Headmaster as Leader

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This handbook is a set of ideas and convictions about how to exercise leadership of a boys’ secondary school, notes drawn from my 25 years’ experience as a teacher and school administrator. I have put it together to help headmasters, and especially those about to take up the job, to do what all professionals need to do from time to time—namely, reflect more deeply about their professional responsibilities and learn from the experience of others.

This set of notes does not pretend to be exhaustive or definitive. It is mostly my personal opinion, and it explores what I think are the most important dimensions of school leadership: forming and explaining the school’s mission; handling significant questions and problems; using one’s leadership to serve Board members, parents, teachers, students, and the community at large. Each of the topics, as well as others left undiscussed, could have been expanded considerably. Instead of delving into detailed explanations, I’ve chosen instead to highlight what’s most important and essential to the headmaster’s job of service to the school.

And what is the essence of a headmaster’s service? I think it is to give ongoing encouragement. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, quite rightly, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” A headmaster serves his people by forming within himself a clear, hopeful and compelling mission to his life’s work, a heartfelt dedication to the welfare of his people, and then he gets everyone to join him in that collective adventure. In the notes that follow, I hope you will better appreciate how this dynamic works—and why serving as headmaster is such a great life’s work.

James B. Stenson

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