School Business Leaders: five ways to get the best from yourself and those around you
The best leaders in schools are those who can flex their leadership style to suit any given situation, individual or team. Whilst the role of the School Business Manager still varies greatly across schools in title, role and salary, the fact remains that flexible and adaptable leadership are important components for anyone wanting to achieve success in the profession.
As school business leaders we need to constantly adapt our ways of working to not only keep up with educational change and stay ahead of the challenges thrown at us, but to do justice to our role by pioneering and paving the way for others to follow in our footsteps thus building strength, capacity and expertise in support staff roles in schools.
So how can school business leaders demonstrate strong leadership characteristics, get the best out of those around them by developing others and still continue to develop themselves at the same time?
1) Within your own school
The obvious place to start is within your own school. If you are a school business leader in a large school with several staff in your support staff structure you have an immediate opportunity to influence the professional development of those staff. Through purposeful, well structured staff appraisal systems areas of strength, priority areas for development and future training needs can be identified.
My personal motto is to strive to make others better than yourself. A good leader creates other leaders, not followers. For your more ambitious staff don’t be afraid to encourage them to access training up to or above your own level of qualification or learning. They will learn and flourish and you too can share in their learning journey and further your own knowledge. This makes for a stronger collective workforce and a culture in which all are encouraged to thrive and be the best that they can be.
Others may need more motivation to challenge themselves. If staff lack self-confidence use your mentoring skills to offer support and reassurance, your coaching skills as a tool to encourage personal reflection and your resourcefulness to open doors and opportunities for your colleagues. Without realising it you will be developing your own leadership skills at the same time as developing skills in others. In a culture of mutual support, shared self-belief and encouragement success really does breed success.
2) In a collaborative group
If you are working in a collaborative group such as a multi-academy trust, hard or soft federation, cluster group or any other collaborative school set-up, you have an opportunity to influence on a wider scale. This may not be as easy as within an individual school, depending on the school group set-up and the freedoms you have within that structure, but the principles are the same as in the first example.
In a wider group you have the opportunity to share resources and expertise across a more diverse setting. Individuals or teams of staff often learn and develop by stepping out of ‘what they know’ and comparing their own working practices with other colleagues in other settings.
If same phase schools are working together how do the comparative teams work across each school setting? Can they learn from each other? Can all parties become more efficient and effective by sharing, comparing and making improvements to their own practice?
In cross phase groups this is still possible and can become even more interesting. Colleagues may be reluctant and not as open minded to this process. After all, even schools of the same type, phase and similar characteristics can be completely different to each other so the variations cross phase and cross type are even more so. But you just never know where the hidden gems of creativity, unknown information and nuggets of wisdom may lie. This exploration may be more fruitful than you think.
3) In your Local Authority (LA)
In more and more LAs school business leaders are using their initiative to set up business forums. Although these may appear under many banners and in many forms the intention and purpose is the same; for school business managers and other colleagues to meet as a group to share good practice, disseminate useful information from external sources and support each other through shared business processes.
Depending on the size of the LA some groups may be same phase, same type, cross phase or cross type. Perhaps all primary and all secondary schools set up their own groups separately or perhaps all academies and all LA maintained schools are meeting separately. In my experience the most effective set-up, if size allows, is cross phase, cross type with the flexibility for colleagues to meet together in smaller groups on more specific issues should the need arise. So for example, if a mixed economy of primary, secondary and special schools and academies all meet regularly, an additional meeting could be held for schools with a certain characteristic to support each other through an issue which is specific to them and them alone. The advantage of working in this way was hinted at in example 2. There are many shared issues across phase and type anyway, but sometimes the most valuable insights we gain are when we are least expecting and from a source we least expect it from.
If you are interested, you could contact your LA and ask to be involved in the work on the funding formula for 2017/18 and 2018/19. Your contribution gives another important angle to the team perspective.
4) School to school support
The concept of system leadership, in particular school to school support, has grown at a rapid pace in recent years especially with the introduction of NLEs (National Leaders of Education) LLEs (Local Leaders of Education) and SLEs (Specialist Leaders of Education). At SLE level it is not uncommon for a teaching school to deploy school to school support in the area of school business leadership and for the SLE to be an established and exemplary School Business Manager or equivalent. The application process and training regime are identical to that of teachers who are looking to work as SLEs to directly support other schools with teaching and learning. The importance of a school’s business leadership is acknowledged and reflected through this process.
With the introduction of the National Funding Formula (NFF) and the rise of academisation, the need for school to school support in school business leadership may continue to grow with an increasing demand on SLEs and expert school business and education funding consultants. This is a way for school business leaders to develop themselves, develop others and most importantly, impact on the life chances of children beyond their own school.
5) Digital networks
We are surrounded, on a daily basis, by digital media in many forms including twitter, facebook and professional network communities. Whether we want to connect on a social or professional level the options are vast and can sometimes be overwhelming, often causing people to step back from this way of working altogether. So why should school business leaders join digital networks?
For all school leaders digital networking can provide a wealth of information speedily and efficiently. The opportunity to listen to the opinions of other leaders and bounce ideas back and forth has never been more readily available and accessible.
For school business leaders who participate in the NCSL School Business Management qualifications, i.e. CSBM, DSBM, ADSBM etc this way of working is encouraged amongst participant communities and is an important aspect of the blended learning approach. It offers the opportunity to deepen learning through valuable networking with those from the same professional background. In the early days of the qualifications, before the courses grew in number and became more localised, networking with colleagues across the length and breadth of the country was the norm. There is a lot to be said, as has been alluded to in the previous examples, for finding snippets of valuable information and pearls of wisdom in unexpected places, potentially from a school that is nothing like your own.
Digital networking is inclusive and in the case of school leadership draws leaders of all backgrounds and specialism together in forums that are rich and diverse. Digital forums become more valuable the more that people contribute. Remember this is a way to get the best out of yourself as well as others. Your contribution may be extremely valuable to someone else.
If you want to get started why not visit our ‘School Financial Success’ facebook group page to ask a question or comment on a post.