This ezine shows that there’s no secret to good staff management – communication, building and maintaining relationships and managing staff development are the keys to a satisfied and effective school workforce

Do you listen with envy to other school leaders speak about the staff in their school? Do they seem to have a team that pulls together through thick and thin with everyone playing their part to achieve the school’s priorities and give the children the best possible education? And do you sit there thinking, ‘How did they achieve that? I want to know their secret.’

When you look around your school you probably see a patchwork of staff with the experienced, the inexperienced, those with real talent in the craft of teaching, those who need a lot of support and the maverick who could well be very creative in the classroom but whom you have to keep a close eye on. Believe me when I say you are no different to every other school leader. Like them, you have a team of individuals who respond to things in different ways, who think differently, who have different likes and dislikes, opinions, approaches and working styles. The common thread is that they are all working in the same school and for the same goals.

Leaders who get the staff they want don’t hold a secret code. What they are good at doing is making the most of the staff they have. These leaders don’t spend time in wishful thinking saying, ‘Oh, if only I had a…’ What they haven’t got they set out to get and their starting point for this is looking internally. To do this they invest time and energy in implementing an excellent model of recruitment, induction and retention. Effective leaders make an effort to get to know and understand each member of staff as an individual and they tailor their approach to the individual to get the result they want. Knowing every member of staff’s strengths and areas for improvement is high on their list. A close eye is kept on the maintenance and application of systems and processes. Good leaders have high expectation for themselves as a member of the staff and they model the types of behaviours they want from their staff. Importantly, such leaders care about their welfare and the staff know this. They take pleasure in the achievements of their staff and are proud of them. When was the last time you told your staff how proud you are of them?

All of the above are typical of what you will see in schools where leaders are making the most of their staff. Here are three more examples in a bit more detail for you to think about:

  • Good leaders know that staff work better when they are well informed. So, staff communication is taken very seriously. Hard copy, online, face to face, whiteboards – take your pick. But if you implement some or all, make sure that you set up the routines to update and inform and stick to them. Effective leaders train their staff to expect information on a regular date and time and they don’t forget to meet these deadlines. Increasingly schools are holding a weekly meeting at about 8.15am. It’s interesting being part of these meetings. For some schools this is how they informally talk to staff about what is current; for others these briefings can be rather formal meetings. Whichever they are in your school why not provide croissants, fruit and juice? Showing that you are taking the time to care for the welfare of your staff during these early meetings will mean a lot to them.
  • They keep the quality of the relationships among staff under review. Every leader knows that there will be times when their school enters a period during which relationships are at stretching point. For example, times of change, pressure, or ends of terms can all bring their challenges. But this shouldn’t be the norm. Yes, challenge and support to staff is a key part of your role but good staff relationships depend on a staff ethos of mutual respect, goodwill, nurture and time to laugh together, all set in an atmosphere in which staff feel that leadership will listen to what they have to say and that they are valued for what they bring to their work.
  • They know that the professional development of staff is way beyond attendance on courses. Now you often hear school leaders say that they are very supportive of their staff attending training and use a significant part of their budget to pay for this. But attendance at courses has limited value on developing staff. If you want to make the most of your staff you need to provide the right mix of professional development opportunities to meet their needs. This means using a range of professional development opportunities. The White Paper, Your Child, Your School, Our Future: Building a 21st century schools system is very strong on school-to-school collaboration, teachers learning from each other and making the best use of good teachers to support satisfactory teaching to become good. What’s your school’s position on this type of working? Are you wedded to the traditional models of professional development or will you be one of the schools that are at the forefront of new approaches to school improvement and therefore make sure that your staff are able to take advantage of what’s best in the system?

Perhaps you also saw the various articles in the media recently about how it is good to tell your boss what you think of them. If you are getting it right you will have nothing to fear from what staff say about you. Your team will know that together you are on the road to improvement. Never give up. There will be times when you falter, but don’t settle for anything but the very best. Always remember the more you are able to make of your staff the better the education you will provide for the children – and that’s what matters.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education