Before I start, you should probably know this is not a post about actual work-life balance. I will not be telling you about some wonderful new existence I have found this year, allowing me to be Headteacher and father of the year. The way I have managed my workload has not miraculously allowed me to run a successful school and indulge my lifelong passion of building full scale Viking longboats at the weekend. This will also not be a post about how work-life balance is a myth and if you’re not constantly planning, teaching, marking, assessing, reviewing, targeting, blogging or endlessly tweeting some sort of edu-babble then you’re not a proper teacher.
No, this is not one of those blog posts.
This is a post all about school.
This is a post about a Head’s school work-life balance. As in, the balance between engaging with school work and engaging with school life. These two things are not the same. And in my brief career as a Head, I have predominantly focussed on the former: my school work.
By this I mean doing very important headship stuff. The thing is, very important headship stuff often does not require you to leave your office. I can evaluate my school’s effectiveness from my desktop. All I need is data, senior leaders’ monitoring notes, behaviour logs, teachers’ plans and pupils’ books and I can not only tell which way the wind is blowing but in which direction we need to set sail. Once this is done I can busy myself with all manner of external expectations that need attending to. SEF writing, SDP planning, local authority core visit preparing, HMI monitoring visit planning, audits, updates, the list (believe me) goes on.
Occasionally I do have to actually leave my office: conduct a walkthrough, observe a lesson, go to the toilet, do an assembly, have a meeting in a different room. Sometimes, I even have to leave the school to go to meetings. And when at these meetings I spout accurate and insightful descriptions of the state of my school.
There are other times when you have to spring into action! An urgent call to arms is issued and you stride forward. You deal with a crisis. You come to the rescue. Occasionally you make things worse, but on the whole, you do some good and everybody is reminded that you’re the Head for a reason.
This is all incredibly important stuff and this is all school work for a Head.
What you realise, after a while, is that it’s all work and no life. It’s as if the brain is deaf to the beat of the heart. You know how your school works but you’ve forgotten what makes it tick.
Now, normally, at these times, Heads will go crazy. They’ll suddenly outline to the staff some ineptly thought out, incredibly trendy idea that they alone are going to map out across the school. They’ll decree that this is the future and that soon, the school will have turned a corner. They normally keep it up for about a fortnight. After that, the combination of being so actively ‘present’ around the school has taken its toll and the paperwork starts piling up in the office. They quickly retreat back into their cave and start writing a head’s report until their blood pressure goes back to normal.
I have decided that I don’t want to do that. So I’m going for a subtler approach. I’m just going to get out more. I’m going to teach every class once a term. Now when I say teach, I mean a half an hour activity based around a set of ideals that are important to my school. I’m not going to say what exactly, because you’ll accuse me of being in denial and that it sounds like an ineptly thought out trendy idea.
The point is, I’m going back into the classroom at a pace that I can cope with. I’ll experience behaviour management up close and personal, I’ll notice things about the children that I’ll be able to chat to the teachers about. It will make me understand the job they have this year better. I am in no way expecting them to learn anything from me! (I’ll get that out the way now, so you can lower that raised eyebrow straight away) But it will provide me with a greater context through which to support and challenge the teachers throughout the year.
It will also mean I get to know the children better in a different professional capacity. They only know me as the Head who either bores them in assembly, tells them off when they’re naughty, calms them down when they’re upset, fixes things when they go wrong or makes them laugh because I’m bored! They’re now going to know me as a…’teacher’ seems too strong a word but I suppose I hope they’ll see me as someone who can teach, a bit.
I honestly think this will help my school. Not because the concept behind me going back into classrooms is going to revolutionise what we do, but because it’s going to get me back doing a bit of planning, creating a few resources, thinking about differentiation. In short…stop me from being just a Head.
I love the school work of a Head but it’s time I enjoyed a bit of the school life as well.
Oh, a few details regarding the opening paragraph that I should probably clear up. I couldn’t win father of the year because I have no children and I don’t even know what a Viking longboat is. Sorry.
You seem like a decent chap. I believe one of the main problems today is managements creating policies (eg marking policies) which they themselves don’t have to implement because they have few or no classes. I don’t know you but you don’t seem to have the arrogance of some management. I wish you well.
Your job is a truly hard job. So many plates to spin and crowds to please. But you know that- and you also know what matters. I wish you led my children’s school ( as they have a robot at the helm)
Great idea. In response to what would ‘make things better’, I suggested start by checking the absolute necessity of every new demand, however small it seemed to be. Teaching is a little like water torture.
I was a HT in a school with a class of my own. When I had a wild idea in the car driving to school I would remember that I’d have to implement it my class too so that would cause me think again (sometimes)!
As an observer I am in awe of the balancing act (I do not in anyway belittle) demands on the role of a Headteacher (primary or secondary). I’ve seen it first hand 10yrs ago when my husband was a Head and we would share some of our daily experiences over dinner – ok he’s a pretty effective and disciplined delegator and was surrounded by an excellent support team but had his “one of those days” moments. More recently, as marketing manager responsible for two British overseas schools I see it, not only in ours but other schools I’m connected with.
I’m interested to follow the progress of your work-life balance to see how it develops. Will you be writing updates – if time permits, I think you should?
As they say in the cycling world, “Chapeau!” Nothing better than keeping a finger in the teaching world, it works wonders both ways.
Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.