Focusing on the here and now


As headteachers, if we focus too much on the future and worry too much about the past, we'll forget the here and now...

This morning, before writing this diary entry, I was standing on top of a windswept hill in the last week of the holidays watching my dog bouncing around, chasing after birds that he will never catch, his tail wagging, his tongue lolling and mud splattered all over his face.

As he raced around simply enjoying the moment I was once again struck by how little time we make in the world of education for just celebrating the here and now.

As a headteacher, quite rightly, much of my time is taken up in considering the future direction of the school and planning ahead. 

I am often looking at the next one, three or five years as I write school development plans, set dates for calendars and plan for key events. Similarly, a high proportion of effort is spent reviewing what has gone before, whether it be the latest set of results, evaluating development plans, writing SEFs or reviewing key milestones and events in order to try and improve the performance of students and the school as a whole. 

As we prepare for and embark upon the new school year, a great deal of time and effort is spent in reviewing, evaluating, analysing and reflecting upon the results obtained last year. 

While this is clearly an incredibly important task from which we can learn a great deal, when we receive our data files, in one very important sense they are already past their sell-by-date as they represent, and are the culmination of, a set of events, attitudes, cultures and activities whose roots lie some way in the past and cannot be changed. 

One of the consequences of the pressure on a headteacher to be constantly reviewing the past, while striving to plan for the future, is that the bit in the middle – i.e. the present – risks being squeezed to such an extent that one misses out on what is happening here and now. 

It’s not just that this seems inherently wrong, it carries with it a real risk that staff just “commoditise” the students and only ever consider them as classes, year groups, cohorts and in terms of targets and statistics. 

This risk is perhaps greatest with a headteacher who, inevitably, will have less contact with many of the students because he/she will, in all probability, be doing little, if any, teaching.

The upshot of this is that a headteacher can miss out on getting to know individual pupils and sharing some of their aspirations and hopes, as well as any fears and concerns that they may have. 

However, in engaging with students on an individual level, a headteacher can perhaps gain additional insight and perspective on the school culture and environment that will subsequently prove to be useful when it comes to making decisions about the future strategy and direction of the school. 

In this way, at least, a headteacher can take at least some time to see the school in the present tense and try and gauge the mood of the school. It is things occurring now that could have a real impact on results one, two or five years down the line.

In a typical day of strategy meetings and dealing with staff issues, it should be possible for a headteacher to put some time aside to speak to and listen to pupils (perhaps on lunch duty or seeing the pupils off on the buses at the end of the day). 

So my challenge to all school leaders is to make time celebrate the here and now. 

Too much time spent reflecting and stressing about what has gone before and cannot be changed, or scheming and planning for what is still to come and might never happen, means that there is a real risk that we miss out on the many joys of what is taking place around us now.

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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