How Stephen King made me a better middle leader
When he made the step up from classroom teacher, James Ashmore turned to a shining literary role model whose time-management method helped him avoid being hobbled by increased workload
In his book On Writing, novelist Stephen King consistently encourages would-be writers to stop messing around and get on with writing. He advises partitioning off chunks of your day to sit down somewhere without distractions and stick religiously to a schedule. Unlike King, I’m not a millionaire with a quiet bolthole in New England where I can work uninterrupted. I have been, until recently, a full-time teacher and middle leader, and am the father of three little kids who are noisy and nuts.
But I have managed to apply a similar approach to King’s to my own work; it has helped me enormously in managing the move from classroom teacher to middle leader, with its shift towards a more varied workload and a working pattern that fluctuates between fixed and fluid tasks. It’s a simple trick: I now produce a timetable for every part of my job. This is how I do it.
At the start of term, you will be handed the usual timetable that shows you who you are teaching and when. It might contain other specified blocks of time (planning, preparation and assessment, for example, or allocated slots for leadership and management), but your teaching load will be fixed. And make no mistake – in your middle leadership role, your teaching will still always come first. What is important is how you handle the fluid elements of your job.
Before I took up my first middle-leadership role, I spent some time writing down everything that I would have to do on a daily, weekly, monthly, termly and annual basis. This was helpful for about a week, but I quickly realised that this job does not break down neatly into those categories in reality. More likely you will experience the following three types of task:
anything that is timetabled, such as teaching; regular meetings with your senior leadership team line manager; parents evenings; student report deadlines; exams; faculty reviews; or departmental meetings.
anything out of the blue, such as a student behaviour referral; staff illness or concerns over their wellbeing; participation in whole-school recruitment; the hosting of a guest or visitor; or the fielding of parental complaints.
anything you didn’t think was your job, but now suddenly is, such as planning an Inset; reporting to governors; devising a whole-school homework policy; or being asked to lead on literacy.