a tough job but somebody has to do it. It can be rewarding and will definitely be challenging. Most people are not cut out to be educational leaders as they lack the necessary characteristics to be successful in the roles and responsibilities of the head teacher.

Negating obvious professional requirements, there are a specific group of traits that any school leader must possess. All of them are present in the daily routine of running an effective school.

Be a leader

Any head teacher must be able to lead. this is absolutely essential and the most important characteristic of all in the role.

The best leaders not only take responsibility for successes but also failures in their schools, and a natural leader always ensures that the needs of others are met before their own. Leaders always look for improvements no matter the difficulties they may face to follow through with them.

A school’s success can be defined by its leadership. An educational institute without a leader is sure to fail, as is a head teacher without the ability to lead. To be an effective school leader you need to be also a manager and an administrator, who knows how to deal with complex school frameworks (for example, legitimacy, social politics and morality).

Be a people person

A head teacher needs to be able to connect with each individual they deal with professionally. In their role, a head teacher will deal with people on a daily basis, including local authorities, teachers, administration staff, parents and students to name just a few.

Finding common ground is a good way to earn trust. It will be the case that each individual will require a different approach for this, depending on their link to the school. Situations will vary and and solutions will come about more easily if you can show you care. Without being a people person and using empathy, an individual may struggle as a head teacher.

Be fair

This point is most applicable when dealing with students and teachers. Expectations should be high and a head teacher must hold other parties to their own standards. As such, there will be occasions where staff and students must be reprimanded. It is an important part of being head teacher and completely necessary.

At the same time, you must be willing to give praise when appropriate. Always appreciate teachers going the extra mile and students who excel in academia.

Outstanding head teachers can motivate through using the threat of reprimanding and through awarding praise.

Be consistent

Similar situations must be consistently handled. There is no quicker way to lose credibility than treating two teachers different for doing the same job at the same level. Although situations are unique, a head teacher must remember past similar situations and how they were handled.

Students in particular remember how situations have been handled and they will make comparisons. If a principal becomes inconsistent, students will call them out on it. History is the only reason for varying decisions. If a student has a history of fighting, detention would not be enough. Exclusion would be reasonable because of the student’s history. A principal must always consider their decisions and be prepared for disagreement.

Be organised

Each day as a head teacher will be unique, so organisation is key. There are so many variables involved in how successful a day running a school is that a lack of organisation can lead to ineffectiveness.

Each day should be planned and have a to-do list, even if you understands that you will never complete this list. A head teacher must be prepared to deal with anything, but remember policies and procedures are always there to aid in dealing with unplanned complications.

Be attentive

Upset teachers, angry students and disgruntled parents could walk into a head teacher’s office at any time. Preparation for these situations begins with listening. A principal can diffuse a situation simply by paying full attention to the issue at hand.

When somebody approaches you because they feel they have been wronged, hear them out but don’t allow them to belittle others in the process. Be willing to step in to resolve the process. In this sense diagnosing conflicts and their causes as well as managing them are key elements in managing a school.

Be ambitious

Education changes constantly. If a head teacher isn’t striving to improve their school to keep up with the times, they are simply not doing their job. Improvement should be ongoing, regardless of how long a head teacher has been in charge of a school.

Every component of a school is part of the machine. If a part isn’t working, it must be replaced for the sake of the school. Upgrading systems that work has benefits as education is always evolving. Even the best staff members can improve. It is a head teacher’s job to see that nobody is too comfortable and is working to continuously improve.

Leading and managing educational organisations often results in a rich and varied career. Notting Hill College is a pioneering teacher training college based in Manchester with global connections.

If you see yourself as a visionary leader and a competent manager in education, we may have the perfect course for you. Learn to create effective and efficient schools by enrolling on the Educational Leadership & Management Diploma.


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