Open doors, Unequivocal mirrors, Pellucid windows

Utha Vallade portrait

Written by Utha Vallade

Monday to Friday, Utha is an Associate Assistant Principal, leading on Raising Standards, Assessment and Reporting in an inner London secondary school. On Saturdays, she works as the co-headteacher of an all-through Saturday supplementary school. Passionate about supporting other educators on their leadership journey, in her not so spare time, Utha contributes to Step Up Network and leads on Partnerships, Diversity, Equality. Inclusion and Belonging.


As a dedicated senior leader working in a comprehensive, inner London secondary school, my journey in leadership has been defined by a commitment to continuous personal growth and professional development. Recently, I had the unique opportunity to shadow a headteacher working in a different school setting. My objective was to immerse myself in the daily responsibilities and challenges of leading a school and this experience offered me invaluable insights into the complexities and rewards of headship.

From the outset, I was fully welcomed into the smaller, rural school. The warmth and hospitality extended to me were a testament to the nurturing culture fostered by the headteacher. Throughout the week, I eagerly absorbed every leadership lesson and insight, recognising that the school’s environment and culture mirrored its authentic leadership.

What struck me most was the genuine care and respect evident in every interaction between teachers and students. Empowerment permeated the atmosphere, with students demonstrating remarkable personal growth and development under the guidance of supportive educators. Similarly, teachers and middle leaders flourished rapidly in their respective areas of responsibility and beyond. Witnessing these examples of student empowerment and staff development reaffirmed my belief in the transformative power of effective school leadership.

A key takeaway from this experience was the importance of being unapologetically caring and ambitious for all members of the school community. Every interaction, whether with students or staff, should be guided by a genuine desire to support and uplift others in the pursuit of academic outcomes and personal growth. The school I shadowed exemplified this ethos effortlessly, with caring and respecting others ingrained in its culture.

What impressed me the most was that this culture of care and respect was internalised by the school community. It was evident in the way students looked out for one another and how staff went above and beyond to support their students’ growth and well-being.

Moreover, the involvement of parents in the school’s daily life was inspiring. I saw examples of parents coming together to rebuild a fence to allow the play area around the pond to meet health and safety criteria. Another parent spearheaded a world-wide courageous advocacy programme which led students to bring conflict resolution and economic solutions to the local and wider school community. Whether rebuilding a fence or spearheading global advocacy programs, parents undoubtedly played a vital role in enhancing the school community. As an aspiring headteacher, I relish the opportunity to create an environment where everyone can flourish and thrive and for the students under my care to have a positive impact on our local and wider community. Therefore, witnessing these examples reinforced my commitment to foster positive impact in my school.

While the school environment was incredibly welcoming and nurturing, it was not without its challenges: uniform infringements, behaviour referrals and parental disagreements were part of daily school life which I have also observed in other educational settings. However, to me, the most striking difference was the timing of detentions and extracurricular activities. Due to its location in a rural town and its size (around 500 students), a significant number of students travelled to the school via coach. This meant that the school day revolved around the coaches’ departure times. As a result, detentions and clubs, including rehearsals for the school production or student-led assemblies had to run at lunch time rather than after school like in most London schools. All these challenges simply reminded me that the role of a headteacher carries immense responsibility and requires equally immense resilience and tremendous adaptability to the specific context of the school.

In conclusion, my week shadowing a headteacher was an insightful experience that reaffirmed my commitment to headship. It underscored the profound impact a caring and ambitious leader can have on a school community. As I continue my leadership journey, I will apply the lessons learned and strive to continue to make a meaningful difference in the lives of students and teachers alike.


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The post Open doors, Unequivocal mirrors, Pellucid windows first appeared on Diverse Educators.

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