Controlling your day is often about controlling the interactions. People “need” you: to make decisions (mentor), reflect on their own situations (coach) or just feel that they have the ear of the authority figure (facilitate). These interactions are essential in our role as Heads/Principals, they are the engine of school progress, and people (colleagues or others) ought to feel that they can have quality time when in your presence.

A blog post from Brandon Johnson, encouraged thinking around the inevitable practicalities of headship: How do you spend your time? How do you do this “productively”? How can you be sure? Whilst this is not another blog post on productivity – there are acres of digital copy wasted on this – it is important in the leadership adventure that we can feel satisfied we are making progress and having a positive impact on our colleagues and the children most importantly.

Indeed, this maybe a longer project than merely a blog post, but that’s what this is all about, right? Reflection through a blog post leading to personal growth that will inevitably provide opportunity for others to reflect – as Brandon’s post enabled me to do. A distillation of thinking that focuses the mind in creative and interesting ways.

So, when everyone needs a piece of you, how do you ensure the most effective cutting of the cake that surely should leave a piece for you to enjoy in comfort, in your office, or in your puppy room…

“Schedule your priorities, don’t prioritise your schedule”. Get a grip of your diary. Whether you run it, your office manager or your personal assistant (or your sister, like George Ezra!), it is essential to ensure your week, half term, term, are well defined. Of all the filing, organising, do, dump, delegate guidance in David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the most influential for me has been “scheduling your priorities”. This will create the space we need to be the administrator and enable others to gain from your wisdom and soothing influence! If you have a governors report to write, it’s in the diary. Work scrutiny, meetings – with teams or individuals, visits from your governors, learning walks, all go into the diary. And well ahead of time. No surprises and plenty of preparation time.

Yes, preparation time. If I’ve learned anything in 11 years of headship, it’s focus on time to prepare. You can invoke the “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” mantra or the Army’s 7Ps if you wish, but we all understand that knowing at least something of what we are meant to be doing or saying in upcoming meetings is rather essential. Often this falls into late working days, takes up our nights or spills into our weekends. However, to lay claim properly to our well-being, please plan preparation time into your diary.

Open door time. Whether it’s you in your office (or puppy room), or you camp out around the school, in the library or other open space; whether you are on informal learning walks or wandering off into the playground, plan time to be available. This is crucial, as it helps to others to recognise that a) you desire the chance to communicate and b) at other times you have to knuckle down and get on with your own tasks. A reputation for openness, availability and lack of structure can lead you to a continual round of fire-fighting and doing the bidding of others. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, Heads who tend towards desk-jockeying bureaucracy will quickly find challenges with staff and parent moral. Be with the community but ensure they recognise the boundaries.

Be flexible. Fire alarm, playground accident, demanding parent or, heaven forbid, covering a lesson, you will encounter something that will put all of your wonderful plans out of kilter. Hey, ho! That is the nature of the job and we wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – be doing it if we couldn’t embrace the challenge and thrill (yes, exciting isn’t it, not knowing) of the vagaries of the school day. For this we cannot plan our way out (or in). For this we need some personal work in managing stress and anxiety. Develop skills in communication, reading people and managing conversations. Whether it’s coaching, mindfulness practice or NLP (or preferably all three), there are tools which support not only our own mental state, but the effective understanding of the state of others. And that will lead to some very positive relationships. Unless of course you have a puppy room!


Published by Neil Jones

Free School Principal, writing on leadership in schools. Education anorak, a fan of the learning potential in the social web and of Leyton Orient FC.

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1 Comment

  1. These are very useful reflections and advice, and relevant to busy lives outside of work too! Have you also reflected on how you can enable your team to follow your advice? How do you enable them to schedule their priorities and fit in their preparation time, rather than being ever at the mercy of your need for team flexibility? How do you enable their open door time – opportunities for children and colleagues to communicate with them more openly on a one-to-one basis? Difficult questions I know, but then leadership isn’t easy (especially without a puppy room)!

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