The role of headteacher is complex and ever-changing.
A year ago, we’d never heard of lateral flow tests and remote education systems, yet here we are delivering them and dealing with the associated concerns. Dealing with the daily issues that crop up is a large part of the job but I realised that the same types of problems were popping up persistently which sapped my energy and enthusiasm. “Why is this happening again?”, I’d wonder. Here’s what I did to help manage two of my persistent issues.
Effective communication is challenging with part-time workers, staff absence and people who won’t read their email. Sometimes there are staff and parents who manipulate the communication issue so they can follow their own agenda instead– the old “well, no one told me” defence. I’ve attacked the communication issue with a multi-platform approach.
A good email system linked to your school information management system is a must. No one is ever missed out – parents and carers, governors, volunteers, teachers, kitchen staff, caretakers, volunteers etc all sit in your system in neat contact groups. I layer up my communication using our school website app and a social media blast. I use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook but only need to make one post which is shared across the sites using a social media platform manager. It’s a great time saver and well worth the small monthly cost.
Social bubbles have made face-to-face communication with school staff difficult. Our staff meeting now happens via Microsoft Teams. Using the record feature and writing the minutes in the Posts section means that anyone not able to be present at the time can catch up later. We’ve also now got an Online Staffroom in Teams. Staff were feeling isolated in their classrooms, missing the professional support from colleagues in staffroom conversations. Having an online place for this does not replace that personal experience but it’s a step in the right direction. The Online Staffroom has a Staff Hub feature. This is where I put the weekly diary of what’s to come, reminders and notices for staff. We’ve got it set up to appear when staff open an internet browser in school.
This layered approach for staff, parents and governors means “I wasn’t told!” just doesn’t wash anymore.
Maintaining your culture
A shared set of beliefs and values is a critical feature to a successful school. However, without sustainability measures in place culture can be lost from staff turnover or as new initiatives come about. Learning walks used to expose many issues around culture for me. I spent too much time unpicking issues with individuals so I made building a sustainable culture a leadership focus in my school development plan. I’ve developed a three-part strategy that helps considerably.
- Create a document on school culture. This takes the most essential parts of our policies and procedures and values, putting them in an easy-to-read document. After a couple of years, I got a designer to make it into a booklet to give it more status. But it’s no good just handing them out. You have to invest time throughout the year to revisit the culture document or else it becomes just another initiative that fades away.
- Better Induction Programme. The culture document features heavily in this, making sure that new staff understand its gravitas. There is a schedule for check-ins with leaders throughout their first year in school. Each check-in point has an agenda to assure the culture and other essential matters are revisited.
- Checking your Decision Making. It’s easy to become seduced by the next big thing or someone else’s enthusiasm for a project but being swayed off course can dilute your culture. I developed a mantra, something I say to myself and staff in decision-making processes – “Does this sound like us? Is this the sort of thing we’d do?”. It’s a very simple but effective tool for sense- checking our thinking and making sure we put culture at the heart of what we do in school.
We can’t plan for every scenario that may occur in our attempts to prevent persistent problems - we’re all only human after all - but a few good, simple systems can make lighter work of recurring issues.
Emma Meadus, headteacher Coppice Valley Primary School, Harrogate.