Leadership - Show them who's boss

1st November 2013 at 00:00
Your visibility is a vital part of running a successful school

Ask yourself a question: if your photo was shown to every parent at the school you lead, how many would recognise you? If you estimate that it would be anything less than 100 per cent then you may have a problem.

Being visible - not just to parents but to students and staff, too - is integral to the running of a successful school. Students and parents need to know who is in charge and that this person is always accessible, be it for a quick friendly chat or to lodge a more serious concern or complaint. Successful school leaders stand at the school gate each morning, welcoming parents and students, having a cheery word with all and sundry.

"It's a chance for parents to grab a quick word and it helps to set the tone," says one leader of a successful primary school. These "quick words" mean that parents who might otherwise storm into the school to vent their built-up frustrations have a regular chance to let off steam and are therefore much easier to manage.

Some school leaders use the same strategy at the end of the day, too. Many take the opportunity of running bus queues as a chance to talk to the students and to wave at parents picking up their children.

It is a policy equally applicable to staff relations. The leader of a large, successful South London secondary stands in the entrance foyer for half an hour every day, so that staff coming in can grab him and ask for a word later. "I'll always make sure that I get back to them the same day. It's my interpretation of an 'open door' practice, because I am never in my office except for meetings," he says.

These school leaders know that the less time spent in their offices the better. And this includes the "office hours" of the school day, when many senior school staff tend to retreat to their rooms to lead, as it were, from their desks.

Admittedly, the paperwork can be heavy at the top of the school hierarchy and there are inevitably tasks that will require the school leader to be in their office, but a balance has to be struck.

One way of doing this is the "school walk". Set yourself a time each day to walk through the school visiting all academic areas, but also talking with kitchen or catering staff and having a word with cleaners, as well as all the other employees - learning mentors, teaching assistants, ground staff and backup administrative staff - who comprise the management engine of the school. We are not implying that all these interactions should happen every day, but time should be built in to ensure that they happen with planned regularity.

Something that can be done less frequently but has equal importance is a system of "student tracking". Once a term, accompany a couple of students throughout their school day. In this way, you can gauge what concerns the student body has, get a feel for the interactions that take place and make yourself visible to all within the school. This system also reduces the need for formal monitoring of lessons.

However, it is not just within the school that you need to be seen. You are the main conduit to the world outside, too, so lunchtime patrols of the local community will enable you to take the pulse of what is happening there.

Admittedly, being visible is costly in terms of time. Those doing it well should be allocating 25-30 hours per week to the various strategies discussed above. That may seem like a lot, but in reality it is the very minimum required to truly build the relationships you need to run a successful school.

Spend too much time in the office or outside the school in meetings and you will soon lose the confidence of staff, students and parents. Spend as much time as you can mingling with them, however, and you will be amazed by how supportive those same people will be in your quest to improve the school or maintain already high standards.

This is an edited version of the chapter 'S is for Sitting On the Wall Not the Fence' from The A-Z of School Improvement: principles and practice by Tim Brighouse and David Woods, published by Bloomsbury at #163;24.99. To claim your TESS subscriber 20 per cent discount visit www.bloomsbury.comeducation and use code GLR 8RW.

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