When the fire alarm sounds, adrenaline is released into your bloodstream, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and this could be one of your career-defining moments.

John Tomsett, a head teacher in York, regularly updates his blog with relevant and thought-provoking snippets that seem to resonate with many professionals.

Recently he’s been writing about eight major challenges for early career head teachers. In his second post, “Managing the fact that the buck stops with you“, he says:

Remember that every single challenge that you have faced until this point in your life, you have met. No matter what life has thrown at you, you are here now, you have endured. When we have an unexpected fire alarm I stand in the centre of the playground, as 1,700 people mass around me, and I tell myself that this too shall pass. It really helps. Especially if it is raining.

As a head of 19 years, I know that feeling well! We practise, normally once a term, and it’s orderly and quiet. Everyone knows what to do when the fire alarm sounds. As the head – ‘the buck stops with you’ – you feel reassured and proud that you are in complete control. You’ve kept everyone safe (your number one priority) – three year olds, those that were in the swimming pool, the parents in the workshop in the hall – standing quietly on the playground in the sunshine. 

You’ve even practised lockdown drills. These are a little more scary and you’re planning for something that, if it ever happened, would almost certainly not follow what you’ve prepared. 

Then there’s the unexpected fire alarm, as John uses as an example. That’s when it really tries you. What do you do? The alarm is sounding. You can see the doors opening and the orderly lines of children making their way to the muster points. The caretaker announces over the radio that the trigger is in Zone 6 in room 53. 

In that moment you don’t know if it’s a false alarm or a real fire. Has anyone been injured already, or is there any chance someone could be caught up in it? Forget the building – but you can’t. You hear the siren of the fire brigade in the distance and know that the main gate is open with a member of staff already waiting to guide them in.

Moments later, a voice on the radio confirms that everyone has been accounted for. Your sense of relief is evident as you get over that first hurdle. Then the news you’ve been waiting for – “Someone’s pressed the call point. Everything’s fine”.

The fire brigade check it out and you apologise for calling them out. You know you’ve now got to investigate what happened and run some lessons on safety and why it’s not OK to set off the alarm.

But it’s over. They can return to their lessons, their workshop and their swimming. John says, it will pass – and it does.