One of my many aims for 2017 was to blog about my role as an Assistant Headteacher in a large Junior School in Exeter. Well I guess the problem with this aim was as many of you find that are leaders in schools, there just doesn’t seem to be the time. Well I’m wrong about that one, because whether you are an NQT or Head, there are still the same number of hours in a day and if you want to achieve something then you have to find ways of making it happen. However I am not naïve to think that the barriers stopping me are challenging, hence why I am writing this reflection. Some will understand and appreciate every part of it, some will find it amusing, some will just say it’s another leader moaning about how hard their job is. You decide which category you fall into.
With all of the festivities I have decided to commentate on 12 parts to being a leader, mainly because at this time of year I love the song, The 12 Days of Christmas and also I think there are many parts when singing the song that just get quicker and quicker and you have more to remember – sound familiar leaders?
Day 1: Ofsted
As much as you tell your staff not to worry about it and try to keep them calm, we all know it is there just looking over our shoulder waiting to come crashing down. Well for my school this year when the call came it was quite a comical moment! Naturally there is never a good time, but ours was great. Back in late June, my Head was off ill, I was on a Planning Day and the Business Manager who took the call thought it was a joke. My wonderful Office Wife @clmckimm who is the other Assistant Head came into the Meeting Room and with a very stern look on her face said ‘Jamie, I need you now’ The short walk to our office had all sorts of thoughts racing through my mind, major injury, major behaviour, parent problem, but not ‘They’re coming tomorrow!’
We know what our schools strengths are and what we are continuing to work on, so no need to panic. Year 4 were not due back until 5.00 (they were in Bath – damn those Romans!), the Head got off his sick bed and everybody just remained calm. Well of course as a leader you have to remain calm – don’t you? If you’re waiting the best advice I can give is to constantly reassure your staff and make sure all of the stakeholders know everything they need to about the school, you can’t tell them overnight and expect them to remember.
On the day it really was just the Head, myself and Claire, a bit of a wander round, popping into lessons, a brief look at 2 books and then an afternoon on data. Safeguarding was the first part and it is something that you can’t take short cuts with and so we breezed through that. We must have got something right as an SLT, because one member of staff commented ‘It’s as if Ofsted weren’t even in school, it made no difference to me’
Ofsted is always a challenge and one that hangs over you constantly, know your school, know your staff, know you children and know what you need to do next. Try not to worry but be prepared and remember do what is right for your children, not what other schools may tell you, or every scary story you read on line.
Day 2: Staff Absence
Ok so these are not in any particular order, but one of my roles is dealing with staff absence. When somebody is ill, we have a procedure in place that people call be by 7.15am or the night before. It’s just one of those many unseen jobs that SLT do. There I am getting ready, thinking about my own lessons, saying goodbye to my family and then suddenly it’s a call to the supply agency, communication with others in the year group to try to get them to help. Then an hour or so later the children have a teacher, the work is ready for the day and it just happens.
At my school we are fortunate that absence levels are relatively low, there are always peak times when the illness spreads around, but it is the return to work meetings and then dealing with additional meetings if triggers have mean met that takes its toll and time to organise. They can’t be left, it’s an important part of accountability and people understanding that they may be great at their job, but they’re only great when they’re in school working.
Day 3: After School Events
Productions, Music Concerts, Governor Meetings, PTA events to name just a few, are all incredibly important events in the life of a child at school. How hard is it to have that happy smiley face at 7.00pm, when discussing water bill with Governors, or listening to the same songs in the show that you have heard practised every day for the last month. These are the events that we as leaders have to be very careful with. They can seriously take their toll and for me that’s when the aches and the pains kick in. Then of course it’s in as normally the following day and if nothing has happened. However the emotional challenge is always there – it’s the children and these are great events.
Day 4: Everybody Needs You
‘I’ve got Jimmy who is being rude to me and never has their reading book, SLT are just sat in their offices’ Now I hope this isn’t the case at my school, we try to be as visible to the children both in classrooms and playgrounds. Being around and about at lunchtimes for up to 90 minutes each day can be very demanding, but consider what happens in your lunchtimes and how often problems get brought to you by MTAs. What if you were out there, chatting to and playing games with the children? Would you have less problems?
Never lose sight of the challenges facing teachers in their classrooms, particularly if you haven’t taught for a while. A big challenge for me is balancing the role of Assistant Head with teaching my Year 6 class, but hopefully this keeps me close to the chalk face. You can be an easy target for teachers at stressful times, but again it can be the little things you do that often go unnoticed that can help ensure things run smoothly.
Day 5: How many children’s names do you know?
For me the answer is all of them. For me in reality I find this really hard. I have 3 days a week when I talk to 360 of them and the other 2 days it’s mainly my class or the other children in year 6. I am constantly impressed by my Head, who seems to know them all. I tend to play games with them, whilst trying to guess, it hides my ignorance. However when you remember a name in front of their parent, particular new ones, there are really brownie points to be earned.
Day 6: Data
Ok, I am going to keep this one short. How complicated can data be? Tables, graphs, graphs, tables, you don’t need to know them all. Share with your staff what they need to know, don’t bore them with numbers you don’t even understand. Ask your self this. Does our data collection, show what we need to know? If so use it to improve teaching and learning, if not don’t collect it.
Top tip is to look out for the time of term when you are most tired, because that is when the Government sneak out data facts and figures or really important new initiatives. How joyous to be able to compare your school to everyone in the country just 2 days before the end of term this week. Thank you to the BBC website who mean that parents can do this too. Happy Christmas all!
Day 7: Building relationships with staff
When I first took on my role several years ago this was one of the biggest challenges. I went from somebody in the staffroom to someone holding my friends to account over their performance. SLT have to make sure that they don’t distance themselves from those who they need to succeed if their plans are to work out. I think at our school we try to go further and over many years we have developed a family atmosphere where everybody pulls together for each other, noticeably during Ofsted as I mentioned earlier. We don’t have a huge turnover of staff, positives and negatives to that I know, but people seem to like working there and so we must be getting something right. We also try hard to integrate new staff and give them the same chances we have had and probably better. Remember all those statistics about teachers dropping out, well it’s our jobs to make them see that their dream job is worth sticking around for. If you’ve got teachers finding it tough, build those relationships and question whether you as a member of SLT are doing all you can or are you missing something.
Day 8: Budgets
Like all schools budgets are a continued challenge facing leaders. We all want to be creative, stimulate staff and challenge ourselves to be the best that we can. However budgets in schools are being cut left right and centre, regardless of what the government tell the country. We do everything we can to protect staff and children from the cutbacks, but I can honestly say it has really taken grip this past term. It is the sort of thing that does leave you awake at night. You’re trying to plan for the next generation on a shoe string, whilst having people’s careers weighing on your shoulders. It shouldn’t be this way, but I’m not sure it’s getting any better soon. Fairer Funding Formula – not sure what is fairer about spending more money on some children than others!
Day 9: Meetings
I hate the days where it is one meeting after another, I try to avoid this happening but it’s these days where you have to listen and give everybody their piece of your time. My head can literally be spinning at the end of the day. At least on these days you have a plan, the challenges are often more when somebody knocks on your door and asks ‘for a quick word’ I feel honoured that people often confide in me and all I can try to do is listen, respect and try to offer advice. Sometimes it’s on a personal level, other times it’s a disagreement over a school policy and others times – well it could be anything. So if you feel bogged down with meetings my advice is simple, go into a classroom or out at break and remember why you do it.
Day 10: Parents
If I could write down the many different discussions I have had with parents over the years it would be a novel not a blog and so this one is all about advice that I have heard and try to follow. Whilst you would love to think that every time a parent walks towards you it will be to say something positive, we know that that is rarely the case – perhaps that’s human nature? When was the last time you thought about saying well done, rather than having a moan?
I’ve heard my excellent job share @sportrelief2018 and my Head @Exe_Head say to parents this term ‘You have to trust us’ How right they are? Would you say to a surgeon I’m not sure I agree with how you are doing that? We have spent years getting to where we are as leaders and actually we do know best. It’s ok to have a different opinion from parents and ultimately if they disagree they will choose a different school for their little ones. It is really important to make parents feel welcome to express their opinions and have their questions answered. We encourage parents to talk to us as leaders and teachers. Don’t isolate this key group just because they can cause you the greatest problems.
Day 11: School Improvement Plan
You have to plan ahead and have a clear vision as a leader. Don’t wait and react or you’ll end up with it being done to you, rather than you wanting to do it because it is right for your school. We have simplified ours hugely over the past couple of years. The front cover is a simple collection of boxes with statements linked to our vision and values. Don’t reinvent something that is already in place. Yes we do have action plans linked to the boxes, but it has made less work and much more easy for staff to revisit. Do your staff get given it at the start of the year and never look at it again? What’s the point in all that hard work that you’ve put in?
Day 12: Well-Being
My final thing is something that I feel very strongly about. Nobody that knows me will know how much my body has hurt over the last few years. Well that’s it they do now, if they are reading this. I don’t want sympathy, I have a great job, which I love and it’s me that needs to take care of my well-being. As a school we have put well-being at the heart of our School Improvement Plan and will we ever get there? I don’t know, but you need to listen to little comments made to know whether it’s working. Don’t think it is everyone walking around with a smile on their face.
Anyway back to me. What have I tried? Exercise is really important and I have to thank my wife (also a teacher) for something she said a couple of years back. At this time of year you get all of the fitness video’s, particularly Davina! Well thanks Davina, because you said about everybody finding 10 minutes a day to exercise. Do you know, I think she I right! Are you seriously telling me that if you want to get started and improve your well-being, you can not find 10 minutes (600 seconds) a day to improve the way you feel? Just ponder that.
It’s a tough job, bur sometimes we make it tougher as leaders. Do what needs doing, not what you think everybody else thinks you should be doing.
Well that’s my take on leadership and it’s link to The 12 Days of Christmas. For me there is one part of the song that sums it up. Imagine you’ve plodded your way through the whole song and got to the twelfth day. You then know you’re on the final stretch as the song reaches it’s conclusion. Then you get to the slowed down part – 5 Gold Rings and then it speeds back up to an exhausting conclusion. Perhaps when you think about this song with your children next year, you’ll think about your own style of leadership and also what you can do to enjoy it as much as you can.