At the start of the new year it’s always sensible to map out your calendar in advance with the main events and key dates that you know will happen. Most of those will already be on your school calendar – term dates, parents evenings, the school show – but whilst you’re there, why not block out some time for the inevitable must-haves in any school leader’s year?
Write off the whole of the first week; you won’t get anything done. Set at least one day aside for the email influx. Even if you’ve been uber-efficient and kept on top of your emails over the summer, you’ll be the only one who has. Come 8.30am on the first day back, Uncle Tom Cobley and all will be sending you requests for everything from pay rises to time off.
Appraisal season. Expect to see a distinct upping of games across all sectors of the school community this month, as appraisees attempt to impress appraisers into approving their pay progression. If you want to get tough staff policies pushed through then October is the month to plan it, as only the most foolhardy or peri-pensionable will want to challenge the system at this point in the year.
Pencil in some time to have a conversation with a yet-to-be-named member of staff regarding appropriate festive activities for students. That said, if you already know who it’s going to be, you might as well book them in now.
Diarize a snow day in late January. It doesn’t matter which day you pick – doing this means you’ll have one free to pick up on all the stuff you didn’t do on the actual snow day when it comes.
Jitters month. Everyone feels a bit wobbly in February. It might have something to do with the combination of short days, exam deadlines and next year’s budget figures, but whatever the reason, all schools hit the doldrums by the Feb half term. Prepare for the tantrums and tears by planning in some time for positivity, because one way or another, it’ll be emotional…
Revision madness sets in as SATs season approaches. Write some blank spaces into your diary so that you’ll be around to catch the wobbly ones – both students and staff. Also schedule in some time to be actively available for your school community. It might be one of your busiest times of year, but this is when they’ll really need you.
Pencil in time to have some fun and lighten the mood. Make it clear to staff that late spring/early summer can be about joy and celebration – not just worries about what the year’s SATs scores will say.
Make time to review and reflect on the year just gone. As well as reviewing your development plans and your team’s action logs, commit to meeting with every single member of staff, asking them how they’re doing and finding out about their highlights and lowlights of the year.
Your time is precious, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t mean spending all of each day chained to your desk or in meetings. This coming year, make a conscious choice to invest time in your staff, your students and yourself. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to be at the front of the line, setting a clear direction as you set off on your collective journey. Remember – if your teams can’t see you, how can they follow your lead?
Hilary Goldsmith is a school business leadership consultant.