What do Your Staff Really Think of You and Your Team?

It has always fascinated me, the boundless enthusiasm with which vitriol is aimed at SLT, and the gulf that seems to exist between “proper” ,or “career” teachers and those who have shinned up the greasy pole far enough to leave the chalk face behind. As a young teacher, the heady heights of SLT seemed to me to be unimaginable. I admired my first HoD so much I would go so far as to say it was hero-worship. I knew I could never do what she did! I was quite simply in awe of the Headteacher and his Deputy. God-like beings who floated around, who might occasionally notice and maybe even bestow a smile on the NQT, people who were Incredibly Important and Very High Up. Having said that, when I did my PGCE the Headteacher at my practice school was a delight. He made a point of getting to know me personally, invited me himself to school functions and made me howl with laughter with his stories of the old days. A lovely bloke, but not a very effective leader by all accounts. So when I finally arrived, when I finally got my job as Deputy, I and the coincidentally also new Headteacher swore that we would create a harmonious and effective team. The question was…How?

Our staffroom is nothing out of the ordinary – some superteachers, some terrorists, some desperate to get out, some solid workers, a few enthusiastic souls, maybe even a couple of shirkers…you get the picture. Many had started as NQTs and never moved on. The sense of expectation at the beginning of the academic was palpable – expectation of exactly what, I am not really sure, but these are some of the things we worked on to challenge the gulf between SLT and the rest of the staff.

The first thing we did was refuse to use the term SLT – somehow when you get put on the Leadership spine you become a part of this amorphous enemy, people with nothing to do but criticise and make life difficult for the real workers. No, for us, we were all part of a team and it was crucial that we all pulled together and were all in it together.  Although people sometimes refer to our (very small) team as SLT we always seek to use  names – in the same way, we try never to use the word “staff”, as if that couldn’t possibly be us, we never use department names when we can mention individuals.

We have made a conscious decision to be there, to be a constant presence. To be at least the first in and almost always last out. Our cars are in the car park to greet everyone. The beginning of the day is such an important time, so many people call in with queries; we do our best to keep that time sacrosanct. One of us is always in school and we both make a conscious effort to avoid pointless courses. We have heard too much about the Headteachers who can’t wait to get out of school, meeting after meeting, leaving teaching staff to manage whilst they are off enjoying themselves.  I don’t think that anyone has really noticed this – but it helps give us a handle on what is happening throughout the week and throughout the school.

We try hard to be a highly visible presence around the school, picking up dawdling students, dealing with those sent out of classrooms, pre-empting issues before they get anywhere. It means that we got a much better idea of what was going on – a great way to answer OFSTED when they ask “How do you know?”  We often spend the vast majority of the day touring the school. We have invited teachers to ask us into their lessons – to see the good the bad and the ugly. Of course, we have a programme of formal observations but we love to call in to see a much improved group, or to see an exciting activity. We are a regular presence with difficult groups. As far as possible we lay the law down, following up with advice so that classroom teachers and cover supervisors have something to work on.  When we began this, teachers would stand, rictus grin in place, waiting for us to leave. We have had to spend a lot of time reassuring them that this is no appraisal by the back door, we are not taking notes, we are there to support. As the year has gone on we have built up a timetable of support which works alongside the teaching timetable. And when we saw something that was going wrong, we are sometimes able to team-teach and model what we consider to be good practice. I genuinely believe that teachers are becoming more confident to come and ask for advice and admit when they are finding things tough.

How hard, then, when I  walked into the staffroom a couple of weeks ago and overheard a less than glowing comment, something to the effect that we were cooking things up between us. In all honesty, I found it devastating. That gulf, the “us” and “them” seemed as wide as ever, despite our genuine efforts. Silly, maybe, but I really did find it tough. I eventually rationalised it by thinking – well, actually that was right – we had cooked whatever it was up between us. That is our job. It was tough, though -Where are we going wrong? Why don’t people appreciate what we were trying to do? A few judicious conversations have set my mind at rest to some extent, and comments logged at staff meetings have been really positive.  I now realise that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Despite our hard work, some things remain undone. Some of the decisions we have made have been unpopular. I suppose I need to accept that, for a member of SLT, that comes with the job…

 

The author qualified in Modern Foreign Languages and English teaching over twenty years ago. With a background curriculum and pastoral development, she has been a Senior Leader for over five years. Working in a small town in Leicestershire, she still looks forward to seeing her students every day and is passionate about making a difference to young lives. “ However difficult my day has been, there is always something in the day that the kids do or say which makes me laugh, and which makes doing a tough job worthwhile”. 

 

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