HeadsUp4HTs: A reflection of my experience

I joined HeadsUp during Lockdown. I’d seen it pop up on my feed a couple of times and then I recognised a couple of people that were rewteeting. Several weeks into lockdown and the challenges and pressures from the community, the Governors, the last minute changes from the DfE and the sleepless nights over safeguarding were all taking their toll. I’d been running a school from my kitchen table for 6 weeks on top of home schooling my own children. 


Could I share a space with them? 


I attended a session on a Saturday morning. Looking around the Zoom studio put me at ease. Some names and faces I recognised. Lots of coffee drinkers. Someone was eating porridge. I could see a pile of ironing in the background of one member’s living room. No one had a fancy bookcase. This was a space for me! 


James Pope the founder of HeadsUp framed the space for us all: HeadsUp is a safe space for Headteachers, past, present and future. HeadsUp provide free support to teachers, through crisis calls, career advice, safe spaces to meet with other values-based leaders, events throughout the year all based on things real Headteachers care about. No one would be screen shotting or tweeting about others that attend, it was our choice if we wanted to share that we’d been to a meeting. It is a place to share vulnerabilities and champion the role of Headship. 


We talked about what we felt needed to change in the system. We all had a chance to speak. As usual, I felt nervous about sharing a part of myself with others, but James and the other Heads had put my mind at ease with their reassuring nods, smiles and championing chatter in the chat function. Within the first session I felt part of an extraordinary community.


Over the weeks, as I attended more sessions, I learned more about the other members. Some Heads appeared each week, fiercely loyal and compassionate in remembering the details shared by others in the weeks before. I shared my number with another Head who had messaged my privately during the session. ‘Are you ok? You look tired this week.’ That Head is now a friend. We are united through HeadsUp and share our values and have telephone chats on our car journeys most weeks. Another Head sent me a book in the post, she noticed I was having a bad week and wanted to cheer me up. 


Towards the end of lockdown I was on my knees. James had offered the free crisis calls and I needed help. I called him late one night. He listened as I ranted and struggled to articulate my feelings and explain the situation I’d found myself in. He calmly coached me through my thoughts. He shared a little of his own experience. He repeated my thinking in a way that sounded more logical. He asked me to think about the pros and cons of the situation. Most of all, he reminded me that the problem was not me, and that I was in control of the situation. He left me standing stronger and with some small actions to complete to improve my situation. I’ve had two more calls with James since then and my issues were resolved and I moved forwards. There’s a lot to be said about those that support and give their time for free. I know that there is always someone at HeadsUp who is willing to give their time to me. 


Some Heads are really going through the mill. Others have been brutally pushed out of the system and attend as part of a cathartic process and to support others in a similar position. Others are new to headship yet have an enviable energy and innocence! Everyone has a story to tell, a journey to share, and experience to enrich the conversation. 


Each week my cup is refilled as I meet with people like me. Heads who sometimes struggle, Heads who are finding it tough, Heads who are courageous in their pursuit of a better education, for their own communities and beyond. Within this group, I have a voice. I am valued and listened to. I am supported and I don’t have to wear a mask.


The conversations often develop from mutually supporting each other to a deeper discussion about what education could and should be and how we need to champion the role of Headship more. I know that there are several events coming up where we will get to discuss our ideas with a wider professional community. I like the fact that even Headteachers like me, with a small Twitter following and a small voice, get the opportunity to collaborate with those who are more widely recognised in the world of education. HeadsUp reminds us Headteachers at the coal face, in our crumbling LA schools, that we matter. That we have a voice and we can be heard. We are reminded each week that we are working in a human industry. Relationships are the foundations of what we do.


I love that we have opportunities to chair network meetings and contribute to the newsletter. Next month I’m going to host a Saturday morning meeting. I’ll get the chance to facilitate the safe space. There’s no hierarchy, no intimidating Edu Celebs, just a powerful and compassionate group of porridge eating, pyjama wearing professionals who have the potential to shape the future of education. I’m also going to nominate one of the members to appear in the members spotlight in the newsletter. He doesn’t know it yet, but he deserves a light shining on him. I’m also building up to writing a Thinkpiece about what it’s like to be an Introverted Leader and I’ve been asked if I’d like to write a Case Study on one of my experiences which I shared at a recent meeting. It’s surprising how you think you’re the only one that’s ever worked in a toxic environment! No - I can assure you you’re not!


I’ve watched Heads laugh and cry. I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve also changed policy and actioned changes in my school as a result of the discussions we have. I’m empowered each week and even when I’m feeling low at the thought of another DfE announcement, or a week of safeguarding issues, I show up. I show up because I also feel a loyalty and a collective responsibility to the members of the network. They’ve been there for me and I will be there for them, although, I am reminded by the hosts most weeks, we should only attend if it serves us to do so. See what I mean about compassion and values-driven? No pressure here, just recognition that there is enough pressure on Heads at the moment. 


To anyone who is thinking about coming to a meeting, or getting in touch for a supportive call, then you should. It’s safe, it’s kind and it’s empowering. It’s humanistic networking and leadership at it’s best.