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7 Questions with Chris Townsend
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Chris Townsend
Name: Chris Townsend
Current title: Headmaster
Current organisation: Felsted School
Headmaster at Felsted School, having previously been Deputy Head. Also worked at Stowe and Dean Close. Read Classics at Oxford, and also lucky enough to play a bit of cricket while there. Married to Mel, with two children and two Irish Setters!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader in the education sector?
The last year has been really challenging, because of the lack of certainty, and the need to change plans on a daily basis. It is also hard to see that young people are finding it difficult to have so much time out of school, and the sooner we can get them all back on site, the better!
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I always try to do some reading first thing in the morning, and then after breakfast will try to see our borders at breakfast, or check on the arrival at school. Beyond that, no two days are the same. There are probably too many meetings, and I would prefer to spend more time out and about in the school than I sometimes manage. Evenings are often busy with a boarding school, but I enjoy sitting down to eat with the family when possible, or catching a bit of sport on TV when I can.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Good communication is always critical. Never assume that people understand your message until they can repeat it back to you. Also, trust your instinct. If you are not sure that what you are doing is right, take time to check again.
4. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet is an incredible example of using distributed leadership work, trusting in colleagues, and creating a successful culture. Although his role was in the US Navy, all the lessons that he learnt apply in schools, and I would recommend it to anyone as a really good read, and a great teaching tool.
5. How do you find and keep great leaders in the education sector?
Recognise their purpose and value them. The last year has seen the education sector receive quite a few knocks, and there is no doubt that this has impacted on school leaders. Education should be greatly valued and those who seek to lead in education do so because they want the very best for their students, so positive acknowledgement of this in media and official circles can only have a positive impact on the profession as a whole.
6. What's most important as a leader in the education sector for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
I have already mentioned good communication, but alongside that is good relationships, so that people will trust one another, and be confident to raise concerns and seek ways to improve. Also, recognising as a leader that you don't have all the answers yourself is crucial, and this will in turn empower others to have greater input in development and change, and increase their self worth.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader in the education sector so far?
When I was a young teacher, I received one of the best pieces of advice that I have ever had, and it has stuck with me through my career. Never take anything personally. Most times it isn't personal, and if it is, it is still better to think that it isn't! This helps when making tough decisions.
Another story comes from my first day in the office as Head, when a colleague came in and asked me a really tough HR question that I had no idea about. This assumption that a leader suddenly knows everything made me slightly anxious for a moment, but of course, it was a great lesson in having good people around you, and being prepared to ask their advice.