Fired up over small stuff? Don't sweat, chill

30th January 2004 at 00:00
Every January it is the same: we come back to school after the Christmas break and within days we feel just as tired as we did at the end of December. Heads go down as we face the longest, darkest and most draining term and, as headteacher, I feel I have a certain responsibility to keep everyone's spirits up.

Some months ago I decided to psyche myself into the management mindframe suggested on a hoarding which was advertising a certain make of chocolate biscuit to be taken as a break. It simply said: "Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all small stuff."

Despite my best efforts to adopt this approach to my management of Dyce Primary, I haven't quite got there yet. To be honest, I haven't got anywhere with it, but I am going to have another try. I have translated this broad aim - perhaps it could even be called my mission statement - into a list of action points.

On the way to school I will overcome road rage, stoked by girl racers in souped-up VWs driving up my exhaust pipe, by focusing my mind on something positive in the day ahead. To date, the focus has been the thought of the return journey home, but this is bound to change as the weeks go by.

As I come in the back door of the school I will try not to cowk from the aroma of onions being tormented for lunch or to think of the end product.

Rather, it will be my incentive to eat healthily on a reintroduced diet of salads and low fat foods. A slimmer, more energetic me is bound to exude a message around the whole establishment. Just like the school kitchen, in fact.

I am determined to have no negative effect on the morale of clerical staff and to stop remarking aloud when going through the weekly postbag from the education office on the percentage of circulars correcting mistakes in previous circulars. I will suggest that we introduce a penalty box for sighing loudly anywhere in the school office area, as that will be a huge spur towards positivity for me, given the dire state of my bank balance.

In the same positive vein, I have decided not to use the gift which my daughter sent me. So, the piles of paper on my desk will not now be topped with a stamped notice stating: "I don't have time to read this crap".

From now on I will view all staff comments as the enthusiastic uptake of opportunities for them to contribute to the management of the school in our continuing drive for improvement.

I will try to see the joke when I find dirty dishes on the draining board in the staffroom, just to the right of the notice above the dishwasher requesting that dirty dishes are not left in the sink.

I will take the wider view when the master is removed from the reading worksheets file, despite death threats clearly on display and directed at the culprit.

Property management will become another stress-free zone for me when I accept that strategic placement of buckets to catch leaks from the roof is now part and parcel of the ambience of the school and that their permanent removal would detract from it.

On the way home, at 9pm or later, from evening meetings with parent groups, I will rejoice in the clarity of their decision-making and detailed plans for action and will consciously unclench my fists from around the steering wheel, thus relieving the pressure from my neck and reducing my time spent with the physiotherapist and out of school.

As you can see, I am well into thinking about adopting strategies so that I don't sweat about the small stuff. I have already stopped counting down to the next holidays and will be so unstressed that a weekend trip in four weeks will be here before I know it.

Joan Fenton is headteacher at Dyce Primary in Aberdeen

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