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

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - LEADERSHIP -

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.

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