Talking Heads Blog #17: Navdeep Sanghara

Leadership Biography

Name: Nav Sanghara

Phase: Primary

Sector: State

Region: London

Years Served in Education: 12

Years Served as a Headteacher: 4

Leadership Journey:

Psychology BSc-Teaching Assistant- PGCE- NQT- NQT Mentor, Y2 teacher and English Leader, Y4 teacher and Phase Leader, Assistant Head, Deputy Head, Head of School, Acting Headteacher-NPQH-Headteacher-Executive Headteacher (Inspire Partnership).

Leadership Inspiration:

I’ve taken something from every Headteacher I have worked for and believe that I still have a lot to learn from school leaders I work with now.

Twitter Handle: @NavSanghara

Blog: Not yet, maybe it should be a goal for 2017.

Leadership Reflections

Why do you teach?

Having completed my psychology degree, I wasn’t really sure where to channel my passion and energy. I hadn’t considered teaching until someone I was working for pointed out my natural ease and affinity with children. However, I was aware that being good with children and becoming a teacher were two very different things and if I were going to do it, I would have to put my heart and soul into it. So I decided to work as a teaching assistant to understand the reality of teaching and school life. I spent about a year in a challenging school where the children had so many barriers to overcome before even starting the school day. Very quickly the fire in me was truly ignited; I knew I had a moral obligation to help children achieve their full potential, irrespective of their starting points.

Why have you contributed to the talking heads blog?

When I was given the opportunity to contribute to this blog, I found the idea that anyone would want to read or hear about my leadership journey a bit pretentious. However, after some encouragement from other school leaders on Twitter, I decided that if there was any aspect of my journey to headship that inspires even one person in the smallest of ways, then it would be worth it.

Why did you become a Headteacher?

I hadn’t actually set out to become a Headteacher but the reality was I was a class-based senior leader in a school where leadership capacity was limited. The Executive Headteacher recognised something in me (which I hadn’t) and we discussed the possibility of me being released from the classroom and taking on the role of Head of School. If I am completely honest, a huge part of me didn’t want to leave the safety and familiarity of my classroom and the children I was teaching, and the decision took a little bit of soul searching. Ultimately, I understood that at that point the staff needed someone to drive the vision of the school forward and I couldn’t do this if I had my own class to teach. After a year of being a Head of School and seeing the improvements across the school, I applied for the Headteacher position. I am passionate about shaping the lives of young people and contributing to transforming their futures-this vision keeps me going every single day.

How do you create a culture of wellbeing?

Wellbeing is absolutely key to the culture of school and is something I have always held as a high priority. Understanding that staff aren’t just staff but have families and lives outside of school is critical. Supporting them through tough times in their lives, whether it is through listening and a cup of coffee or covering their class so they attend an important occasion are things I have done. In addition, celebrating successes in staff briefings, providing breakfasts/afternoon teas/pizza at busy times, writing individual cards and notes to each staff member recognising what they contribute at an individual level to the school are all things that have contributed to making staff I have work with feel valued. Also, listening to staff about what is working and having an impact and what we need to do next goes a long way. Making time for others is so important and creating a culture where this is valued is something I have strived to achieve. In addition, providing all staff with high quality CPD demonstrates a commitment to their growth and wellbeing from another angle.

How would you like to change the perception of Headteachers?

Becoming a Headteacher at 31 and being a British-Asian female has hopefully demonstrated that anyone with the determination, work ethic and the right skillset can be a Headteacher. In my case there wasn’t a fixed criterion about what I should or shouldn’t have done. Each Headteacher will have a different journey and story to tell and there isn’t a right or wrong way. Another perception is that Headteachers are superhuman or superheroes who are all-knowing, perfect individuals with all the answers and this definitely isn’t the case!  I believe Headteachers hold a privileged role but we are all normal human beings who have the same thoughts, questions, pressures as everyone else. We are learning every day and there is no rule book or list of endless scenarios to know how to deal with. Finally, I genuinely believe that becoming a Headteacher will be one of the most privileged things I will have ever achieved-working alongside endless amazing professionals who go over and above for the children and the community, and seeing the culture of the school strengthen during a time of such high accountability, makes it all worthwhile. There are so many wonderfully magical moments in schools every single day and although it is a huge responsibility to bear, the positives overwhelmingly outweigh the stresses. So to any future leaders who are considering headship-it is worth it and yes, you can do it!

How would you like to affect change in the system?

Through collaboration and partnership. Working within a thriving partnership (Inspire Partnership in SE London) I have had the privilege to work with other school leaders that are equally deeply committed to partnership working. Not only have I grown as a leader through learning and working with others, but so have our individual and collective schools. Andy Hargreaves in his book ‘Uplifting Leadership’ talks about the concept of collaboration vs competition and this resonates with me at all levels. At a time when the educational landscape is exciting but tumultuous, school leaders need to start forging relationships with each other and looking beyond their schools if they are going to thrive and continue to learn and grow. As Pete Block says in his book Community “The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole.”  Ultimately all school leaders are deeply connected with their communities but I believe that the next step we need to see in the system is for these communities to begin tying threads together to further impact directly on outcomes for all children. Working in a partnership which is ever maturing and evolving, I have seen the benefits first hand for all the school communities including leaders, teachers, staff and parents. Across our partnership we have set up systems for teachers to collaborate, created shared continued professional development opportunities and increased our leadership capacity.

What values shape you as a leader?

Excellence, humility, determination-all in equal measure! Excellence is a value I have always tried to live by and reading Ron Berger’s ‘Ethic of Excellence’ as a leader solidified this. It is important for staff and children to see leaders pay attention to the fine detail of any given task and follow it through to the end-I try hard to model this. Humility is a value instilled in me by my parents and in this fast-paced, quickly evolving, digital and selfie obsessed culture we find ourselves in, it can be increasingly hard to live by. However, as a leader and as a human, it is important to me demonstrate humility and integrity, recognising the talents and strengths in others, recognising my own mistakes as a leader and celebrating the role that every single person in the organisation plays. Having started my own career as a teaching assistant, I have a deep understanding of how it isn’t the role or the title that makes the difference but the collective goal and vision for all children. Being determined both personally and for the children is a value that I believe all headteachers possess to keep them in the job. Maintaining focus on improving the outcomes for children despite all the pressures headteachers face requires real grit and determination, both on a daily basis but also during the most challenging of times personally.

Leadership Advice

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up”.

I believe that as a leader, walking the talk during the toughest times is when staff feel deeply connected to you as a human. During the most challenging times, keep the children in mind and get up and demonstrate that inner strength and resilience this will go a long way, both for yourself and for staff.

Leadership Inspiration

I have just finished reading Mary Myatt’s ‘High Challenge, Low Threat’ and it reminded me of the power of the human connection and how we must use it fully when leading. I would recommend it to all leaders.  I have just ordered her new book ‘Hopeful Schools’ and have heard equally great things about it.

Leadership Mantra

‘A leader is best when people barely know they exist, when their work is done, their aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves‘. Lao Tzu

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