There is a crisis within the life of every teacher, and it’s to do with time. It’s to do with ensuring you are able to do the job you love while managing to balance this with a life beyond your school’s walls, with your family, your friends, your interests. I have read too many tweets, Facebook status updates and articles in TES and the like that come from near-broken teachers, many of them middle leaders, who are being forced to choose between their professional life and their private life. For many of them, the consequence of this dilemma appears to be a choice between two options: accept that the job demands you give it all the hours God has sent you; or quit.
If we are to fend off this crisis (and make no mistake; the situation is critical), there has to be a third way, a way to ensure people remain in the roles for which they have worked so hard while maintaining a life. As middle leaders, we can be the drivers of change here. You might recognise this as an issue in your own life, or one that affects your colleagues to varying degrees, but you may have felt helpless to do anything about it. You may feel that your work/life balance is seriously out of kilter and that moving into middle leadership has done nothing to redress this, in fact it’s made it worse. You might feel conflicted at this moment in time, you may even be regretting your promotion. The conflict between these two worlds, the professional and the private, is one that needs to be closely managed and monitored.
In school, I recommend that you create a timetable for your week that schedules your entire role. Complete it by prioritising the following:
1. Your teaching – this must always come first.
2. When you will plan, prepare and assess your students’ work.
3. Your calendared meetings and scheduled meetings with SLT or TLR holders.
4. Your QA like learning walks and book scrutinies.
You will inevitably need to be flexible – a school day is never predictable – but this timetable, rigidly adhered to as far as possible, will grant you structure and routine. Over the longer term, determine which ‘big jobs’ need doing on a regular basis and that these are also planned for in time set aside by you.
Let’s look at working at home to begin with. All teachers work at home to varying degrees. It takes understanding on the part of partners, families and friends and it inevitably leads to sacrifice and a feeling of missing out. I would suggest, as a middle leader particularly, there are jobs which demand you complete away from school in an atmosphere and environment free of distraction, so why not float the idea with your Senior Team of being allowed to work from home for a morning, an afternoon or even a whole day. This could allow you to complete one of your chunkier tasks like some report or review, especially if you know no one else will be in the house during those hours. Choose days where your teaching load is light, where there’s plenty of cover for you in school and where you aren’t missing any important after-school commitments. I like this idea and know it would have been welcomed at my last school, but it’s not for every school and, indeed, not for every SLT so suggest it only if you think it likely to happen.
Two final things to say. Firstly, you must be a prudent user of the word, “no”. You can’t constantly say it, you don’t want people to think you’re obstructive or rude, but you also don’t need others coming along trying to impose their agenda on you. You’ve planned what work needs doing, when you will do it and by what deadline (and, yes, with some flexibility built in), but it is unacceptable to have to constantly shift your priorities because someone else isn’t as organized, isn’t as strategic or is just, well, rubbish at their job.
And lastly, don’t confuse using social media with doing work. By all means use it, as I do, to connect and discover, but don’t allow it to become the be all and end all. It’s a tool to help you with your work, not work in itself. If you find yourself habitually browsing social media of an evening, when exactly are you planning on mentally switching off, putting some distance between your home and your day job? Your time is precious so savour it.
About James Ashmore
James Ashmore is the co-author of the book, ‘The New Middle Leader’s Handbook’. He has spent 11 of the last 13 years teaching Secondary English and has held a number of middle leadership roles, including leading two successful English departments. In 2012, he became a Specialist Leader of Education and has supported schools in developing English leadership, curriculum, teaching and assessment. He has also delivered professional development courses for middle leaders. At the end of 2014, he left full-time teaching to become a full-time dad, and now works as an educational consultant. He lives in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, with his wife, Louise, and their three beautiful children.
Follow James on Twitter @moralguardian