Why the SBL and head teacher relationship matters

By Helen Burge, SBL and Lisa Dadds, head teacher at ST Annes Primary School

Think Batman & Robin, Danger Mouse & Penfold and maybe even Ant & Dec in their Byker Grove days. Sometimes even like Ross & Rachel when they were not on a break. For us working together as a Headteacher and SBL is really like being part of a double act. It isn’t always easy and we by no means agree on everything but sometimes it is uncanny how we are both thinking along the same lines. Even writing this blog with us both blurting out similar ideas at the same time has demonstrated this.  We trust each other completely.

All relationships in school are special and important. They seldom happen by accident and they all need nurturing to sustain them and enable them to flourish. The relationship between the SBL and the HT is no different and nourishing a positive working relationship is invaluable to the success of the school. To put this into context, Lisa started as the Headteacher at St Anne’s in April 2014 and appointed Helen in September 2014. It was Lisa’s first headship and Helen’s first all year round SBL post. Our initial challenge was the creation of a brand-new building to become a dual- campus school in January 2015, while developing our existing 150-year-old school. This project involved attending lots of site meetings, which initially made us feel completely out of our depth. During this time our trust in each other grew as we recognised that we both needed each other’s expertise and knowledge in order to make this new version of St Anne’s successful. This trust has just grown and grown since.

Over the last four years we have opened a new Nursery, established our own internal catering, continued to grow our new campus and over the last year we have supported a school in special measures while becoming part of a MAT.  This has been incredibly challenging and fortunately any down times for either of us have not coincided…yet! We are perceptive to each other’s moods and only once has Lisa banished Helen to our other campus, so that she could grump on her own! On occasions the fact that Helen works all year round and Lisa doesn’t (well not officially) can be a challenge. We have to respect each other’s family time even when we are bursting with a new idea that we want to share.  This is hard and we are trying to get better at this.

Being part of this amazing relationship is not exclusive. Our team has grown from 36 staff and 210 children in September 2014 on one campus to 70 staff and 343 children across two campuses, plus a 68 setting Nursery. Developing all relationships has been imperative and we have both had to learn to delegate, demonstrating our trust in others.  

We have different leadership predispositions according to our Leadership Matters Persona results, and they complement each other.  According to Nigel Risner, Lisa would most definitely be a monkey and Helen is generally more of an elephant - or in Winnie the Pooh terms, Lisa is Tigger and Helen is Owl.  We value each other’s ways of working with a good dose of happy banter along the way, which significantly increases by Friday evening.  By then we can relate everything to a scene from Friends while eating chocolate buttons.  During the rest of the week we do have quality strategic conversations. We both look at school life from a different perspective. Lisa is a teacher and Helen is a bit like Chandler as no one really knows what she does but is also like Ross as she is a bit fixated not with dinosaurs but with Health & Safety! Luckily she also truly understands finances and we both always focus upon what will really make a difference to our children, staff and community both now and in the future. Our vision is the same.

Overall we believe the secret to a successful HT/SBL working relationship is based on trust, admiration and appreciation of diverse skills and the importance of a shared vision. We don’t try to do each other’s jobs, in fact we enable each other to do our own jobs better.  That way…everybody benefits.