Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Serving up timely advice

Spinning plates

Q Every morning, I sit down to a stack of papers that must be dealt with and a to-do list with my priorities for the day. Every evening when I leave, although I feel I've been run ragged all day, the pile on my desk is bigger and nothing is crossed off my list. There just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day and my colleagues tell me they feel the same. Any ideas for helping us keep our sanity?

A You are certainly not alone. One reason work piles up is frequent disruptions during the working day. As a first step, be absolutely clear that teaching staff know what leadership team members do and don't do, so you and your colleagues are not presented with problems that can and should be solved by others.

There are still some schools in which teachers send for the deputy head for incidents in class or send pupils who are late to lessons to the head. Interruptions like this can scupper your best attempts at time management.

A consistent behaviour policy can do wonders for reducing interruptions and stress for senior staff. If this is established and communicated, with simple procedures and set tariffs for offences, everyone should know exactly what to do in most situations.

If the procedures are devised using a cross-curricular staff team to ensure maximum engagement, it is more likely that agreed sanctions will be applied consistently.

Non-teaching staff can play a major role in behaviour management and senior staff are not the only ones who can be 'on-call'.

There is no reason why others cannot volunteer for a slot on the rota - it increases credibility and empowers staff. If volunteer staff are prepared to be by their phones for a designated period each week, the leadership team is more freely available for back up.

Clear lines of responsibility can be established for parental contact and it is perfectly reasonable to insist on an appointment system - solicitors and doctors do. Parents should not expect the head or senior leaders, or other staff for that matter, to drop everything at their request. All staff have a job to do.

In an emergency, someone will have to be available but the process can be managed by non-teaching staff.

This does not mean you and your colleagues should be office-bound, far from it. By preventing issues from unnecessarily coming to senior staff, you can more easily identify the times and places within the school where your presence will help to prevent incidents and establish the sort of environment which is pleasant to work in.

The element of surprise when a senior leader turns up just when needed is invaluable in making for a calm workplace.

Just as everyone has a different idea of what constitutes an acceptable work-life balance, there is no easy ten-step guide to achieving it. But by having systems in place that give the senior team time to think and plan ahead rather than constantly fight fires, all staff and students should benefit.

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