The Head's View - I'm all at sea over work-life balance

7th November 2008 at 00:00

I spend a lot of time lurking. In corridors mainly - looking through portholes like a homesick sailor. And the analogy goes further. The school ship has come through some rough seas of late. And what with the waves of new initiatives, the flotsam and jetsam of staffing issues and the ocean of bureaucracy, I feel like I'm drowning. And, like the sailor at the porthole, it seems like a long time since I spent some quality time with my family.

So it was with high expectations that I arrived at a recent heads' meeting knowing that we were to have a session on work-life balance. But just seconds into the session, my heart sank, along with any hope of salvation. We got aims, objectives, PowerPoint, definitions, sharing feelings with fellow heads, and parking issues at the door.

Finally, I cracked. " I don't want all this crappy theory." I screamed. "Give me answers, hints, tips, pointers. Just tell me how to get a work-life balance."

Then, like a miracle, it came. On two sheets of A4 paper: "Work-life balance - hints and tips for heads." It was a biblical, loaves-and-fishes sort of moment.

I began to read, to drink in the heady, potentially life-saving words. For a moment, I pictured myself in slow motion, hand in hand with my wife, running down a poppy-filled meadow, with my son on my shoulders and my daughter doing handstands, just like the beginning of The Little House on the Prairie.

And then, as I read on, the picture froze and melted. "Find room for a bunch of flowers on your desk," was the first tip. "Say something nice to someone," was the second. "Have some aromatherapy oils burning in the school office ... Look in the mirror and try to make yourself laugh ... Put something amusing on your screensaver ... During a stressful day, walking round the school to see the children and observe the teaching and learning can do wonders."

Big pause. I ran up to the speaker and grabbed him by the shoulders. "And how the hell is any of this going to help me to get a good work-life balance?" I pleaded. "How will this help me spend more time with my family. How will this help me to get home before my kids are asleep in bed? Are you absolutely insane?"

All of this is true (except for the shouting and grabbing parts - after all, I'm a professional). I still have the two pages of A4 paper. I framed them and put them in my office.

Colin Dowland, Headteacher of a junior school in north London.

Next week, there is a follow-up session: Work-Life Balance 2. I can't go. I'm just too busy.

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