Many school offices face problems with requests for urgent work, interruptions and phone calls. Yet the solutions are well established and can be introduced anywhere.
As I have mentioned before, this year I am tutoring on some of the distance learning courses that the School of Educational Administration and Management run, and having not done this for a few years I am fascinated by how the same problems can occur in a number of schools.
In such circumstances it always strikes me as sad that each school’s administration is left to sort out on its own a problem which has been faced by thousands (yes literally thousands) of schools before.
Of course, each school is different, but the nature of the problem, the solution, and the inevitable challenge to the solution (and the resolution of that challenge) is pretty much the same in each case.
I thought of this particularly this week in looking at the reports of school administrators who are working on the issue of time management.
Typically three problems are highlighted: interruptions on the phone, interruptions by teachers, and the demand for immediate action for supposedly “urgent jobs”.
Phone issues can never be totally eliminated but they can be reduced by telling parents that (for example) reports of student absence should be made by email, and that all dates of special events, half terms and the like are on the home page of the website.
Now this approach is countered by the view that, “I’ve told them but they still phone”. The answer then is to have a simple option button “Press 1 to report that your child is not attending today” and then leave them on hold, while they hear the message that “you can report absences by email”. After a while the number of phone calls you get decreases – you don’t get rid of all of them, but enough for the difference to be noticeable.
In terms of demands for urgent work from teachers, this is normally dealt with in negotiation with the head or deputy or SBM or bursar.
The basic problem here is that because work hits the office from every quarter no one has any idea how much work is actually coming in. For each teacher it is one job, and the attitude is “why can’t you do it now?” They don’t see everyone else’s work and thus don’t see the overload. They get into the habit of solutions at the last minute and expect you to play your part.
The resolution involves working with senior management who will take the message to staff that (for example) photocopying will take 3 days. Staff will then try to get round this (they always do) with “I know I shouldn’t ask but…” You need a prepared response – such as “The head has told me I’ll be sacked if I don’t follow the directive” or “I will but will you do something for me?” (You suggest making you a coffee – it is quite humiliating for them, and you won’t be asked again.)
Or you maintain a chart for the number of urgent requests you get. Once the teachers see themselves marked up they normally stop – no one wants the prize for being the most disorganised (i.e. having the most requests for urgent work).
In terms of interruptions, many schools have a Golden Hour in which no one but no one is allowed at the school office while you get the urgent work done. Again many will try to break the rule, and you should ideally work with the head or other person to agree how this will be handled.
The key point in all this is that a simple announcement by the head to staff that they should not be putting in requests for urgent work will be ignored. You might get away with it for a week, but in the end you will be back where you started. So you must expect initiatives like this to fail – and have a back up in place.
Yes, it is a battle – but it is a battle that if fought will make your job more pleasant and far less stressful.
If you are interested in learning more about the various courses the SEAM runs, there are details on http://www.admin.org.uk/courses.html