Importance of reflection

At the current time I am being appraised.  For me this takes the form of questionnaires sent to all staff and governors, a representative sample of parents, some old boys and to the Heads of some of our feeder schools.  Early next term my appraiser an ex-Head of a prestigious HMC School will visit us to meet with many colleagues, the Chair of Governors and a few further parents and Old Boys.  It is thus a very “democratic” process.

One of the central parts of the appraisal though is my own self-evaluation which I have started working on in recent weeks.  This is an excellent opportunity for me to reflect back on the past seven years that I have been Headmaster.  Time has flown by.  I have also recently been visited by my predecessor as Headmaster and it was interesting talking to him about how I felt that the School has developed over that time.  It was a conversation I repeated with some Sixth Form boys who have progressed all the way through the School in the time I have had as Headmaster.

To me, reflection is an essential part of being an effective leader.  Sometimes in the busy life that we lead it can be difficult to find time to take stock, to reflect back on what has gone well and on what mistakes can be learnt from.  I very much welcome the fact that so many people have the opportunity to contribute to my appraisal – clearly I will not please all the people all the time but it will be useful to discover any recurring themes and to find out others’ perceptions of what has gone well and what might be improved in the future.  The involvement of so many people could be seen to be daunting but I will be reassured at the end to know that any aggregated information will be the stronger from being based around so many different views.

Reflection is also a feature of the regular meetings I have with a mentor.  This is not someone who is involved in education, indeed beyond his own children being educated he has little knowledge of schools and the way they work.  However, I have really benefited from meeting with him once every few months to reflect back on how things have gone, to consider some of the tougher issues I have to deal with through a fresh pair of eyes and above all to reflect on my own performance as a leader.  I have learnt a lot about myself in the process.  I hope that it has made me more effective in my own practice and in the way that I try to get the best out of others.

I hope that everyone who works in our school be they students or teachers will also find time to reflect.  Schools are hectic places, there is always another deadline around the corner, always meetings to attend.  It is though important that we all find time to stop, shut out the background noise and just think.  Think about what has gone well, think about how things might have been handled differently and to take time to improve on our own performance.  The time I have spent both on my self-evaluation as well as in discussing things with my mentor has been central to developing future strategy and important in terms of my own development.  In a similar vein we will soon be writing an updated version of our school self-evaluation.  This is another opportunity to take stock of how far we have come since our last school inspection and what more is to be done in the future.

Reflection might perhaps be seen as chasing compliments from others but this is far from the case.  It is all about looking deep into yourself and understanding what makes you tick, what qualities you have and thinking about how others perceive you.  Sometimes the perceptions of others can be very wrong but then the challenge comes in looking at how these might be turned around.

I hope that these thoughts are of assistance to others and I would certainly recommend at the very least taking a little time every now and then to really think through your own performance and perhaps also to occasionally think in a deeper way about the contributions of others around you and to reflect on whether your perceptions of others are actually correct.