Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

The Last Word

It isn't easy finding time to contemplate vision and standards where there are staff meetings, grumpy parents and errant students in white trainers to contend with.

Have you ever considered what lies at the heart of effective leadership? Of course you have. You know all about strategy, stakeholders and standards. Vision, value-added and vital information probably lie at the heart of your every working and waking day. If only daily school life didn't throw up so many obstacles...

With the dark days of January and February upon us, I arrive at work, unlock the office, fire up the laptop, wedge the door open for the open door policy that I aspire to maintain, and briefly ponder my input to the strategic direction and vision of the school.

It is of course still dark, and despite switching off the gloom I can't find my desk beneath the plethora of papers which yesterday's good intentions failed to deal with.

Naturally, the couple of grumpy parents I hailed with a cheery good morning in reception herald my first challenge of the day. But wait - a moment's reprieve. A member of staff interrupts before my coat has found its peg. The open door policy is thrown to the wind as I am drawn into a meaningful conversation about the inadequacy of my allocation to a particular budget heading.

How could I possibly have expected the standards thing to have been sorted without a greater generosity of spirit? Minutes pass, my smile never falters along with my steady gaze and attentively listening poise.

Two or three key points later, the teacher is on his way with a clearer sense of my values and their intransigence, along with an extra job he hadn't bargained for. How can I be expected to give a clear headed and rational response without a more fully costed proposal? Disappointment is temporarily postponed...

Mercifully my ever cheerful and resourceful personal assistant greets me with a cup of coffee. Time for a quick slurp before the staff meeting.

The disgruntled pair have also been soothed with cup of tea and are prepared to wait a full quarter of an hour before an audience.

I set off with purposeful stride, determined to lead by example and look really, really awake for a change. The briefing overruns, all staff are late for tutor time and I am 20 minutes beyond the wishes of two of our key stakeholders.

Undaunted, I usher them in and offer my best listening face. How could I possibly have made the decision to refuse to authorise their request for two of their offspring to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime, two-week Floridian break? Do I not realise the acutely educational value of Disney? Do I not realise that 88 per cent average attendance over the last 12 months is practically 93 per cent?

I realise a full five minutes has passed and I have not contributed to the discussion. Fleetingly I think of reaching for the research which provides evidence to correlate poor attendance with achievement, whatever the reasons. My calculator is poised and I am all but ready to offer a rapid exposition of percentages.

The strategy fails to emerge and I relent on the clear understanding that the pair will take their coursework and revision with them and absolutely all work will be caught up when they return. Oh yes! Of course it will.

Two satisfied customers leave with a smile. I am almost feeling smug about what a nice chap I am. I then remember the accountability I have for standards.

A chill wind blows for a second, rapidly dispelled by the second coffee of the day.

I glance over my shoulder at my groaning desk, but I don't have the heart to get started with all that just yet. Much more fun to 'go on the plod' to meet and greet students on their way to lessons.

I am determined to outweigh the negative with the positive and therefore resolve to admonish only two trainer wearers and confiscate but two items of jewellery this morning.

Isn't it wonderful how most teenagers play into your hands? My first two hapless victims ensure my tally of confiscated bling and overwhite footwear is sorted in one fell swoop.

A rapid circuit of the site later, I have shared the joy of many greetings, quips and smiles and I genuinely feel buoyed up for the trials of the rest of the day.

As I arrive back at the office I learn that the press have phoned because the caterers are overdoing the chips, my MP wants to meet the sixth form (today), the network is down and my school improvement partner is on the phone. Oh, and, would I like a cup of coffee before the drains are cleared outside my open window?

I dutifully gird my loins, consider which domains of effective leadership require instant and seemless deployment and get down to securing the school's future. Vision? There's always tomorrow. I may need glasses...

Allan Foulds is headteacher Droitwich Spa High School.

The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you would like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk We do offer a modest honorarium.

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