It Takes a Family – A Reflection on Support Networks that Make Leadership Possible

A quote from Steve Wheeler on the importance of the village and support networks

Life can get busy, when this occurs, should leaders stand aside or do we need to stop and recognise that sometimes leadership involves the support of wider support networks?


In a post reflecting on leadership and the self, Paul Browning identified three aspects that great leaders are able to manage:

  • Emotions
  • Health / Sleep
  • Ego

The question I am left with is what happens when a leader can’t keep these aspects in tact? Not for the lack of trying, but rather that life does not necessarily allow for it. Maybe it is raising a young family, suffering from illness or balancing life situations. Should leaders stand aside or does it sometimes take a team?


Discussing the challenges of balance, Corrie Barclay shares a number of tips associated with raising a family while also being an assistant principal. These include doing what you say you will do, learning to say no, making time for you, mindfully moving around and living life to the fullest. Barclay’s post was a response to a post from Eric Sheninger on the same topic.

For Sheninger, worklife balance can be broken down into three areas: professional, family and personal. Some of his strategies for answering each of these areas is to consciously block out time for things, think about eating patterns and cut back on social media. He also states that sometimes you need to be selfish.

Our well-being is not only good for us on a personal level, but it has positive impacts on our professional work and family life.

When Sheninger was a principal he would leave early in the morning in order to fit in a gym session before the start of the day.

Chris Wejr provides his own take. His answer has been to remove email, as well as schedule his family into his calendar.

For Steve Brophy the challenge is the transition from one mode to another. He does this through the use of a routine when he arrives home, where he gets his clothes ready for the next day, writes a few notes and leaves his phone in the bedroom. This then allows him to give his best to his family.

Taking a different approach, John Spencer has his own solution to the personal problem. He and his wife give each other one night a week to pursue other interests. This means going somewhere else, whether it be Starbucks or a microbrewrey, and focusing on something unrelated to teaching.

What each of these situations and suggestions demonstrate is that there is no quick fix to finding balance. Whether it is food, scheduling or space, each approach is based on a particular context. Having said this, there is one thing that ties them together. The part played by our wider support networks.

Other than John Spencer, there is little mention of partners and their part in the play. Although Eric Sheninger identifies family as an area that is a part of the balance, he does not touch upon their particular influence. Steve Brophy recogises his wife’s role on his ‘learning board of directors’, but not necessarily what this involves.

Like Sheninger, I too used to exercise early in the morning. However, I now choose to help out at home, before dropping my children off at childcare. My wife is in leadership and I feel that it is important to help out where I can.


Returning to the beginning, Browning talks about what leaders are able to manage. Similarly, Philip Riley highlights the stresses that principals are put under. What seems overlooked in both accounts are the structures often in place that allow leaders to prosper and the sacrifices made by those within the support networks involved, such as family and friends.

Reflecting on guilt of not always being their for her children, Pernille Ripp recognises the role played by her husband in allowing her to do what she does. Maha Bali is another who explains the need to say no to various requests because she is also a mother. While when she does present, this often involves a team of carers or her daughter actually attending various events. Although neither are explicit leaders of schools, they are still leaders in their own spaces.

I wonder then if the greatest challenge we face in regards to leadership is realising we cannot do it alone and recognising those who help out to make it possible? As always, comments, criticism and communication welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Also on:

What Could Your Leader Do?


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

While taking the reigns of the #edutweetoz rotation curation recently, Paul Browning put out the question:

Although I engaged in some discussion at the time, discussing the idea of fostering the ‘hidden’ professional development, it is a question that has lingered with me ever since. How can leadership help me? Here then are three things that stand out:

DON’T TELL ME HOW GOOD I HAVE IT

I know I am lucky to have smaller class sizes. That the behaviour of my students is nothing compared to other schools. That I should be thankful that students have some access to technology. None of this actually helps to move things forward in and of itself. It reminds me of the teacher who complains to students about a failed lesson because they put hours into preparing it. I don’t want to know how good I have it, I want a vision to aspire towards, to drive me forwards.

BE A LEAD LEARNER

It is one thing to be aware of what is going on in the school. However, to feel supported, I want leaders to be more than aware. I want them to ask questions? To have some understanding of the intracises involved. I do not expect them to be able to replicate everything that I do, but I would like them to have the appreciation and awareness to be able to provide meaningful feedback and advice.

EDUCATION IS MORE THAN THE THREE R’s

I am aware that much of what schools get measured on comes back to literacy and numeracy, however this fails to recognise the importance of other learning. Actually, not ‘other’ learning, rather learning as a whole. Coming back to the question of vision, why do we do what we do. I am happy to have a guaranteed and viable curriculum, but what is it guaranteeing? Are subjects such as music, science, the humanities and languages important? Why? What are they trying to achieve? Content knowledge? College readiness? Citizenship? Whatever it is, how is this at the core? Richard Olsen touches on the dilemma of learning here.


So what about you? What could a leader do to support you and your professional growth? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.