Follow the leader: Suzie Longstaff

A series in which we quiz four successful headteachers about their leadership journeys. First up, the Headmistress of Putney High School GDST

Suzie Longstaff has held the reins at Putney High School since September 2015. Her previous life was something very different – but it has helped to guide her in her current incarnation. 

“Before working in education I was lucky enough to have a successful rowing career that led me to coxing the GB Women’s VIII at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, as well as the Cambridge Men’s ‘reserve’ crew, Goldie, in two Boat Races,” revealed Suzie. “And there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t bring the leadership skills I learnt from coxing to this role.”

For Suzie, working at the helm of a large, prestigious independent school can be likened to other demanding senior positions where women are now proving themselves at the highest level. “Today, women like Commissioners Cressida Dick (Metropolitan Police) and Dany Cotton (London Fire Brigade) hold very senior positions in worlds that are not traditionally female – and they are doing a grand job. Teaching is an equally tough but rewarding profession. Running a school takes common sense, hard work and humanity – but, like all leadership roles, it also requires resilience, commitment and the ability to listen.” 

Successful leadership, Suzie believes, starts with good teamwork. “Developing a strong team requires patience, commitment and time. And, as no two days are the same, a healthy sense of humour comes in handy! A great deal of grit goes a long way too, and I have been hugely inspired by women like Dame Katherine Grainger (Chair of UK Sport – and our most successful Olympian), who have proved that resilience and teamwork are key skills in sport and beyond.” 

Suzie has worked to ensure that the girls at Putney have opportunities to hone their own leadership skills. “Opportunities for leadership are many and varied at Putney, and there are many ways to stand up and stand out, from the democratically elected School Council to the Head Girl Team, House Captains, and a well-developed coaching and peer mediation programme where older girls coach younger years in a variety of subjects. An active co-curricular programme exists across sport, music and drama, allowing students to practise both leadership and team skills for the future.” 

“Key skills like intellectual agility, collaboration and resourcefulness can be taught: Putney recently hosted its first Entrepreneur in Residence as part of its commitment to developing the inspiring leaders of the future,” added Suzie. 

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