Why seek promotion?

Perhaps it might be worth taking some time to reflect upon the job of Head of Education – a post I’ve now occupied for five months.

The following is going to include a lot of the vertical pronoun i.e. “I”, hopefully readers can put up with this indulgence to enable me to explore my own motivation and intended purpose. Can I reinforce at this point that I can only be successful as part of successful team.

I watched “Goodbye Mr Chips” this afternoon – typical Sunday afternoon fare.

As I watched the film it brought back the joy of teaching in schools – albeit in an overly sentimental medium. However, the post of Headteacher at a school like Dunbar Grammar School gives you an incredible opportunity to improve people’s lives – staff, pupils and the local community. In a way I envy people like Mr. Chips – those who devote themselves to one place for their entire career. All too often we sneer at teachers who have never moved on – but I know many teachers who have worked in only one school and have remained outstanding teachers throughout their career – most notably David Shanks of Selkirk High School (maybe there is something in here as David is a classics teacher just like Mr. Chips).

The question is why did I give up the opportunity to work directly with children and teachers to work outwith schools as I do in my current position? I had a chat with a friend on Saturday and tried to explain what it was I am trying to do. The problem is that this person knows how much pleasure I got from working in schools – and – kindly – recognized the kind of positive impact I can have.

So why move? I think the answer can be summed up in one word – influence. The dictionary definition of influence reads as follows:


n 1: a power to affect persons or events especially power based on prestige etc; “used her parent’s; influence to get the job” 2: causing something without any direct or apparent effort 3: a cognitive factor that tends to have an effect on what you do; “her wishes had a great influence on his thinking” 4: the effect of one thing (or person) on another; “the influence of mechanical action” 5: one having power to influence another; “she was the most important influence in my life”; “he was a bad influence on the children” v 1: have and exert influence or effect; “The artist’s work influenced the young painter”; “She worked on her friends to support the political candidate” 2: shape or influence; give direction to; “experience often determines ability”; “mold public opinion” 3: induce into action by using one’s charm; “She charmed him into giving her all his money”

As I read this I wonder which of the above definitions most closely matches my motivation: Nouns – definitely not 1 = 0%; 2 = 30%; 3 = 20%; 4 = 10%; 5 = 40%. Taking the verbs – 1 = 30%; 2 = 50%; 3 = 20%.

I suppose the question here is – do I want influence or power? – this led me to the dictionary again.


n 1: possession of controlling influence; “the deterrent power of nuclear weapons”; “the power of his love saved her”; “his powerfulness was concealed by a gentle facade 2: (physics) the rate of doing work; measured in watts (= joules/second) 3: possession of the qualities (especially mental qualities) required to do something or get something done; “danger heightened his powers of discrimination” 4: a state powerful enough to influence events throughout the world 5: (of a government or government official) holding an office means being in power; “being in office already gives a candidate a great advantage”; “during his first year in office”; “during his first year in power”; “the power of the president 6: one possessing or exercising power or influence or authority; “the mysterious presence of an evil power”; “may the force be with you”; “the forces of evil” 7: physical strength 8: a mathematical notation indicating the number of times a quantity is multiplied by itself 9: a very wealthy or powerful businessman; “an oil baron” v : supply the force or power for the functioning of; “The gasoline powers the engines”

1 = 20%; 2 = 0%; 3 = 30%; 4 = 0%; 5 = 10%; 6 = 0%; 7 = 0%; 8 = 0%; 9 = 0%

Reflecting upon the power definitions I don’t think they capture what it is that motivates me to seek promotion.

Returning to influence – I think I can use the definitions to sum up my purpose:

2. I think I do want to – cause things to happen without any direct or apparent effort – I think this captures a lot of what I’m trying to do in that I am trying to create a culture and positive flow which other people can pick up upon and develop. I often recall Aesop’s fable about the North Wind and the Sun

“The North Wind and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.”

3. The next definition – a cognitive factor that tends to have an effect on what you do; “her wishes had a great influence on his thinking –  also rings a bell. For me this is about presenting ideas in a clear and unambiguous manner, being prepared to listen, admit to mistakes, enable others to contribute and to lead, and finally, demonstrate that I am committed to reflecting upon my practice with a view to constantly improving.

4. The effect of one thing (or person) on another; “the influence of mechanical action”. Sometimes I do have to use my position to get things done – the difference here that I can only use this power sparingly and only when I have very clearly set out the reasons why I am using my position.

5: one having power to influence another; “she was the most important influence in my life”; “he was a bad influence on the children” I think I am trying to model behaviour for others to copy. My behaviour is critical in that if I don’t behave in the manner which I espouse then the gap between the rhetoric and behaviour would undermine the change process.

So I want to influence – it’s as simple as that. I suppose it must be pretty close to arrogance that I believe that my influence is benign or even a force for good. But on reflection I do believe that what we are trying to do is important and could make the educational experience of every child in East Lothian significantly better. More than that I would like to create a culture where teachers are happy, fulfilled and valued.

The last question must be – if I can’t have the influence I want to have – should I go back to schools?