Austin's story: becoming a better headteacher

Austin Bowers is the head of St Mary’s Brymbo, a small primary in Wrexham, North Wales. He recently took part in the school leaders’ facilitated peer-to-peer support, funded by Welsh Government.

Your stories

It wasn’t fluffy, it was real, practical advice that you could put into action.

The role of headteacher can be quite a lonely one. Not all the time. It depends on your team and the people around you of course but even if you’ve got that support, it’s your name above the door. You’re the one who carries the can. As I tell my staff, I’m the one who would have to answer questions in court.

I found the school leaders' support service a safe space, not to have a moan but to develop things constructively. I’d compare it to outdoor swimming which is something I like to do. I’d describe the service as like a tow float. You still enjoy it, enjoy the challenges of it but that little tow float is something you can pull on, you can lean on it, catch your breath on it, look back to shore and contemplate your day as I do, then go again. Just looking back, knowing you have that tow float, that’s what the service was for me.

Earlier in the pandemic, everyone was looking to head teachers within the community – some staff didn’t believe it was real, others were terrified and didn’t want to move. My tow float throughout that time was the school leader service. It was a safe space where you could share anxieties but also get some genuinely good ideas from a wider group of peer heads with a breadth of experience, a broader range that you wouldn’t normally come into contact with.

It was a safe space where you could share anxieties but also get some genuinely good ideas from a wider group of peer heads with a breadth of experience, a broader range that you wouldn’t normally come into contact with.

Our facilitator, a very experienced head teacher herself, used a very good car-parking sensor analogy. Am I reversing safely or am I an inch from something- at a tipping point? During the early stages of the pandemic, things were coming at you left, right and centre. It was just exhausting. To give yourself an hour and a half, two hours in the day and to know that that was coming, it was like a little stepping stone, a refuge. It wasn’t fluffy, it was real, practical advice that you could put into action.

What our facilitator said to us about sleep was really enlightening, the importance of proper rest and sleep now and for life in the future too; the link between sleep and dementia is very strong. Practical, sensible advice that you can connect with being the best you can be in your head teacher role.

You’re not sharing with anyone who could interpret what you’re saying as ‘not coping.’ This neutral ground and neutral format is very helpful. There are no judgements, it’s not going anywhere.

Quite often you can be in the office on your computer and to reach outside of that world for some help and support is so important. I think it should be something head teachers are offered on a cyclical basis wherever they are as a school or personally. Having been to a Catholic school I see it almost as a head teacher ‘confession.’ It’s professional confession where you can share things and they’re not coming back. You’re not sharing with anyone who could interpret what you’re saying as ‘not coping.’ This neutral ground and neutral format is very helpful. There are no judgements, it’s not going anywhere. You’re not going to get that really good, professional, counselling advice from elsewhere in your world.

For anyone looking at the service, if you don’t think you’ve got a couple of hours to take out once a fortnight to benefit yourself, then you need to do it. We’re all busy. This job never ends. You’re never finished completely. You’ll be better at prioritising, at devolving your leadership, better at communicating what you want and need from others if you take the time to do this, rather than if you just plough on and keep trying to carry on.

School leaders' support
School leaders' support