Leadership lesson: Whiteboards in the staffroom don't work

My challenge: communicating with the team
As a new headteacher in a school undergoing a lot of change, one thing I struggled with was finding an effective way to communicate with other members of staff on a regular basis. From school trips to lunchtime supervisors, I needed to ensure staff members were kept up to date with the day-to-day goings on that are typical to a school.

Mistake: using a whiteboard
To tackle the communication problem, I purchased a whiteboard for the staffroom and made it my responsibility to write up the day’s events on it first thing every morning. I was keen to have the whiteboard as I personally feel that calling everyone in for a morning briefing everyday is a waste of time. Most information can be communicated in a different way and, as a teacher, I had found an ineffective morning briefing was the last distraction I had needed. I was keen not to inflict it on my own staff.
My idea was appreciated: people liked the fact they knew what was going on. The whiteboard made it clear who was responsible that day for things like playground duty and climbing frame supervision but it also reminded people of other key events (such as school trips and visitors).
However, the problem with the whiteboard was the amount of time it took. I would often get into the staffroom and start writing and someone would say, ‘Oh- Greg… As you’re here can I check whether…?’

As a young, new head I would respond and sort out or comment on the issue and then go back to completing the board. Though inevitably, someone else would come in and there would be more queries, concerns and comments.
It often took 30 minutes to write the board; every new interruption meant that each time I went back to it I was slightly less focused. A simple job quickly became a long laborious task. After a few years of this, I had an idea. Couldn’t IT do all the diary part of school life better?

Situation rectified: adopting diary software
I set about looking for an online diary that would work better for me and my staff and I found one. What was good about this online diary was that you could set up lots of sub-diaries inside it (for example trips, assembly, assessment and monitoring) and the whole lot would be displayed in a list format every day. What was even better was the way you could select one of your diaries, like ‘monitoring’, and get a clear overview of what was happening in that specific area. It could all be exported and the diary also integrated email, phone messages and contacts, so it seemed ideal.

The whiteboard was replaced with a plasma screen displaying the diary and we have never looked back. All teachers passwords that mean they can access it anywhere they want. And, importantly, they do.

Lesson learnt: applied carefully, ICT is a good management tool
The online diary has proved an invaluable time-saving device. We no longer produce a weekly diary, photocopy it and send it round to staff as the online diary does all of that for us. Even better, people can look weeks ahead. But, more than anything, it has proved popular.
As a head of two schools, the simple piece of software has become an essential management tool and for my staff, it has provided them with the ideal platform to share information.
We have lots of visitors every week at Woodberry Down coming to see phonics being taught, the maths programme we teach or to look at Effective Marking. Initiative. One thing they nearly all pick up on, besides the standard of teaching, is the diary. I think we have found a solution to a problem that could improve lots of schools in terms of organisational management.

Greg Wallace is executive principal for London Fields/Woodberry Down Federation in the London Borough of Hackney. Both schools hadOfsted inspections in Autumn 2008: Woodberry Down was judged ‘outstanding’ and London Fields came out of special measures and wasjudged a ‘good and improving’ school.He has been headteacher of Woodberry Down Community Primary School since 2001. In 2005 the schoolwas recognised on Ofsted’s list of outstanding schools and in 2006 Greg won the ERA School Leadership award at The Education Show inBirmingham. The school was shortlisted for the Evening Standard award for Outstanding Primary School in Challenging Circumstances andwas runner up in the ERA Educational Establishment of the Year award 2007