It was my first day in the job as an SBM, and the other senior leaders were listing the areas of the school I’d be accountable for. Finance, human resources, recruitment, marketing, premises, extended services, lunchtime arrangements, service level agreements, health and safety – basically everything, aside from teaching the children. I took a deep breath and wondered how I was going to manage and cope with it all…
Whilst most will agree that there need to be some targets and monitoring in place if standards are to be raised, it’s possible for teams to be put under massive amounts of pressure to demonstrate that they’re delivering on key objectives. When a school is being affected by financial issues, it’s often back office staff who’ll be the first to see reductions in staffing and an increase in their workload.
Many will quietly continue to work through it all, without talking about the growing pressures and tiredness they’re having to contend with. It’s only when small mistakes get made that the truth will start to emerge – flawed processing of finance journals by staff who’ve never had problems before, incorrect dates on letters, daily tasks getting forgotten.
So how should we deal with such pressures? As an SBM, you need to understand what your governors or MAT leaders expect from you. If you know what their expectations are, you can work on delivering them. There should be a negotiation aimed at striking a balance between what they want and what you can achieve within realistic timelines. My tip is to display an A3 wall planner in your office with your dates and tasks clearly marked for all to see.
Another way of managing pressure is to plan ahead and focus on dealing with one area at a time. It’s easier said than done, but try to set aside different days for focusing on various key areas. You might give yourself a ‘Facilities Friday’, a ‘Marketing Monday’, a ‘Where’s all the money gone?’ Wednesday… By focusing on a series of distinct areas, you’ll soon find yourself ticking off major items on your to-do list and becoming more productive as a result.
Share the responsibility you have. Develop and invest in the skills of your team so that they can shoulder some of the workload – delegating lower level tasks will allow you to focus on those tasks that make the biggest difference. Sit down and discuss with your team what type of duties they’d most like to do. After all, everyone will want to develop within their role and contribute towards making a change within the setting.
Be sure to talk regularly with your network of friends and fellow leaders, since a problem shared is often a problem solved. Sadly, doing this can often be seen in wider society these days as a sign of weakness, especially for men, but it’s one of the best ways there is of de-stressing. Arrange a meeting, or go for an informal coffee and discuss with someone what you’re feeling.
Finally, take some downtime. There might be lot of pressure on you, but your own welfare is important. Take up a hobby – anything that will enable you to forget about the job for a while. In my own setting, our admin team collectively took up running and now regularly head out together for a stress-busting 5km. In six months we’ve covered 1000 miles – that’s some stress-busting right there…
Philip Burton is business manager at Hallbrook Primary School in Broughton Astley, Leicestershire.