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Undercover headteacher - Am I good enough to be a school leader?

March 6, 2023, 14:07 GMT+1
Read in 5 minutes
  • Your school chose you because of your skills and your ability to do the job – take comfort and be confident in that.
Undercover headteacher - Am I good enough to be a school leader?

It’s 3:14 am. Your eyes snap open. Your first thought is about the argument that happened between the teacher and LSA that afternoon in front of the class. You don’t really know how to deal with it and lie awake for the rest of the night. 

Fast forward to 4:05 pm. “The person hosting the meeting knows you are waiting.” The screen springs to life and fills with faces from the local authority, the Trust and different headteachers. You pull up your chair and focus in.

The first speaker begins, regaling you with wonderful stories of the impact they are having in their school, the new initiatives their driving, the happiness with which their teachers skip down the corridor and everything they did to get their recent Outstanding judgement.

Your mind starts to drift and you recognise that feeling in your stomach. I will never be able to do that, I can’t be that person.

I am not good enough. 

We’ve all been there at various points in our careers, in and out of school, and as teachers or leaders. I suffer enormously from imposter syndrome as I am sure many of you do, too.

The feeling of being out of your depth, the fear of being found out, the constant nag that what you have done hasn’t been good enough.

It can kick in at any time – when the phone rings, after a parent has had a moan, or when you can tell people aren’t happy with a decision, even if you know it is the right thing to do. It can be crippling, unshakeable and lead to a general malaise, which then clouds our thinking and decisions. 

So how can we shake this feeling? How can we come to accept that we are doing a good enough job?

It is natural to feel insecure and I can guarantee you will not be the only one feeling it. I remember being a new head and going to a breakfast briefing. I was chatting to the person next to me and I said I felt like I was still winging it, and I’d soon be found out.

He looked at me and said, “I’m seven years in and still feel like that.” To find out that an experienced head still had these doubts made me feel a lot better – it wasn’t just me being inept.

It is hard to know what other headteachers get up to – even working with them as deputies you can still miss a huge amount of what goes on, so there can be little to compare yourself to except the outward picture we see of other people.

That outward picture doesn’t always ring true, just like social media we get edited highlights, the things people want us to see, or even sometimes the things we choose to see. 

There is a good reason for this feeling, and it is not that you aren’t good enough. It’s that you care, deeply and profoundly. It is not borne of insecurity or incompetence but of wanting to do the best you can for the pupils.

Focus on what you do well. Take a moment to stop and think. Are the children safe? Are they learning? As a starting point delivering those things means you are doing a pretty great job. It takes a mindset shift, and it is not an easy one to make, but we need to be confident in what we do. 

Working as a school leader is not an easy job. There are so many facets of it that tens, hundreds and even thousands of people could not do.

The spectrum of knowledge needed to run a school – finance, HR, teaching and learning, safeguarding, legal, and premises just to name a few, without even getting to all the leadership skills that must be honed and displayed daily.

Be secure in the knowledge you have and that you know how to use it. Your school chose you because of your skills and your ability to do the job – take comfort and be confident in that. 

Are we good enough? Absolutely we are. Even when we don’t feel like it, we do an amazing job for the staff and students. Those moments of doubt show we care and want the best.

You aren’t the head from down the road and that’s a good thing because your school doesn’t need the head from down the road – they need you.

The author is a headteacher in England and Tweets at @secretHT1. Go to: