We are proud to have many brilliant women in leadership roles at Scottish independent schools and we are taking the opportunity to introduce you to some of them this International Women’s Day.
We sat down with Heather Fuller, whose career highlight was becoming the Head Teacher at The High School of Glasgow Junior School. In her role, Heather is privileged to see children grow and thrive within the School’s happy and supportive environment, developing their own skills and passions and finding their path in life.
Read our blog to learn about Heather’s responsibilities as Head and her view on succeeding as a woman in leadership, in her own words.
A career in teaching
My first teaching post was in June 2000 as a Class Teacher at Hamilton College. Here, I worked with experienced teachers who supported, encouraged and inspired me.
In November 2013, I was appointed as a Development Officer at Education Scotland. This afforded me a wide range of opportunities that I would not have been able to experience within a school setting. Working within a team, travelling around Scotland, visiting a range of schools and organisations and meeting new people helped me to see things from a range of perspectives.
I became Deputy Head Teacher at The High School of Glasgow Junior School in May 2015 and was appointed Head Teacher of the Junior School in August 2016.
Inspired to teach
My first inspiration in education came from my Primary 2 teacher. She made school a place where I wanted to be because she cared, was passionate about working with her pupils and took an interest in me. I have particularly fond memories of being at primary school, particularly the creative elements.
As I grew older, I knew that my own passions, especially art and music, would fit well within a primary school setting. I feel that all teachers want to ‘make a difference’ and for me, this drove me towards a leadership position, which allows me to make a difference and inspire others across the whole school community.
Life as a Head Teacher
As Head Teacher of the Junior School there is no such thing as a ‘typical day’! I am responsible for the overall strategic leadership and management of the Kindergarten and Junior School. On some days I arrive at 7.30am, welcoming pupils and parents as they arrive from 8am. The rest of my day can be very varied, including: leading assemblies, meetings with the Rector, staff or parents, conducting tours for prospective parents and working with our admissions or marketing team.
I also spend time in classes, monitor and track pupil attainment and progress, support pupils or staff with pastoral issues and organise CPD for staff, including leading professional reviews. I always have to be ready to be reactive, although I’m grateful to have two Deputy Head Teachers who oversee the day to day running of the school.
Becoming a woman in leadership
In my early career there was a perception that male primary teachers would climb the ladder more quickly. Primary teaching is a very female-dominated profession but one of the benefits of working in all-through schools is that there is a better gender mix across the whole school.
There can be a few barriers for females in this field - often women are more risk-averse and lack confidence, especially when it comes to applying for a position that they have the skills and competence to fulfil. Having a career break may also be a barrier to progression as it can involve missing out on new practices and initiatives within a dynamic and fast-paced environment.
In thinking about my own friends and networks, getting the balance between juggling home/family responsibilities and work can be challenging. Finally, senior leadership positions within schools are not typically 9-5 jobs! The evening and weekend commitments can result in some deciding that such a role is not manageable for them.
The women that I know who are in leadership roles bring many benefits to their positions – they are highly strategic, very focussed, have an eye for detail but also show empathy and develop excellent relationships across the whole team.
Advice for future female leaders
If I was to speak to the next generation of female leaders I would suggest that they try to get the right balance between being sensitive to others and being firm, assertive and standing their ground. Be aware of when emotion is taking over and when you need to take a more ‘black and white’ approach. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to put yourself forward and believe in yourself – especially when it comes to promotion.
Women climbing the career ladder can also support each other by sharing their personal experiences, including the challenges they have faced and encouraging others to realise their own potential.
Many thanks to Heather Fuller and The High School of Glasgow for their contribution to this blog.