Meetings can be good use of precious time

15th October 2004 at 01:00
Time management is a frequent topic of questions at job interviews. The supposition is that it will challenge staff moving into a post with duties that go beyond the classroom.

The questions should be redundant. Good classroom practitioners display outstanding time management constantly. They balance the multitude of tasks that make for effective teaching and learning, and they do so in an apparently effortless manner where everything seems to fall into place and outcomes are successfully achieved.

Yet courses are continually offered to school managers on how to improve their organisation of time. So what conclusions can be drawn? Certainly it implies that school managers are poor at time management; that school managers are very busy and need to be trained in scheduling activities; that schools are faced with ever changing demands and managers need help and advice to identify priorities properly.

There are doubtless other conclusions and I'm not sure where I sit as an effective time manager. I do know I spend an appreciable amount of time in meetings with the senior management and with all the teaching staff.

The only valuable criterion for investing time in a school activity is that pupils benefit. So the weekly senior management meeting has to be measured against that.

We try to be focused and use our time well to move the school on, by analysing data from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, revising 5-14 targets, reviewing homework procedures, and our pupil conduct policy, devising improved corridor management, and fire alarm strategies, assessing how well we involve our pupils in decision making and trying to ensure that the spiritual life of the school is healthy.

Looking at that selection of topics from various meetings over the past month, I am confident that the time has been well spent and that pupils'

wellbeing and progress have been central to all the discussions. That confidence, however, has to be underpinned by action and in each example that has been the case.

Staff meetings and the allotted in-service training days are expensive in terms of financial cost and time and have to be measured against the benefits that accrue for pupils. To achieve quality demands the involvement of all staff. Senior management members have the responsibility to organise and plan, hopefully in a manner that includes staff properly, but occasionally time has to be spent sharing essential information. A clear example in Glasgow, currently, will be discussion centred on the authority report from HM Inspectorate of Education.

Quality emerges when we get together to look at effective teaching and learning. One of the high points last session was a day spent looking at the pace of learning in S1 and S2, with staff sharing examples of what they considered good practice in their own departments.

Having teachers from different disciplines meet to listen and learn from each other resulted in a powerful day. It also led us to realise that within our own staff we have so many quality practitioners that we now intend to set up a series of workshops to spread expertise in various areas.

These meeting times, then, are well spent, with tangible evidence of staff involvement and potential benefits for pupils.

In a sense, the most successful staff meeting last session was the one that never was. Four general meetings were scheduled, but we missed out the third. The session was discussed by the senior management, who felt the school was progressing well and there were no national or city initiatives that required the collective wisdom of the staff. So, probably to the astonishment of our colleagues, we suggested that life could go on without our scheduled meeting, unless any of them were keen to discuss a particular issue.

In presenting the option to colleagues, the management team acknowledged the quality of the staff's daily efforts for the pupils. We decided not to meet. In so doing, a statement was made about hard working colleagues and, I hope, a boost was given to morale within the school.

How much better would I be as headteacher if that outcome was realised each time we were supposed to meet together?

Rod O'Donnell is headteacher of St Paul's High, Glasgow

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