Talking about leadership – the things I wish I’d known… (5/5)

For the last couple of years I’ve been working with quite a few people who are new to role – whether that be new to the profession, new to middle leadership or new to senior leadership – and I’ve noticed there are a number of things which no one ever tells us when we step into these roles and it makes our jobs so much easier when you work it out.  I’ve read leadership books and I’ve had coaching over the years but I firmly believe I became much more effective as a teacher and a leader when these things clicked – and that was before I read them in a book 🙂


For the last week I’ve been participating in my own little experiment – I’ve been parking my car in a different spot in the car park to see if it made any difference to anything (other than my step count as a ‘Private Parking’ reserved bays at the front of school in which SLG park are obviously negatively impacting my ability to get to 10,000 steps!). And surprisingly, it has!

I hadn’t really appreciated the security for staff and, crucially, for students in seeing the familiar cars lined up in their parking spots outside school. For the last week I’ve been greeted with ‘oh good you are here’ type responses’ as staff noticed and groans of ‘now we’ll have to do work as we’ve not got cover’ from my students. Selfishly for me it has also meant I’ve had fewer staff knocking on my door after-school as they think I’ve left – but then I’ve missed those conversations.

There’s something about staff and students knowing where you are/will be that is reassuring. Someone once asked me why SLG stand at the front (and slightly to the side by the exit) in staff briefing and I simply said so we’re easy to find. A few weeks later the same person came back to me and said they had been watching on a Monday morning at the number of staff who stopped by someone in SLG on their way in or out and she could see how it would be really irritating if you came in and had to search through nearly 100 people to find who you wanted!

Presence as a middle and senior leader is something I’ve always felt strongly about and I think it’s one of the most important parts of the job that no one ever seems to write about. Presence in corridors, classrooms and around the department, reassuring teachers that we are all in this together. Being seen out and about is crucial and on reflection I’ve always had more respect and value for the leaders who are out and about during the school day and pitching in wherever it’s needed. Early on in my training I witnessed a headteacher walk past a teacher having a challenging conversation with a student (read ‘child swearing at adult’) while her class were getting louder and louder behind the door – I vowed then that if I ever got promoted I would never be like that and I’m really hoping I’ve kept to it. That’s not to say I jump in and take over but I use my presence to support – from standing nearby and catching the eye of the teacher so they know I’ve got their back to moving to stand in the doorway so the class know the are being watched and need to get on.

However, it is really critical to note that presence is not the same as presenteeism (the act of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than is required). The latter is never good and starts to negatively impact wellbeing and, ultimately, the ability to do your job effectively. Presence is about security, support and being a team who are in it together. Presenteeism is about being seen as the one that stands out, the hero, the one who wants to prove they are better than everyone else – or as a colleague once said to me ‘the person who is uses their time least effectively’! Now those people who know me know that I do stay late at school and I’m often one of the last to leave but that’s because I detest taking work home so by staying later I have my evenings at home with no bag in the corner silently screaming ‘there’s work in here you should be doing instead of watching Netflix’! – it’s not presenteeism as if I’m done with work then I go home – I don’t stay at work later so people see me there ‘putting in the hours’.

So going back to my experiment, I think the answer might lie in choosing a regular spot to park in further away from the entrance then everyone will still know if I’m in but my step count will also benefit 🙂

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