One of the first pieces of advice my Headmaster gave me in my current role was that the pace of decision making would be (and should be) slower as a senior manager – I needed to allow time to make decisions. I thought I knew that I would need to consider more people’s opinions and recognise that a wider sphere of people have a vested interest in what I choices I made but as with many realities of being a senior leader, I didn’t appreciate quite what this would be like until I was actually in that role. I have a reminder to myself, just above my desk in my office, who needs to know? My current school is part of a ‘family of schools’, I can’t just consult my counterpart in my own school, I also need to check with my counter part at our sister school as well and, at times, the wider senior management team at both. This requires more time and I have to keep looking ahead to allow for the days or weeks it might take to come to a final conclusion.
Another piece of advice I’ve been given relates to short, medium and long term planning horizons – short: today or this week, medium: the next term, long: planning for the next year or possibly next few years. In my weekly meetings with my HM we always go through the short term planning and mostly also cover the medium term. Longer term isn’t discussed as regularly but it is very much on the agenda so that we (hopefully) don’t get caught out, although in this position it isn’t possible to plan for everything and it pays to be flexible and able to respond to shifting sands that could throw plans off course. Planning horizons are a standing item in weekly SMT meetings too, we discuss what is coming up that week and then the longer term planning for that term or the one ahead.
I have found on several occasions that I have been too easily caught up in the day to day business of teaching and haven’t looked up enough to plan ahead. It is hard to strike the right balance between thinking strategically and keeping the plates spinning as a DH whilst also wanting to still plan good lessons, mark work quickly and know that I am delivering lessons to the standard I would have done when all I had to do was teach. It is really important to keep teaching, I would never cancel a lesson or get cover for a meeting – I am a Deputy Head teacher which means that fundamentally I am a teacher but I also have to reconcile that with my leadership responsibility and those that I lead. If I get too caught up in my lessons and marking and don’t remember to plan, look ahead and ensure I am strategic, I won’t communicate plans in time and may miss consulting with the right people, resulting in my team feeling that I don’t have a handle on events. This then affects their wellbeing – if I’m not strategic and forward thinking, they are left feeling anxious or out or the loop. In order to build their trust and confidence, they need to know that I have thought ahead and have already started to plan for the next event or term. Of course, I won’t think of everything and my team often nudge me or remind me of factors that I haven’t considered for which I am incredibly grateful – their collective wisdom and experience is invaluable – but they need to know that I am proactive rather than reactive. Creating space in my diary for this thinking time is time very much well spent and communicating to those I lead that I am undertaking this planning reassures them. Considering who to involve in the process and when (and how) to utilise the skills and experience of my team means I am more likely to have considered alternatives or different approaches, potential pitfalls or challenges. Planning ahead so that I have time to bring my team along with me has been a valuable lesson.