The official guidance concerning maternity and paternity rights might be fairly clear-cut, but when it comes to navigating those interpersonal grey areas, here’s what a supportive leadership should do to make things better for the staff concerned, and what to avoid at all costs.
When it comes to supporting expectant parents on your staff team, it really is a case of approaching each person as an individual. The best starting place is an open and frank conversation with the person in question. It is easier said than done, but try to put aside any assumptions that you may have about their future and ask them how they feel about having a break from work, what their plans are and how regularly the would like to keep in touch throughout the time off. Be explicit that their parental leave is their time and the school will take its lead from them.
It’s their choice
Remember, well meaning comments about a new parent’s ‘changing priorities’, can make assumptions about a person’s career choice that, when made incorrectly, may limit their ability to progress in their career. Similarly, while one person may consider the idea of hearing about school during leave incredible stressful, there are also many teachers who feel reluctant to leave that side of their identity to one side and may relish the chance to keep in touch. You need to make clear that that choice is up to them with no guilt or judgement either way from the school. The information you gather from this conversation should form the basis of your approach across their leave but also be revisited over time.
There is no obligation from either side to use Keeping In Touch (KIT) days but they can be an ideal way to ease teachers back in during a period of leave. Be creative and flexible around their use; they could be used in a wide range of ways including planning and preparation which could be completed either on site or from home. They could also be used for CPD - especially in cases where policy and practice have changed significantly during the leave period. KIT days could also be used for teachers to ease back into the classroom before beginning longer teaching hours. Exactly how they are used, or if they are, should form part of your ongoing dialogue with the member of staff - how someone feels during leave may be very different to how they thought they would feel before it.
If a member of staff is coming to site with a new baby, consider how to accommodate a new parent onsite - can they bring the baby to meetings, KIT days or events? Has that been made clear to them? If baby is coming along, have you considered how to support a potentially breastfeeding mother? As the end of their parental leave nears, your staff member may well be anxious about the impact of their return to work. Listen carefully for signs of this without making assumptions about their career choices moving forward. Some schools put in place a mentor or coach to support the transition back into the workplace and ensure that returning teachers are guided through the process and kept up to date with any changes that have happened while they have been away.
All in all, the key to successful management of staff on leave is to keep an open mind and take your lead from them.
Lucy Starbuck Braidley is a primary school teacher and subject leader for English