Apart from all the obvious strategic leadership and managerial stuff that we do as Head Teachers our other main role is to hold the organisation together emotionally. At times of the year when staff and families are under stress this can be very hard. The build up to Christmas brings with it the excitement of the children and unrealistic expectations that the parents and carers try desperately to meet, often through the use of doorstep loans and other dubious means. The short-term lift that these provide brings with it underlying ever-increasing stress which in turn means that relationships in the home become more fraught and it is the children who seem to bear the brunt. Not that adults are deliberately acting to take things out on the children but the children soak up all the anxiety, see or hear the arguments, drunk adults or those who seek solace in drugs. There are also parents and carers in my school who have recently lost their jobs, or had their hours reduced to zero so there is no money coming in. The local food bank is very busy.
Staff also have families to support and Christmas can be a tough time for them too. They too have to deal with the whole range of human issues, from difficult children to failing marriages or partners who are very ill. Many of my staff are from the local community and have family members who are finding things difficult.
As Head it is my job, with the support of my Senior Leadership Team, to hold all these people together so that they are the best they can be for the children that they teach. At times of stress this is as time consuming as it is necessary, and at this time of year I find myself more and more taken up with this kind of support. My own paperwork just has to wait. I have to soothe anxieties and smooth over petty squabbles, for both adults and children who are all over tired and over excited. I spend a lot of time just listening to people and giving them space to talk.
The children in the support group are struggling more than usual at the moment. Lunch with them today, however, was lovely and they were surprisingly calm and chatty. I was particularly aware today of how they were competing for attention from the adults in the room. As I turned to talk to one of them, the one I was sitting next to actually said ‘OI!’ and grinned at me when I turned round. I grinned back.
I have managed to find a positive solution for our challenging EYFS child which works for everyone. I am increasingly grateful to my wonderfully flexible support staff, without whom, at times, I would be totally stuck. They rise to every challenge.
While there are difficult things to manage there are also ordinary things happening, and good things to enjoy and celebrate too. There are Governors meetings, performance management meetings, Team Around the Child meetings. Our Foundation Stage Nativity play was lovely, reducing many of the parents, carers and staff to tears. Choir and KS2 production rehearsals are nearly complete and children and staff are excited about their performances next week. Staff have worked amazingly hard to prepare and support the children to perform at their best.
When one of the reception children first saw our Christmas Tree he said ‘WOW! That’s amazing!’ This made me smile. I have been to post letters to Santa in our local post box with our Nurture Group children, who were lovely and chatty and asking questions all the way to the post box. Today I also saw the best piece of writing from a Y1 child that I have ever seen. A brilliant re-telling of a traditional tale, with lovely vocabulary, proper sentence construction and perfect spelling. She had even put an apostrophe in the right place! These things are my nourishment, my soul food. These are the things that enable me to do my job.