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Make a stress-free diet your priority

Robin Precey Answers your leadership questions

I have just been successful in being appointed to a post of responsibility as head of Year 7. I am just fishing for suggestions to make the job as stress-free as possible. Any ideas? Also is there any research into behavioural difficulties between Years 6 and 7?

Congratulations on your appointment to such a significant role in the lives of the young people in your school. This period of transition (I assume from your letter from primary to secondary school) is extremely important in terms of the future enjoyment of and success at school of your students.

You raise two important issues.

First, that of stress in your new role. The bad news is no work with adolescents is stress-free. Some of the pressure that can induce stress comes from external sources such as parents, other staff, central and local authorities and students. More significant, perhaps, is that pressure we generate internally by our response to these external demands as well as the high standards we set ourselves. The good news is that stress can be reduced. Whilst you must respond to legitimate pressure and keep your personal standards high, it is important to have a strategy to ensure that these pressures do not harm you.

First, take stock - how was the job done by your predecessor and other heads of year? What works? What does not? Keep in mind the prime aspects of your job - to ensure that the students settle into your school well, understand what they are supposed to be doing so they can be successful, are focused on learning and (yes!) enjoy the experience. When you first start a new job the temptation is to get on with doing things. Obviously some things do have to be done but it may be the only chance you have (for a while) to plan a strategic approach to the job before you become immersed in day-to-day issues.

Next, prioritise - create time to plan each day, week and month. A well-kept diary is essential. This is important in a post such as head of year where much of your work can be reactive. Make sure that your priorities fix on the core purpose of your job - to improve students'

learning. Clearly you do need to be flexible to take account of changing circumstances, but do keep taking stock. This should give you a sense of achievement and help cope with the pressure. The priority list should include ways to maintain your work-life balance. Family, exercise, relaxation - the rest of your life - need to be part of this planning.

Third, focus on the positive. Many heads of year get dragged down by a role that means dealing with problems all of the time. Get a sense of perspective on these. These problems may only affect a small proportion of the children in your care. The others also deserve your attention. Perhaps you should not be trying to solve some problems if they relate to a particular subject. That may be the job of the teacher with the help of their head of department. Go into lessons where students are achieving.

Find children and moments that remind you why you took on this job. Plan to talk individually to a representative sample of students. Keep assemblies positive and celebratory. Telling off needs to be kept to a minimum and is best done with those to whom it applies. It is easy to see the whole year group when it is important to focus on each student as a separate human being. Concentrate on getting the relationships right at the start of your job. This means listening as well as talking. It takes time but is a great investment for the future. You want to be approachable but command respect.

The other issue you raise is that of research and good practice in managing behaviour at this transition stage. I can recommend the following resources:

* Materials produced by the National College for School Leadership ( - look particularly at the "hotseat" summary with Michael Barber;

* Research carried out by colleagues on "Best Practice Research Scholarships" ( developmentopportunitiesbprs) - search using "transition";

* The Office for Standards in Education ( - they have produced a useful, brief handout called "Changing schools: an evaluation of the effectiveness of transfer arrangements at age11".

There are many other useful ideas around but these may be a good starting point for you. As to behavioural problems in Year 7, these tend to become more common in Years 8 and 9. I am of the view that most behavioural problems in schools (apart from the extremes) stem from learning and teaching. If all of the lessons were as we would wish them to be - purposeful, pacey, active, stimulating, enjoyable and taught with passion, commitment and appropriate humour - then behavioural difficulties would be minimised. Work hard with your colleagues to approach the ideal, otherwise your job will be reduced to "fire-fighting".

You will be on a steep learning curve in your first year. Keep these principles to the fore and I would hope that you would be successful in your new job, and that you will have fun and a real sense of achievement in helping your students along their own personal journeys of discovery.

Robin Precey has been in education for 31 years, the past 12 as head of Seaford Head community college in East Sussex. He is also a consultant on the National College for School Leadership's New Visions programme. Do you have a school leadership or management question?Contact Susan Young at The TES,

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