Pat Dennison answers your leadership questions

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
Leadership expert Pat Dennison has tips on recharging batteries for the year ahead

I feel utterly exhausted after a very busy term. I want to start this year with some "get up and go".

The lead-up to Christmas can often be gruelling, taxing our resources.

Schools throw themselves into ambitious productions. Staff, working flat out, inevitably succumb to colds and flu.

As head, you maintain a relentlessly cheery presence, making sure that you are noticing and acknowledging efforts, soothing frayed nerves and providing enough energy to keep everyone going.

Now you need to recuperate so that resilience and resourcefulness can return. Be your own best friend and look after yourself. Run a self-help checklist, covering diet, sleep and exercise. Give yourself treats - time with a book and the phone switched off, a massage or a game of golf.

Once sufficiently restored, it is time to dream. Visualise a new you. What will it feel like doing your job with "get up and go"? What will you do more of and what less? Store the answers in a "new me" file on your computer or in a drawer or diary.

Make a time line of the year marking significant events (the National College for School Leadership's website has a useful timed list of Department for Education and Skills' action points). It will include all development, monitoring activities, audits and reviews, special events, performance management and appraisal, admission arrangements, recruitment and selection, and reports. Share it with all staff and invite them to add to it.

Remove anything that doesn't improve the quality of learning in your school. For each event, note the required action, who is involved and in charge, start and finish dates. Make sure all staff have a copy.

Once you have your plan, clear clutter from your office. Buy yourself a good book which will help you deal ruthlessly with paperwork, and invest in a good personal assistant.

While good forward planning is essential for maintaining control over your life, equally important is the review. Get into the habit, after every event, of sitting down with those involved and reviewing success. People who are really good at this process learn from every experience, which makes them look forward with energy and optimism, instead of wishing that they had done things differently. Take a hard look at the number of hours the people in your organisation are putting in. In too many schools there is an unspoken agreement that the longer people work the better they are regarded. You must challenge this concept which causes guilt and exhaustion.

Finally, assure yourself and others that we always have choice. Set the organisation free from the tyranny of the "have to" mentality and convince everyone of their own ability and potential brilliance. That will give you and them a feeling of power and energy.

Happy New Year.

Pat Dennison is head of Horsell village primary in Horsell, near Woking, Surrey

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