Our CEO, Naimish Gohil, gives us an insight into the lessons in leadership he learnt from a Headteacher at his school he taught at before starting Satchel. As we've been growing the team here at Satchel HQ, I've been thinking a lot about different approaches to line management, coaching and creating a culture where it's the norm for team members to make mistakes, to have the courage to make decisions, the freedom to express ideas, the honesty to take accountability, the empathy to listen and the integrity to always do the right thing.
When I think of these things, it takes me back to one particular experience:
I had just finished my NQT year at Northumberland Park Community School and was about to start a new role as Director of E-learning at Henry Compton School. When I applied for this role, I never thought I would get short-listed, let alone get the job. Before the main interview process kicked off, I had the chance to chit chat and mingle with the other candidates. I quickly realised that I was the youngest person there with the least experience. My chances didn't look good. The only thing I had on my side were ideas, passion and a vision.
Luckily for me, the head at the time, Mr Ramjee, was a real maverick. Against the wishes of his generals and a school governor, he offered me the job.
I felt a massive weight on my shoulders right there and a debt of gratitude. As we know, life is all about opportunities and opportunities can make or break one's life. They don't come around often. I had no right to this job but I wanted it more than anything and I realised what a risk the head had taken when hiring me. It was his reputation that was on the line and his bravery to appoint me.
I didn't realise how big the job was until I got into the trenches myself. GCSE ICT pass results were shocking, in the late 20%, and the curriculum was like a Microsoft Office training camp. Boring. ICT labs were often closed and it felt like the learners were not allowed to touch the precious boxes with "Dell" labeled on them! I soon changed all of this and I started with an assembly to each year group, outlining my plans and what we were going to do together to embrace technology.
I created an ICT contract for learners to take home to parents. I put in a new system to fix things when they were broken for teachers. I encouraged my IT team to be vocal about what they did all day by writing a weekly newsletter and sharing it with staff. There is a perception that IT staff at school sit around playing with hard drives. It doesn't actually work like that. I created a new curriculum and put in place an open-door policy at lunchtime, where learners could come in and spend time on the computers. The only rule was no food or drink and it was on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Things seemed to be going great initially. It was incredibly hard work. Relentless, in fact. Within a year of my NQT, I was line managing, in charge of ICT across the curriculum and developing myself as a teacher and a leader, albeit at the deep end. I had many many difficult days within that first term. I was exhausted, it was challenging. The behaviour was particularly challenging. I had thought about packing it in many times. In fact I had a letter of resignation ready for the head. When I watch the program Tough Young Teachers, I can fully empathise with them. It's the most misunderstood job out there.
My head taught me some pretty valuable lessons. He persuaded me not to quit. He coached me. He was firm but fair. Always professional and crystal clear about expectations. He gave me confidence. He supported me. He praised me in front of staff who thought he was crazy for hiring me. He told me not to kill myself working and that some things will just have to wait.
Rome wasn't built in a day, neither is a leader
He said the most important thing is to not drown and he reminded me constantly like a broken record that this was not going to happen to me. He asked me to reflect on the job that I had taken and reinforced the reasons why he hired me. He told me outright about why he believed in me. He left his door open and he spoke candidly about where I needed to toughen up and where my gaping holes were that I needed to address. What I really valued here was the direction and guidance provided to ensure that I succeeded. I was the one who ultimately executed the plan, but it was with those scaffolding blocks that he set up. Without that, and the confidence behind me, I was sure to be a collapsing deck of cards.
The freedom I was given was incredible. There was nothing I could not do. This sense of fulfillment from the work was liberating. I also learned from my head that in any job, you're always going to have days when the sh*t hits the fan and it feels like hell on earth. He told me to expect to have one of these at least every week. This helped me prepare mentally so I got accustomed to it. I didn't let it get me down like it used to. It was just part of the job.
When you're in the trenches, this is exactly the kind of advice you need to help you develop and grow. I was also never afraid to walk into the head's office because I was always made to feel comfortable and be open and honest. A problem shared is a problem halved, after all. Empathy was at the core of this relationship and it's the single one thing we look for when we hire.
I try to share and pass on the lessons I have learned through this experience to my team and hope you find it of use in some way along your journey.