Saturday, 4 October 2014

First month as SLT

A few reflections on my first full month as part of SLT since I started my Assistant Headteacher role at the start of September...

If I had to give a single word summary it would be "busy", and perhaps most telling as part of this is that I originally titled this as "First week as SLT", but never even got close to finishing it; writing the title and pressing save was as far as I got! Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind during the past few weeks...

Am I still a teacher?
The first thing that hit me is that I'm now not teaching very much. It's almost a third of a main scale teacher's timetable, less than half of what I was teaching last year as a head of department. There are whole days when I don't have a lesson at all, I also no longer have a tutor group.

As a result as I started term I struggled a bit with the fact that I'm spending so little time in front of classes - the job balance is massively different and now teaching is the minority of my week. It almost causes me to wonder if I'm still a teacher. At the core I know I am, and the other things I'm now doing can have a wider impact on more students than I did before, even as a head of department. I'm loving the new pastoral side of my role, getting an overview of the college team I now lead, dealing with our students and seeing the progress they're making it brilliant.

Of course this light timetable is one of the things that can be quite divisive in schools, where the majority of the teaching staff see SLT apparently swanning about on a light timetable where it becomes the exception to be teaching.

In many jobs there is the visible bit that outside observers see, and the hidden bit that is only really visible to the person doing the job. All teachers have the visible bit when we're stood in front of a class teaching a lesson, but the invisible bit is planning and marking - hence the popular misconceptions about teacher working hours and holidays amongst the general public. The further the emphasis of a role moves towards leadership the more activities move away from visible "work" and more towards strategic activities that may be completed invisibly.

Perhaps naively I entered the world of SLT with the view that I was already really busy as a head of department, and that one of the things that caused me to be busy was the fact I still had a substantial timetable. I expected that my SLT workload could not possibly be bigger than my HoD workload; my mind argued that while I'll have more management work to do I'd also have more time to do it because I'd have more non-contact time. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't ever expecting SLT to be an easy time, I was not expecting to put my feet up in my office during non-contact times. I always will work hard, but I was fully expecting to be able to manage the workload within a similar pattern to that established as a head of department.

What I've discovered during these first few weeks is that the number of varied ways for the invisible or less visible side of the SLT role to burn up non contact time is incredible. As such right now my workload has massively increased as I often get much fewer of the management activities done in the time I have available.

Burning time
I might well start a day with just one lesson to teach, but it's not time to kick back and drink coffee all day; there are a multitude of things that will burn off that time and make you feel a bit frantic...

E-mails - I thought I received quite a few as a head of maths, it's doubled since being on SLT. Many of them don't need a response as I get copied on on all sorts, but I still need to read most to be able to decide on that. I have always found myself to be quite efficient with e-mails in terms of response times and keeping track if it all - but the recent increase in volume does threaten this a bit.

Meetings - wow there are lots of them as SLT! What with direct line management meetings, SLT meetings, meetings with parents, governors, other groups relating to your area of responsibility it's easy to fill up a large proportion of a week. Of course some are not that efficient, maybe some aren't needed at all, but as yet I've not figured out which ones...

Being the expert - heads of departments, classroom teachers, admin staff, all appear to expect SLT to have the answer to almost any question relating to the school, and can be visibly disappointed if you don't. In some ways I'm fortunate that I was promoted to AHT at the same school, meaning I do already know about the majority of the systems. However there are still a few changes or aspects new to me or new to the school this year that aren't part of my direct responsibility or past experience that have me scratching my head a bit. For those SLT who are entirely new to a school it must be doubly difficult.

Naughty students - I did a reasonable amount of this as a head of department but when things escalate further and reaches SLT you have to support the wider school staff as and when they need it. When this happens it's always going to interrupt time you'd planned to spend marking, planning, sorting e-mails, making plans for the core area of your responsibility, etc. There is no point arriving to a classroom to lend a hand if the student has already gone to the next lesson - you have to respond when you're needed, regardless of the impact to your workload.

Even when the initial incidents are over there is often time to be spent following up. This might be investigating an incident, finding a challenging student, talking with them, making plans for them with the pastoral teams, contacting parents.

In my second week I was required to write a report for our governors about the exam results from the summer. While on lunch duty on one of the days I had planned to get this report completed I had to deal with a fight between two students and then lost the entire afternoon in investigating it and finding the right response for the students involved. the right thing to do was deal with the students, but it blew my plans for the week to bits.

Maintaining teaching quality
In amongst all of this I'm still teaching, and with distractions and interruptions to time intended to be spent planning, marking, etc it can actually be a genuine challenge to keep on top of it and maintain the overall quality of teaching.

I have never bought into the idea that all SLT have to be outstanding teachers. They just need to be 100% reliably good teachers, and be able to bring out the best teaching in others (whether that is branded as good, outstanding or whatever). They need to follow all school classroom policies and model the behaviours expected in others.

As a result of this while I'm confident in my teaching I felt some pressure when planning and delivering my observed lesson this week. It's too easy to become lazy with planning if you only have one or two lessons in a day - other things float up the priority list and you arrive at a lesson only partially planned. This is compounded a little when your'e teaching in a multitude of different rooms and don't have a fixed/known set of resources to draw upon as SLT rarely get their own base classroom.

This all sounds fairly downbeat...
As I'm writing this it seems like I'm highlighting all the challenges of the job and you might thing I am regretting the move... That's not the case in the slightest. I'm really enjoying the job, it's just such a big step from where I was last year to where I am now. I've gone from feeling completely in control as a head of department to just about maintaining control as an assistant head, which brings with it a level of stress that isn't entirely comfortable at the moment. I like to feel that I know what I'm doing and how to do it - currently that balance isn't quite right but it's getting there. I've hit the ground running but the ground was already moving quickly! As time goes on I'm adjusting how I approach each week to ensure that I maintain control and can get further and further on top of things. An indication of this is that I've found time to write this post this week!

I've no idea if this post will be interesting to anyone other than me - frankly that's not the point of it. I'll try to update on my progress as AHT as we continue through the year, mainly to remind myself that I'm making progress! If you have any thoughts or comments I'd be keen to hear them.