As the summer holiday draws to a close and the time for reflecting, making changes and thinking about our future direction nears completion for another year, I can’t help thinking that in early years September offers us a second chance at a new year, new start. We anticipate a new term with our new children, possibly new staff and certainly new ways of working that we have worked hard to put in place over the quieter summer period. We have finally had chance to read that good practice guidance that has been sitting on our desk for 9 months and approach the term with a renewed sense of vigour and determination.
So my question is, what are our new leadership resolutions, what will be different as we approach a new academic year?
As leaders it is our job to reflect on our own practice and to think about how we can better support the practice of our staff. These are my 10 favourite new term resolutions:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff – During the year it always seems like there are a million little jobs to do, questions to answer, emails to respond to and when faced with this on a daily basis it wears us down. At some point during the year we subconsciously believe we should be all things, to all people, all of the time and it is quite often the smallest of straws that breaks the camel’s back. The new year lets us look at each thing with a new perspective: does it actually matter, do I actually need to give a response. Is it that someone just wants to share their thoughts, information or be heard? Do you actually need to do anything about it but listen? When faced with something take a breath, count to 10 before responding, it could save you time and energy in the long run.
- Prioritise more effectively – how do we decide which of the million tasks to do first? My guess is that we think we will get those little jobs out of the way first, then the list will be shorter, or maybe the person with the loudest voice is dealt with first? There is a brilliant tool I have used often to prioritise tasks, more information about this can be found at Businessballs.com. Deciding where to put each task based on how important it is in nature, and how urgent it is in time, will enable you to create the right list for you compared to what you might chose based on more random criteria. It may also be helpful for you to realistically allocate the time you feel the task will take and compare that to how much time you actually have available. Your list could go on forever but this method will help you draw the line at what is achievable.
- Delegate more effectively – we all know without question that we are the only person who can complete the job perfectly in our eyes; the shocking fact is that this is probably not the actual truth! People may do things differently, but providing you are clear about what the absolute bare minimum is, you could allow someone else to get involved and do it their way: you never know it might just be better. Effective delegation is all about what are the core criteria for you, if you say paint the wall, you cannot expect the wall to be painted blue. If you say paint the wall blue you can’t expect sky blue. Your level of detail when delegating the task is important, ask the person to tell you what they think they are being asked to do.
- A clear desk policy – During the summer we may have had the opportunity to clear our desks, file things away, have a little clean and put away the random things that have been hanging around forever. Then the new term starts and by October it resembles a skip again. This adds to our feeling of frustration and that our tasks are out of control. Develop a filing system which means the paper is out of sight; a file containing current tasks is much neater than a pile. Could your in-tray be a drawer? Do you need to keep that piece of paper at all? If your work space is clear and organised you will feel organised. A colleague I once worked with had a tidy Friday policy. This means you leave on Friday knowing you will return on Monday to order, you may even have a better weekend, and let’s face it who has the capacity on a Friday afternoon to get stuck into a deep and meaningful task.
- Realistic expectations – if anyone is like me, I look at the 2 free hours I have this afternoon and fill it with a list of 6 – 7 hours’ worth of things I want to achieve! Clutching our prioritised to do list, with the amount of time each task will take clearly identified, let us try to fill the 2 free hours this afternoon with 2 hours worth of the highest priority tasks. At the end of the day we will hopefully feel a sense of satisfaction rather than that we have failed in our mission completely.
- Better time management – maybe we should look at time as a tangible object like we do with other things. You would not consider trying to feed a family of 6 with 2 sausages and a potato; however we try to fit all of the million tasks we need to do into a single day. Maybe if we added a tin of beans (more people) and made a casserole we could achieve the objective of the family having a meal. If we look at time in the same way, using all available resources and using them in a creative way maybe we could achieve better results.
- More patience – my view is that as the term progresses we become more frustrated by what we actually need to do and how little we are actually getting done, which results in us not being as patient as we would like. Plan some stop gaps during the term, plan in a diary what you are going to do which could be a visual plan of action. Remember however to prioritise what you are going to do, don’t sweat the small stuff and be realistic with yourself.
- Be more confident – the start of a new term gives you the opportunity to start afresh, maybe there are people you have allowed to develop practices you are not thrilled about or tasks you feel you have done badly. One of my favourite phrases is ‘draw the line’: what has gone before is in the past, this is moving forward. Maybe you need to put on the mask (not physically) and set your stall out again with renewed vigour. This is a new term, new start and I would like us to think about…do this differently…work more on our…etc. Others will buy into this, they may not like it but they will respect the new you.
- Be in front of the drama – whether you’re a new or experienced manager there will always be things which jump up and bite us on the bottom. Reflect on the things which sprang out of nowhere last term and be ahead of these. Think about what you have learnt and what you could have done to prevent it. Then make sure that this is considered within your prioritisation of tasks.
- Be kind to yourself – this is my new term wish for you all. As a leader we may not always have someone there to tell us we are doing a good job, but we need to believe it for ourselves. Do you sit at a desk drinking coffee with your feet up all day? I don’t actually think that would be compatible with an early years leader’s DNA. Are you doing your best? This is almost certainly a yes, so give yourself a break. Think about your achievements over the last academic year rather than what you did not achieve, allow yourself time to reflect on positives.
What will be your new term resolutions?
Wishing all my fellow leaders a happy and successful new term.