One thing I’ve learnt is that if I ever need to quickly find out what’s happening within a school community, the first place to visit is the school office. After all, the office is essentially a school’s communication control centre – they’re the ones who regularly come into contact with staff, leaders, parents and all the other members of a learning community.
In my experience, parents tend to feel comfortable talking to office staff. They in turn will often be able to resolve parents’ issues promptly without having to involve teachers and leaders, be willing to forewarn parents when problems are about to hit and be prepared to deal with a variety of situations in a supportive way.
I myself have previously engaged with parents who were genuinely angry about something, or even crying at the hatch. I’ve dealt with parents who sat in my office telling me their life story, because of how comfortable they felt in our presence.
I’d venture that the same can also be said for staff rooms, where it tends to be office teams who take the lead in creating a positive spirit. We’re a naturally inquisitive group of people, so will often be asking questions and offering friendly suggestions for dealing with a whole host of problems.
Many office teams will contain a school’s social secretary, who have a great rapport with staff. Generally speaking, the more inter-staff social interaction there is within your school, the better – it can be a great form of stress relief for both office and teaching teams alike.
Clear and honest
With an ever-greater number of tasks being assigned to office teams that are continuing to shrink in size, it’s essential that these teams can remain open and honest about the workloads they’re facing.
Leaders should provide opportunities for office staff to share their views, ideally via a weekly briefing. This could involve a 15-minute overview of the week given to leaders that will enable them to see what their office staff’s workload is really like, and gauge whether any deadlines might need to be reviewed.
Performance reviews can be a useful way of setting objectives for the team to work towards over the year, while weekly meetings will ensure that daily tasks are reliably communicated. Regular reviews of your communication arrangements with office staff will help keep things on track.
If there’s simply too much for office staff to do, they should feel comfortable saying so. An ‘open door’ policy will help, but only if leaders truly commit to it. If your door’s open, be in a position to stop what you’re doing and listen to what your colleagues have to say.
If you’re busy, then make sure people know by either closing that door or putting up a ‘do not disturb’ sign. Leaders will get far more respect by clearly indicating when they are and aren’t free, than by turning staff members away.
Leaders must be clear about what it is they want from their office teams and how it should be delivered. Maintaining a team that understands its roles and objectives, and can go about carrying them out in positive, sensitive way will help keep your workplace relaxed and stress-free.
Philip Burton is business manager at Hallbrook Primary School in Broughton Astley, Leicestershire.