The toughest decision?

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There are many difficult decisions in school leadership. Sadly, in these turbulent economic times, too many of those debates and actions relate to restructuring and making do with less. But not all of the hard calls relate to money and employment. The toughest decision that I encountered in school leadership was one which, frankly, we failed miserably at.

It took place in a leadership meeting after the examination results had been dissected and the school improvement plan reviewed. The headteacher laid a down a challenge that, as it turned out, we weren’t up to. We are given packs of Post It notes and asked to jot down all of the activities that we felt we could dispense with as senior leaders. The rationale was that we were becoming less and less effective as individuals and as a team because we are doing too much. There had certainly been grumbling to that effect. Now we had a chance to slough off all of those tasks that were pointless, lacked any noticeable benefits or had just been done since the age of the dinosaurs without anyone really asking why.

Pen in hand and notes at the ready we set to it. The result was not at all what we expected. Not only did we fail to really eliminate anything, I think we even managed to add in a couple of tasks that had previously been missing. We came away from that well-intentioned exercise having given ourselves more, not less, to do!

I think that we struggled because education gives a certain weight and authority to those who have too much on their plate. What would it say about us as senior leaders if we did less and were more effective in doing so? Could we look an overworked, stressed teacher in the eye if we were not able to honestly say ‘I know how you feel’? And if you’re reading this, thinking that it doesn’t sound like a tough call at all – give it a try. Sit down with your colleagues and ask them, not as a theoretical exercise but as an actual course of action, to write down the activities that they are going to let go of. You might be surprised by the difficulties that it creates.

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