Back to School
As a busy head teacher, I would often feel a little out of kilter throughout the summer break. So much of my time could be spent either consciously or subconsciously worrying. To avoid this unnecessary strain, it's important to seek clarity, perspective and control. With some strategic management, we can mentally ‘box-up’ each stage of the process and relieve stress or uncertainty.
When I wrote this piece, I discovered that when I Googled the statement '4 phases', I was presented with articles about 'the 4 phases of creativity'. This aligns perfectly.
Phase 1 - Incubation
This process is all about transition. The slow-burning awareness that you have time to think and reflect without pressure. The holiday may be your priority but there is something luxurious about being able to do all of your lovely summer things, whilst managing your leadership thoughts, when and how you choose. This freedom can be great for nurturing the green shoots required to stimulate your creativity, innovation and motivation. This phase is all about soaking things up. It's not work, but it's the pre-cursor to doing good work. Reading, note-taking, social media and other peripheral stimuli are great for tuning into.
'It's not work, but it's the pre-cursor to doing good work.'
Phase 2 - Preparation
This one can be a challenging one. After spending a little time feeling great about last years' achievements, this is the one where you begin to realise, not only that you have to do it all again, but also that there's a lot to do. Having detached yourself from school, it can be easy to feel personally burdened or overwhelmed with the task ahead. This can sometimes lead to avoidance and procrastination. But when tackled head-on, your loyal mojo will be right there with you. With the benefit of rest, comes clarity. Your job now is to revisit and strengthen the 'why' because your team are the talented professionals that will provide so much of the 'how'. This phase is now about being pro-active. It's all about formalising your ideas and strategies. To create the right conditions, I would now have to leave the house. I would unlock school, enter work-mode, and immerse myself in the solitary process of securing the strategic direction. This would mean taking all of my ideas, thoughts and evaluations, and recording them in a way that clearly articulates intent. This would be done before meeting the other leaders, so that I could process and present with clarity. This phase would conclude with proud, concise and creative leadership plans that could inspire and excite.
'Having detached yourself from school, it can be easy to feel personally burdened or overwhelmed with the task ahead.'
Phase 3 - Illumination
With some great work done, and with the harvesting of ideas completed, this phase becomes more personal. This is an exciting phase because this one is all about you. This is a phase about the kind of leader you are, the significance of the job, and the privileged position that you are in. With the other two phases now providing the reassurances, we can begin to think about personal leadership attributes, credibility and awareness. It's a great phase because it's about your own sense of purpose, who you are and why you do the job that you do. You can't do this bit without the previous groundwork, otherwise it could lack substance, sustainability and sincerity. It's a very personal part of the journey, with intrinsic soul-searching, reflection, affirmation and growth. By immersing ourselves in this phase, we can then begin to feel prepared, reassured and ready.
'This is a phase about the kind of leader you are, the significance of the job, and the privileged position that you are in.'
Phase 4 - Verification
Teamwork. As your staff team enter the school building and you arrange to greet them together, a gentle nervousness begins. Like the feeling that you get when you teach your new class on the first day back, the one where you haven't quite remembered quite what you do for a living, until you begin to do it again. But there's a lovely moment to witness here. One that may have slipped your mind while you have been pre-occupied with your challenges and responsibilities. As you stand there observing and preparing to interrupt, you notice that your team of staff are all talking, laughing and smiling. There’s a tangible excitement growing in the room. You then begin to realise just how much they love their jobs and that they are happy to back here together because this is their vocation too. You stand to be reminded that the team is everything. These are the people who will provide the glue, the strength and as you can hear, the laughter. You can feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. This moment is inspirational, because it fuels the sincerity of your welcome introduction, and the realisation that the journey ahead will be one that you will all do together.
The WIN / WIN
Great strategic planning takes time. If we can take an approach over the school holiday that combines letting ideas generate and percolate and then shaping and presenting, then we can be well placed to successfully lead others. What your team want on their return is clarity, and they are relying on you to provide this for them.
The slow burn approach is highly productive. Too many times in school we can sit around the table with the intention of making good decisions or creating good ideas. The more we read about this expectation, the more we can realise that this is not how the brain works. The school holiday is the perfect time for ideas to percolate and to prepare to harvest your Eureka moments as they appear.
With great strategic planning comes confidence. By the time the first inset day arrives, we need to be able to talk logically and passionately about the possibilities. If we can do this, we can excite and inspire others. The true 'big win' can then be the best outcomes for the children that you serve.