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A school leader’s career: the weird, the wonderful, and anything else deemed necessary

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“The most bizarre moment of my teaching career? Probably the time a furious parent stormed into my classroom with a rifle. That was definitely a strange one."

I was momentarily struck dumb by this revelation as I put myself in the shoes of the school leader, who at the time of the Raging Rifle Incident was in her early twenties and a matter of months into what would become a long career in education. How on earth would I have reacted? There are no policies on rifle-wielding parents. I’ve checked. (For anyone with membership who’s interested, we do have an article on deactivated firearms, but I’m sure my school leader friend would tell you that it’s not quite the same thing.)

I shouldn’t have been so surprised, really. Two years as a teaching assistant taught me not only to expect the unexpected, but to treat any supposedly ‘normal’ day in school with intense suspicion.

Now a researcher at The Key, I have a fascinating – and, I must confess, at times thoroughly entertaining – overview of life as a school leader, which I’ve found to be as varied as it is unpredictable. Take our risk assessment articles, for example. You’ll find stuff in there on gardening, surfing, pogo sticks, pets and trees, to name but a few of my favourites. Did you imagine, when you signed up, that as part of your mission to educate the nation’s children you might one day find yourself needing to risk assess pogo sticks?

I also see a good deal of job descriptions, and it strikes me how unrepresentative these can be of the day-to-day reality of a role in a school. I’m yet to find a job description that requires a strong enough knowledge of forensic graphology to solve a form time vandalism mystery, or one that demands previous experience of head lice management. But when I asked one school leader if there was anything she felt should have been included in her job description, she made an interesting point.

"Every lunatic thing I do each day could be covered by my job description under an all-encompassing phrase: ‘...and anything else deemed necessary’."

A smart phrase to include, no? Because what kind of job description could encompass every aspect of a role in education? Even if there were enough paper, ink and time on the planet, could you have anticipated the more peculiar tasks that tumble your way on a daily basis, or the demand for those talents usually kept stashed away in an eccentric corner of your skill set?

It’s also a rather daunting phrase, because the meaning of ‘deemed necessary’ is blown wide open when you’re acting in loco parentis to hordes of children. Which is how the school leaders I've been chatting to have found themselves going to work dressed as hobbits, and becoming experts in emergency evacuation chairs, and very literally staring down the barrel of a gun on a Tuesday afternoon in 1979.

"But to be frank, Sara," said one school leader and newly qualified evacuation chair operator, "if we didn't do these things, then who would? It needs to be done."

Bizarre - maybe. Necessary? Absolutely. And perhaps it's that precise combination that makes the work of a school leader such a brilliant thing.

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