Eight steps to SAS school leadership

The handbook of the elite special forces unit offers some invaluable advice for school leaders

It is, the cover boasts in hard-to-ignore orange typeface, the ultimate guide to surviving anywhere. Including, it turns out, on the rungs of the school-leadership ladder.

Joe White was given a copy of the SAS Survival Guide for Christmas. The assistant head of Stone Bay School, in Kent, was leafing through it, when he noticed a surprising relevance to school leadership. He has therefore written a blog, outlining the ways in which the guide can double as an instruction manual for surviving the extreme conditions of school leadership.

“In the SAS, a lot of the motivation is to prove yourself,” Mr White says. “Your aim is to be the best you can be. In school, you don’t want to let the kids down. The children are your mission, aren’t they?”

Here are the Survival Guide‘s eight steps to SAS school leadership:

  1. Keep your skills and experience current
    “Any equipment you have must be considered a bonus. Lack of equipment should not mean that you are unequipped, for you will carry skills and experience with you. But those skills and experience must not be allowed to get rusty, and you must extend your knowledge at all times.”
  2. Planning
    “Divide the project into phases: entry phase, objective and recovery. Clearly set the aim and time scale of each phase. Plan for emergency procedures such as vehicle breakdown, illness and casualty evacuation.”
  3. Be realistic
    “Allow plenty of time when estimating the rate of progress. Pressure to keep to an over-ambitious schedule leads to exhaustion and errors of judgment.”
  4. Contingency plans
    “Be prepared. What will you do if a vehicle breaks down, or if weather conditions prove more severe than anticipated? If in a party, how will you regroup if separated? What happens if someone falls ill?”
  5. Work in a group
    “Consider the ability of each member to deal with likely challenges… Hold meetings to discuss responsibilities and plans… Ensure everyone is familiar with equipment.”
  6. Play to people’s strengths
    “Nominate a medic, cook, mechanic, driver, etc.”
  7. Do your research
    “The more detailed your knowledge of the place and people, the better your chances. Study your maps carefully. Gain as much knowledge of the terrain as possible.”
  8. Hurricane warnings
    This section of the guide has particular resonance for Mr White. “You have 24 hours and have to do everything you can in that period to prepare for the storm that will come down on you,” he says, before pausing. “Our Ofsted is due this term.”

Joe White’s blog on the SAS survival guide to school leadership is here.

This is an edited version of an article in the 26 February issue of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. Pick up a copy of this week’s TES magazine from any good newsagent. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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