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In the middle - Focused but friendly

I always find the summer holidays are when I finally give my friends the time they deserve. No claims of marking backlogs or report-writing mountains to prevent me from midweek socialising. It is also a chance to see that there really is a world out there that isn't run by bells at 50- minute intervals or where lunch is hurriedly consumed over the photocopier.

One friend I met up with this holiday is the wife of a "middle leader" who works in the private sector. He leads a team of salesmen and account managers and works long days and travels miles each week. She was bemoaning the fact that as "the wife of" she had to host a table of 12 at an evening function where her role and that of her husband was to introduce all the employees he line-managed and make sure that conversation and company ethos flowed freely. She had to buy a new dress (shame), do her research about each employee and their partner and put on what she called her "company smile". Her main complaint was that it was really nothing to do with socialising and everything to do with business.

To me this seemed very much like the tricky event that is the first department meeting of a new academic year, normally scheduled for the afternoon slot on the training day. Here, existing departmental members are keen to swap holiday snaps and gossip. Be aware, though, of newcomers who will need gentle and warm introductions to the other staff while you go about creating the ethos that promotes your efficiently run meetings. There is always lots of documentation to give out, new initiatives to lead on, fresh results to ponder over, but your message must be clear. You are a friendly and cohesive department but your core function is using this strength to provide every pupil with the best possible deal for the next 12 months.

Just a shame that, unlike my friend, we can't always host this event in a new evening gown with a glass of Gamp;T in our hands!

Josephine Smith, Deputy headteacher, Long Field High School, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.

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