This terminology comes from a study of a commercial company by Binney, Wilke & Williams in 2005. Given the commercialisation of some aspects of the education system it may be more relevant than ever. They state that leaders will have periods when they feel they are surfing, others when they seem to be sinking and periods when they are swimming along fine.
I think a lot of this comes down to confidence, and more importantly gained this confidence through experience – often in my case the experience of making mistakes!
The thing about surfing is sometimes the waves can be unpredictable and send you under. A nice metaphor for the changing tides of education policy and nicely links to a period were I found myself sinking – a time of large amounts of change. To carry on the analogy multiple waves of difficult situations rolled in a couple of years ago when I was managing KS4.
Changes of leadership and changing focus of the school, on reflection none of these added any value to our provision or even professionally. They were for the most part a cause of stress for all. It was this period I could have really done with undertaking the NPQML/NPQSL. Of having a clear idea and a clear (and appropriate) vision to follow.
It took the arrival of a new strong and confident head to enable me to move to swimming again. The most effective change he implemented was clarifying the roles of senior staff, carefully allocating areas of responsibility.
One of the most rewarding parts of my role is delivering training to a number of schools in Kent and leading a team of staff from other schools. I was supported by the Deputy head of another school initially as I doggy paddled around. However I am now confident I am surfing on my “PBS board” quite happily.
As is the way in leadership you cannot just ride one board you sometimes have to switch boards as the waves roll in. My teaching board is shorter and easier to do tricks on but needs constant attention. I fall of this one sometimes and have to swim to retrieve it. This is especially true when I have phone calls requiring my attention switch to another board – maybe the “safeguarding board” or the “behaviour issue” board.
One of the real challenges of school leadership is swapping between the many roles you undertake. I believe the more involved in the day to day teaching you are, the more effective a leader you are, but also the more of a challenge you face staying on the board.