The Hybrid Head

Head teachers are often called ‘school leaders’ because that is what they are.

But they are so much more than that.

They are managers, teachers, mentors, coaches, counsellors, editors, social workers, role models, researchers, assessors, marketers, administrators and architects to name but a few.

Amidst the plurality, they are polymath pedagogues that multi-task and defy their traditional title of Headteacher because they don’t have a defined job description.

Being a head teacher today is a rich collection of shifting roles composed of many elements that overlap. Their identity “is fluid, contextual, relational and multidimensional” (Rodgers and Scott, 2008).

It is tempting to stick to the traditional image and definition of a Head from yesteryear but the pure educationalist label doesn’t stick anymore as professional repertoires have changed (Noordegraaf, 2015).

Contemporary school leaders are more than one person because they assume various professional identities simultaneously and “operate across (potentially) contradictory positions; they must be both practioneer and manager” (Machin, 2018).

In short, they are hybrid heads.

Montaudon- Tomas, Pinto-López and Amsler (2022) remind us that the idea of hybrid leadership hasn’t  resulted from hybrid working conditions or is it related to hybrid learning. This is about a way of being.

According to Berk (2020) a hybrid professional has multiple professional identities and works at the intersection of them.

The professional identifications of a hybrid head is unstable, dynamic, active and changeable – it is always in the making and ambiguous.

Machin (2017) notes that the hybrid professional does not occupy a singular professional identity but has the emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility to move between identities, and organisational demands, situationally. They walk the walk but there are different walks to walk!

The professional identities of Hybrid Heads are not stable entities because they are constantly being shaped by contextual factors.

This means that what Heads ‘do’ is being constantly interpreted and customised to fit the demands and challenges encountered. It is an interactive process.

Hybrid Heads might operate as a teacher-head, a head-teacher, educational manager, pragmatist broker and  educational executive but not exclusively, as they cross-cut multiple roles.

But how do Heads develop hybridity? It doesn’t just happen.

In his research, Machin (2018) points to 5 areas that school leaders need to do:

1. Acquire management training

MBAs facilitate hybridity and would be an important first step because the skills and knowledge gained through management training “add at a practical level to the individual’s ability to perform the occupational requirements of management.”

2. Acquire Experience in a ‘corporate’ school environment

Working in an environment that exposes an individual to managerial demands facilitates the adoption and acceptance of hybrid practices so experience in a corporate school environment is helpful.

3. Reflect on the purpose of school leadership

Reflection is a basic part of teaching and learning and of whole school development. By engaging in reflective practice leaders can grow and improve their own practice in a meaningful and structured way.

Leadership starts with ‘knowing yourself’, considering your own value-system and developing self-confidence, empathy and resourcefulness.

4. Develop adaptability and resilience

“Hybridity demands adaptability and resilience; the successful hybrid will thrive amongst, not suffer, the slings and arrows of increasingly complex school environments.”

5. Develop emotional intelligence

Self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, social skills and self-motivation are all key skills required of a Hybrid Head. Emotional intelligence is vital in leadership because it improves fosters communication, increases accountability and builds trusting relationships.

Dr Stephen Whitehead (2017) argues that if you aren’t a hybrid professional then you are an endangered species.

Hybrid professionals now work in often ambiguous, plural, dynamic, and complex schools which are affected by constant changes internally and externally.

Hybrid leadership can be associated with chameleon leadership, which is triggered by the situations at hand; leaders shuffle, mould, add, cast off old styles, and develop new ones (Buchen, 2012).

A consideration of leadership from a range of perspectives and identities more accurately portrays the complexity of leadership in education today.

It is no longer possible for heads to lead all aspects of their schools.

Rather than Hybrid Heads, Bush, Abbott, Glover, Goodall and Smith (2012) argue that it is no longer possible for heads to lead all aspects of their schools. They say,

Distributing leadership is essential not only to ensure that all leadership activities are handled competently but also so that the collective talents and experience of all SLT members are deployed to best effect. Heads need to find an appropriate balance between solo and distributed leadership.

It is perhaps more accurate to describe the role of a Head within the SLT as a whole and see it as shared Hybrid Leadership of inter-professional teamwork engaged in fluid roles and responsibilities.

No one has a monopoly on wisdom (Gronn, 2009) and hybrid leadership allows individuals to maximise their means of acquiring knowledge.

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