Looking after the jugglers 

I’ll start this blog with an apology. I am sorry to everyone for the way I was at the end of the summer term. I am sorry to the children who were brilliant to the end (and those year 6 children leaving are just awesome-and will be missed!) to the staff who never stop giving, caring, nurturing and pushing our school in to even bigger, more wonderful things,  to the lovely parents who just wanted to say thank you, goodbye and have a lovely summer, to the governors who keep a firm hand on our tiller and make this ship move in the direction it should. I am sorry to you all. I wasn’t myself.

We had OFSTED in the last week of term. Monday lunchtime call, Tuesday visit all day. This unexpected grenade into an already busy week of end of year/term stuff at the end of a year that has caused more stress and more problems than it should was a serious kaboom. Staff were as ever brilliant and did what needed to be done. Children were-as ever-awesome. I led the school through the inspection and out the other side and on to end of term bbqs, productions, assemblies, goodbyes until the Friday of that week. You really don’t know that your under stress until it’s too late. I was frazzled. I was stressed. I was run down by the relentlessness of the year and the explosive ending to it all. 

As school leaders we are the jugglers in the circus, the plate spinners-who, with relentless monitoring and careful encouragement keep all the balls in the air and the plates spinning. On the Friday the tiredness of everything took over. There wasn’t one straw that broke this camel, there were a few bits-things so small that individually they are not worth mentioning, but on that Friday all my plates, juggling balls and even the big top came down. A parent chose to use the end of term to “forcefully” put me in my place, the admin team needed some things doing before the end of term, there were other bits-you know, the usual pressure things-it would have been fine any other time…..but strangely not this time. I ended up locking myself in the toilet to get a breather. It had all become too much

Staff saw me upset-something I try not to show as a leader, they were lovely-that made it worse in a way. The response from the admin team was rightly upset with me-I own my reactions- I responded badly-it was not great. Everything ended and we all went our separate ways. I spent the summer break upset with myself and stressed-then started to think about how I can make this job manageable. The pressure on being the leader that you want to be, the pressure that I certainly put upon myself-let alone the external pressures from everything around you push and pull you in directions that -for the most part-are not the direction the school or staff need to move in. These are the juggling balls, these are the plates-and I have realised that they cannot all be in the air at the same time. 

So what have I learned about myself and where my leadership must go-for me, my health and for the betterment of the school and staff? I don’t know of many successful leaders who aren’t reflective and haven’t experienced at least one “dark night of the soul”. I have to make changes. Here are my September New Years resolutions!

1. Ensure that my timetable is as important as every class timetable and there is time to actually do the work I have set out to do. To build in capacity for issues to arise-“things” are always going to crop up, parents will need appointments, there will be emergencies and decisions need to be made, the school needs the monitoring and guidance-but things can be done partly on our terms and there needs to be some control on how accessible a leader is to the needs of everyone else. I have found that being too accessible can lead you to be taken advantage of, but the trick is to not cheese people off by being too removed. Close but distant enough to be able to achieve what need to be done. 

2. Be honest with myself and others. Last term with the OFSTED added to an already over loaded term I should have taken a little time to be honest with those around me and told them that I was struggling and that I needed help. I do not expect anyone apart from another actual headteacher sat in the chair day to day to sympathise with the pressure and the stress element. There are more stressful jobs, but headship is up there I am sure. I can’t really explain the feelings of self doubt, pressure, dread and fear that go with the head’s chair. The art of the juggler is to put as many balls in the air as you feel comfortable with and put the others on the side until there is space to add them. Let others know that their ball will be up there with the others when you have chance to do so. Sometimes it’s ok to say no-just occasionally!

3. Remember that I am only human, but then, so is everyone else. Everyone carries their stresses and worries, so be careful how you tread. Treat others as you’d like to be treated, but don’t own everyone else’s problems and don’t get involved if it doesn’t require my involvement. Micro-management will kill me, the creativity and the natural growth of a school. As a beast it needs to grow and change-I can’t control everything. Shared responsibility with others and sharing the burden is crucial, but I am always mindful that I am ultimately responsible. I do however have a full point. We all do. I have spent the last few years of headship trying to keep the work load on my staff to a manageable level-in spite of growing demands placed upon those in the teaching profession and those battling the school business management.  I’d rather do things myself than give any more work to my already hardworking staff-but there comes a point. 

4. Set deadlines with others. A set end point for things to be completed by is vital to keep everything and everyone moving forward. The tricky bit is that everyone has different personal timescales. If as a school we agree the timescales and deadlines and we agree to hold ourselves and each other to them then we all know what’s coming up and when it is to be achieved by. This reduces the surprise bonus extra tasks that can push others over the edge. It enable leaders to spread the workload for all staff so that it all doesn’t come at the same time. This does require everyone to buy into a shared responsibility-when others miss a deadline it causes a knock on effect to others. 

5. Be healthy and well. I made myself ill-not the school, there’s no one else to blame for this apart from me, my passion, need, desire to do a good job and not be found out! After six weeks of rest and reflection (and yes, I have been into school in that time and done a few hours/days-but I have had some time away) I’m ready to go back. This time it took me all that time to get my head in the right place. Being a leader in a school does not mean that you are bullet proof. Take time to be away from school and with family and friends. Reenergise. I have been a headteacher for many years and I believe the pressure is at its worse right now. Now more than ever it is vital that there is some kind of balance. For me by the summer break it was too late. I had a realisation that for years that I had been trying to prove something to someone-in competition with all the other amazing heads and leaders in the county and on Twitter. There is always someone or a school somewhere that inspires and challenges you, but you can’t do everything. Be recognised for doing your own thing-your school must find its own mojo. In the meantime I will balance my work with the really important things-my own family, friends, gym, reading, music, trips, visits and catching up with those friends that mistakenly I have been too busy, too busy for or too focused on work for. 

I could list another few lessons learned this year, but 5 balls or plates in the air is enough for any blog. It has been cathartic to write it down, but the proof of the pudding will be in the implementing of a sensible and manageable work tempo that doesn’t upset others around me. Trust me-I’m juggling lots already, I’ll do what I can, but if I take on too much I will fall and then so will all the balls. Please don’t think of me as rude if I say no-occasionally. 

Have a great start to the term everyone and to all those jugglers out there-you are incredible, you are doing a great job, but don’t throw up too many more balls, make sure you can keep all those that you have in the air at the same time. 

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