Numerous school leadership courses and programs exist, designed to prepare aspiring leaders, or to further support existing leaders in their roles. Looking closely at these courses there are common themes such a leading innovation and change, establishing strategic direction and developing collaborative teams. It is noticeable, however, that many courses miss some of the key human elements associated with school leadership that greatly affect school culture and climate.

In developing school leaders the following areas are vital to how a leader is viewed within the school community and their ability to build a positive school climate build on mutual respect and trust:

Giving feedback: School leaders have to give feedback in a variety of situations to teachers and support staff. The way in which leaders deliver that feedback is crucial to ensuring an effective response from the person on the receiving end. Consideration also needs to be given to the impact of avoiding giving feedback to colleagues at crucial times because leaders are concerned about how teachers may respond to criticism. The ability to say ‘no’ to a request from a colleague, or the way in which leaders may be required to establish clear guidelines for teachers, is another challenge but so important to how a school operates and functions effectively for the benefit of all concerned not just a few individuals.

Compassionate interaction: At some stage or another, school leaders will be confronted with bad news from their colleagues. This could be a family death, personal illness, marriage break-up, or other unfortunate situation. There is never a good time to hear distressing news and it is so often unexpected yet we have to respond in saying the right words and giving appropriate support. This is really hard but in trying times, people look to the school leader for that much needed support and guidance. This is a very hidden part of the school leader’s role that receives very little attention but should.

Conflict between colleagues: We know the benefits of collaboration and we are encouraged to create collaborative learning environments with initiatives such as professional learning communities. Collaboration, however, is hard. Working well together involves getting rid of artificial harmony and personal differences in the best interests of our students. This is easier said than done. School leaders at a variety of levels will receive some form of complaint about teachers or support staff unable to work with one another, or instances where one colleague has upset another. The role of the school leader is to navigate through this adult drama trying to keep things on an even keel involving some tough and emotional conversations along the way.

All of the above have one thing in common, they are all uncomfortable for the school leader, and for this reason they need to appear more in school leadership courses and programs if leaders are to be effective in creating a positive school climate and culture.

School leadership is uncomfortable and the more this is understood the better the education profession will be for have people in leadership positions who truly understand the full extent of the role.