Lunch with the Sixth Form

One of the greatest challenges for any Head is that of remaining in touch with the pupils in the School. This I would contend has little to do with the character of the individual head but is all to do with the title of being Head of a school. Inevitably because of the position you hold in the School pupils, staff and parents alike form their own perceptions of what you are like which are all to do with the position rather than with your own character.
Part of this is because inevitably there are barriers between you and the people concerned. Some of these are physical barriers, our pupils have to pass through reception, past the doors of my two deputies and then through two doors past my P.A. in order to reach me! Other barriers are designed to protect the head, thus the need for appointments to be made via a P.A. This is not because I am keen to keep out of sight but because I have an incredibly full diary and this needs managing to ensure that I am available to anyone wanting to see me.
There are a number of ways I have tried to make myself more accessible and more approachable. I very much enjoy seeing boys with their distinction appointments. The only down side of this is that because I am doing this during many lunch breaks I am not in the dining hall to chat either to boys or to colleagues. This must come across at times that I am keeping out of sight but really these distinction appointments give me a good deal of opportunity to speak direct to boys.
I have also made significant use of both my blog and twitter in an attempt to break down some of the barriers. I use my Twitter not only to talk about school matters but attempt to put across some of the more personal side of my life to show that despite my role I am a human-being. Thus, there are many mentions of family, Arsenal and much else besides. I always very much appreciate it when staff, parents and boys follow me on twitter or read my blog as these are important ways of communicating directly with people and also give them the chance to comment back. All of this communication helps to break down barriers just as conversations on the touch-line each week when watching the rugby also do.
When taking on this role as Headmaster I decided to base myself on parents’ evenings where the refreshments are served. This has certainly helped parents to approach me more easily. No longer do they need to make an appointment to see me on such an evening and it allows for many more informal conversations. If a more private conversation is necessary this too is possible later in the same evening.
This year I have tried something else which is new in an effort to engage more with the pupils in the School. Each Monday lunchtime I have lunch with an invited group of sixth formers. This has been a fantastic move and I have very much enjoyed the chance to chat with boys informally in this way. I would like to believe that they too have enjoyed it and I hope that one of them will blog about the experience on our sixth form blog in the weeks to come. There is no set agenda to our conversations but I have tried to encourage the sixth formers to open up, to chat about anything they want. I have responded in kind by letting them ask any question they like and trying to give them an insight into what I do all day! They have responded to this and topics covered have been wide-ranging covering issues to do with the sixth form and much else besides. I have been hugely impressed by their willingness to engage with the discussion and to present their points both cogently and powerfully. It has been very reassuring that they have been universally positive about their sixth form experience and seem genuinely to have been pleased to be given the opportunity to chat. I feel that I am much better informed about their sixth form experiences but also about things which they find of interest.
I would love to hear from boys, staff and parents alike about any ideas they have as to how my mission to engage with them all can be extended further. I do genuinely aim to be approachable to all and hope that I can continue to break down the barriers provided by my title.