Flexible leadership

by Lynn How @Positive_Y_Mind    www.positiveyoungmind.com

Could you be a great educational leader if you had more flexibility? I see leadership potential in women everywhere I turn in education. Unfortunately, many of these are woman who have motherhood and childcare to balance alongside their careers, many choose parenting over their career. If I needed to make that binary choice, I would choose the same but what if you could have both?

It is currently rare to find job adverts for leadership positions which are part time or a job share. When I was a part time Assistant Head, I worked full time before my children then went back 4 days a week. I could be more assertive with my wishes as I already had the job. Negotiating part time was relatively simple although I also know of people in similar circumstances who were denied this opportunity. Clearly, this is counterproductive. I would have resented being forced back to full time after maternity leave and would not have given my all to the role I used to love. My wellbeing and work life balance would not have been taken into account so why should I give 100% when I don’t have 100% of myself to give? This would have led to burnout. It shouldn’t come down to luck though – there should be more options available.

I wonder how many current leaders would vote to have an afternoon less at work given the opportunity? How much would their work life balance improve?

I would think quite a lot! Perhaps your ability to do your job well would increase rather than decrease. Perhaps your deputy would relish the opportunity to step up and hold the fort for an afternoon a week; in turn supporting their CPD. If when reading this the cogs in your mind are turning, it might be worth having that conversation with your governors. They may be more flexible than you realise. In their working opportunities document, December 2017, the DfE states: “We believe flexible working can help achieve gender equality in schools by:

  • allowing women to return to teaching on a flexible basis (for example after having children)
  • improving the career progressions of women by offering more flexible opportunities at senior levels within the school system.”

While this is great news in principle, I am yet to see much evidence of these opportunities on my local school job website. Furthermore, although this post is aimed predominantly at women as they are mostly affected, we must not forget the men as well. By the statement above only including women, the DfE have conversely gone against the very equality they are attempting to uphold.

Suggestions for employees

  • Seek likeminded people who you could co-head/deputy with. You’d need to find someone you work well with.
  • When you visit a school for a job interview, find out views on flexible working. From experience, many schools are more interested in the right person and fit for their school and if you are that person, then there is probably some wriggle room.
  • Be prepared to walk away! The euphoria of getting the job will soon change to panic 3 weeks in when you realise that work and life are anything but balanced.   

Suggestions for employers

  • State on the advert that job shares are welcome. I was interviewed for half a job share headship which was a very attractive promotion prospect for a working Mum and although I didn’t get the job, I was told there had been 17 applicants. 17!!
  • Consider the work–life balance of your staff. If staff are happy then productivity improves. Parents who are torn between their families and work are rarely happy and regularly assume they are doing both really badly.
  • Be open to new ways of working. The world is getting more and more flexible in terms of contact hours and if a candidate requests a four day week and they are the right candidate, then make it work for both of you. Don’t lose the right person because you are adhering to outdated parameters.

Being a full-time leader, Mummy and wife is a challenge. Hats off to you if you are managing it! Ultimately, we need improved flexibility to futureproof our profession.

If you agree with these principles and ideas, please share in order to spread the word that there is another way.

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