What you do on the way up counts

When I trained to become a teacher I didn’t have a particular career path in mind. I never had any great ambition to be a leader and especially didn’t have any plans to become a headteacher – it wasn’t even in the equation a month before I decided to apply for my current role. All I really wanted was to do my job and to do it with a spirit of excellence. Back in 2002, I wasn’t into building a network or trying to prove anything to anyone. I just wanted to take on a bit of responsibility because I knew it was something I was capable of and so that’s what I did when I became ICT Co-ordinator in my second year of teaching.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last 20 plus years of being in education, it’s that what you do every step of way when it comes to your career counts, regardless of what your end point might be.

There’s a saying ‘“Don’t allow your talent to take you where your character can’t keep you”. Regardless of how skilled you are, irrespective of whether you have an NPQSL, NPQH, PhD, BSc, BA, MA or any other letters that indicate you’ve studied for a long time. If you have a bad character it will be remembered for far longer than your list of qualifications.

When you’re an NQT you may not consider your career ten years hence, but you should. Every person you meet along the way, whether it’s a parent, pupil, senior leader or external agent, has the potential to influence the next part of your journey. But you won’t know that until an opportunity presents itself, so it’s important to always be ready.

When it comes to 6-degrees of separation it’s particularly apparent in the world of education. I was offered the chance to start at my NQT school in the April instead of September (I did a part time PgCert so graduated in January 2002) because I’d made a good impression at the school during my final teaching practice. I secured a job as an Educational Consultant (Ed Con) at RM because I’d built up a good relationship with a Senior Ed Con who had been working with my school on a PFI project. I found out about a deputy headteacher role, from the same Senior Ed Con (who was also my line manager) who had a friend who just happened to be looking for a DHT at the time I was considering going back into the classroom. I could go on about the opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to have simply because of the positive impressions my character has left when I’ve interacted with people over the years. I don’t say it to brag, I say it to make a point.

I had no idea that any of the people I met would have an influence on the direction my career took. But every step of the way I made sure that I was consistent. I treated everyone with respect, I was always courteous, I always worked hard and I made sure my character could never be called into question. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit I’m wrong, I don’t try to cover up the truth. If I’m struggling with something, I let those who can help know that I’m struggling. If I want to go for something bigger and better, I let those who are over me know what my plans are. I don’t do anything underhand, I don’t cover things up and most importantly and I don’t burn any bridges. Every organisation I’ve left, I know I can go back to with my head held high.

It’s important that you think about how you treat those around you, even if those around you don’t treat you too well. One of my first school leaders told me the job I was going to had no prospects and I shouldn’t consider applying for it. I smiled politely, thanked her for her advice and went about my business. I didn’t bad mouth her or rant to others about what she’d said as that wouldn’t have benefited me and my journey. What I did do is prove her wrong and enjoy the opportunity to go back into her school as part of my new role and show her just how valuable my skills were. Such a great feeling.

Every interaction is important, regardless of how small or insignificant it may seem. When you go for a job interview, greet everyone you come into contact with whether that’s in person, via email or on the phone call, with courtesy and respect because if you don’t you’ll be remembered for your lack of courtesy, lack respect and lack of appreciation for those who can influence the course of your career. You have a duty to yourself to make sure you give yourself the best chance possible. So make every interaction along the way count.

Wilson Mizner summed it up nicely by saying “be nice to those you meet on the way up because you will meet them on the way down.”

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