“When Times Get Tough” – A Miniature Blog

When I first became a headteacher, I discovered my long-serving predecessor had left me a special little gift. It sat in the top drawer of my desk, alongside the random array of staples, paperclips, metallic stickers and over-sized calculators.

It was a miniature bottle of something alcoholic – brandy, I think. In true Alice in Wonderland style, the little bottle had a message attached. It read something like “Save this for when times get really tough!” What a curious thing to find!

As a new headteacher, I was initially intrigued by this gift. Alcohol? In school? For when times get tough? How hard can it be…?
Of course, I was new to the role. I was naive. I was in my honeymoon period. I had been in other positions of school leadership for five or six years but I’d never been the one fully steering the ship.

It was February 2011 when I was gifted the miniature. It was August 2017 when I left the same bottle and message for my successor. During the six and a half years in between, this little bottle became something for me. It was a measure. A literal measure of something alcoholic and a metaphorical measure of challenge and resilience.

Of course, I would never have consumed the drink in school but, every now and then, I would read the label and wonder how tough things could get.

I read the label when I was dealing with my first serious HR situation.

“But it might get tougher than this!” I thought.

I read the label a few times when it felt like a serial complainer was taking over all my days.

“It might get tougher!” I told myself.

I read the label when Ofsted called and I was pondering my first inspection as a headteacher.

(I celebrated with a something fizzy, after the occasion, at home.)

I read the label a few times when we were working on a staffing restructure.

I read it some mornings, when child protection worries had kept me awake in the night.

I read it in July, after disappointing SATs results.

I read it in August, when one of our pupils tragically passed away.

I would no doubt have read the label countless times during the pandemic but I was in a different school by then.

I’m about to take a break from this profession, after twelve years of headship. There have been wonderful highs and some really difficult times. I’ve got through them all. I’m not advocating turning to alcohol and I’m definitely not advising drinking in school. But it’s good to have a measure.

We’re all tougher than we think.


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