Meetings, reports, self-evaluation, budgeting, data analysis – an endless list we’re all familiar with. As a school leader, it would be easy to spend all your waking hours working through the multitude of tasks involved in running a school.
But there’s another set of recognisable tasks that can consume entire days – school and nursery drop-offs and pick ups, mountains of laundry, food preparation, homework supervision, cleaning and tidying up…
As a deputy headteacher married to a headteacher, with three children under the age of five, I regularly find myself reflecting on how to balance leadership and parenthood.
There are many theories and articles highlighting the power of believing in one’s own potential, such as Maslow’s theory of self actualisation and Carol Dweck’s growth mindsets, but how can school leaders who are also parents successfully manage the juggling act?
Lean on your networks
As the African proverb reminds us, it takes a village to raise a child. Building and maintaining a support network can help keep you afloat, whether that be grandparents helping with occasional childcare, selecting a childcare provider you trust and putting your wholehearted faith in them, leaning on friends and family, or using virtual networks and social media when face to face contact just isn’t possible.
As your mental load expands, lists can become crucial when dealing with administrative essentials such as scheduling appointments and keeping up with communications from your children’s school or nursery, while also maintaining pace with your own school priorities and professional development.
It can be helpful to identify some items as ‘non-negotiables’ for completion and consider the others as ‘aspirational’, thereby alleviating some pressure and building in a greater sense of accomplishment.
Go with the flow
It’s exhausting trying to maintain all elements of work and home life at a consistent level of ‘perfection’. A more sustainable outlook would be to concede that there will be times when the balance shifts towards work – for example, when late meetings or deadlines are looming – and other occasions when home life must take precedence, such as when your child is unwell.
Learning to adopt a more flexible approach without associated feelings of guilt will take discipline, but ultimately allow you to focus on your most urgent priorities.
- Use those odd moments of peace and quiet to keep up to date with reading or make a start on tasks that can be completed later. Make notes as you go on a phone or tablet to make cumbersome undertakings more manageable.
- Find ways of lightening the load, such as batch cooking, having groceries delivered or occasionally employing a cleaner, that can enable you to eke out some valuable time.
- It’s important to find opportunities for slowing down and savouring special moments. Chat with your pupils in the playground during a stressful work day; switch off your emails at home and play with your baby to regain a vital sense of perspective. Reframing your mindset can help you deal with the many demands on your time.
- Identify strategies for switching off to prevent overload. A quiet drive, relaxing bath or refreshing walk could be all it takes to reinvigorate yourself.
Rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive roles, the wealth of experience and personal growth opportunities presented by parenthood can enhance your leadership skills and provide a deeper sense of meaning and fulfilment. In the words of Muhammad Ali, ‘Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.
Impossible is nothing.’ Farihah Anwar-Simmons is a deputy headteacher.