SBL Life – This is the Greatest Show
As I return to work following my second maternity leave I feel an immediate sense of belonging to the school I care so deeply about, I look ahead to what the new term and new academic year will bring, and I’m quickly reminded why being a School Business Leader (SBL) is a hugely rewarding profession. This really is the greatest show!
I’ve worked as a School Business Leader for 16 years now and feel a deep connection to my school and everyone in it. We describe ourselves as a ‘family orientated school’ and I feel very lucky to be a part of our professional family, all working towards the same goals and caring for each other every step of the way.
It’s 8am on the first day of the new academic year and I am making my way across the courtyard to start my day – only it actually started three hours ago, and I’ve been juggling two children, family breakfast, last minute nappies and nursery drop offs before I’ve even made it to this point. Even if you’re not a new parent, we all have our own personal pressures and it can often feel like we’ve done a shift before work even begins. But friendly faces greet me, someone holds a door open (probably noticing my struggle to balance laptop, tablet, phone, folders and excessively large handbag which probably only contains tissues, baby wipes and a plastic tractor!) and a ripple of children start to fill the courtyard in their matching jumpers and blazers.
As I arrive at my office, and deposit said luggage into the nearest available space, I start to think ahead to what the days, weeks and terms will bring. Carefully crafted action plans may sit untouched for days, but those days will be my busiest, seeking creative solutions to unexpected problems and supporting my colleagues so that their days run more smoothly. I will become absorbed in detailed spreadsheets, write focused reports, meet important deadlines and bounce from meeting to meeting sharing ideas, offering support, pioneering innovative ways of working and bringing a business perspective to my fellow leaders and the challenges we collectively face.
My leadership will be repeatedly tested as I walk a delicate tightrope, spinning plates with one hand and juggling fire batons with the other. On the surface I will appear calm, confident and always in control, when just below that surface my feet will be furiously paddling, pushing me to stay afloat and glide through the water like an elegant swan. No two days will be the same. My organisational skills and natural affinity for planning ahead will keep me travelling on the right track, yet I will veer constantly from the set path, from the sublime to the ridiculous, responding quickly to the unpredictability of the role.
This ever-changing, chaotic, education system in which we work will sometimes reflect a circus; fast-moving with high-stakes decision making. I will lead by example, taking risks in the pursuit of great achievement, knowing fine well those risks are carefully calculated and well managed. My training and experience will mean I am comfortable with my responsibilities, but I will never sit still and will always be ready for change.
“Comfort, the enemy of progress” P.T. Barnum
School Business Leaders across the country have different role titles, job descriptions, pay ranges, remits and levels of responsibility. Schools in various settings provide different platforms from which the SBL role will continue to evolve. But there will always be similarities that you may recognise in yourself or your own school’s SBL. A creative and practical approach to problem solving perhaps. An ability to make the seemingly impossible happen. Not always knowing the answers but always knowing how to find them and importantly the skills to ‘make things happen’ bringing ideas to life with a constant eye on the impact of all strategic and financial decisions. Often in the background, but the impact of our actions and behaviours very much in the foreground. And when faced with challenges and set-backs the perseverance, resilience and tenacity to role-model that the show must go on.
The SBL role can be extremely challenging and can even feel lonely sometimes. Networking with colleagues locally and nationally, participating in local SBL forums and communicating via social media groups are all great ways of staying connected and bringing out the best in yourself and others. But whilst challenging, this is a role that also offers huge reward and satisfaction.
For me personally, this reward comes with the knowledge that I impact directly on children’s lives on a daily basis: ensuring our students benefit from a talented teaching workforce, directing resources to make positive things happen and offering them every opportunity to be successful citizens as they grow into young adults. There is no greater reward than watching a child achieve more than they ever thought they could, whether it be the tears of joy when they open their GCSE results, the day they performed in front of an audience, the sporting fixture they won or that lesson when things just clicked. For some it may be as simple as the sense of belonging that they feel as part of our school family that is enough to bring happiness to their lives.
“The noblest art is that of making others happy” P.T. Barnum
Whatever your title, status, remit or level of responsibility, we hope you have recognised some of yourself in this post and the truly special and unique contribution you bring to your own school. Hats off to School Business Leaders all over the country for the fantastic, tireless contribution you make to children’s education – we salute you! Here’s to a productive and successful year ahead.