Priorities to beat a blue September

28th September 2007 at 01:00
As I sprawl awkwardly, semi-conscious, on our settee at the end of the first week back, I am vaguely aware of another "100 Greatest" something or other on television. Tonight's theme is music-related and my mind drifts into nostalgic realms of yesteryears' tunes. I recall the lyrics of an autumnal favourite Chris Rea's "September Blue", with its melancholy references to heads spinning round on a Monday and throats being tired and heavy. As an inexperienced head taking a deep breath to start another year, the words have a certain resonance.

To be fair, the first week has been pretty good. I had played a risky game in the summer for the first time in my 15-year teaching career, I opted for the total shut-down of my school mindset. But it seems to have paid off. Despite a 12-hour drive back from France with two young children on the Sunday, I was physically and emotionally ready for school the next day. It was probably just as well.

School leaders learn to live with an amazing degree of intensity and I am learning to expect it as the norm. When I timetable each day, perhaps I should set aside a couple of hours as a "contingency fund" of time to respond to anything that's thrown at me. My deputy and business manager are star performers I could not possibly function without them but I can only delegate so far. With nearly 400 children in our fairly new and still growing school, there are plenty of challenges to ensure a heavy caseload for every member of the team.

Challenges this week have included arbitrating between disputing families, dealing with custody battles and banning a parent from site for aggressive behaviour. Before the first two days were over, I had dealt with distressed parents, police involvement and solicitors' letter. And those were supposed to be in-service training days.

On the flip side, I've had some precious moments with the children, including trying to convince reception pupils that, despite their convictions to the contrary, I was not the school cleaner. And I've stuck to my two priorities of the week spending more time monitoring the performance and happiness of staff ("walking the floors of the stores", as they say in the retail trade) and being fully "switched on" to making lunchtimes as smooth an experience as possible for all involved. The approach worked. Morale was boosted and stress was reduced for me and others.

If the intensity reduces next week and I'm not counting on it who knows? I might even juggle a third priority and surprise everybody by responding to some accumulated local authority correspondence. September may be changing colour.

Martyn Skinner

Head of an East Anglian primary school


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