Schoolwell caught up with Andy Buck, author of What makes a Great School and Leadership Matters, and he shared his thoughts on staff wellbeing, managing change and the infectious power of an optimistic approach.
SW Thanks for talking to us Andy. How do you look after your own wellbeing with everything that you have going on, the new book and the launch of Leadership Matters?
AB First and foremost, I make sure every day has something I am really looking forward to. I have learnt over the years that it is really important to get that match between one’s role and what one is good at and cares about. It is amazing how much one can cope with if one’s interest in the work is strong. For me, that’s where well-being begins. I have seen a few teachers over the years who don’t seem to like children. With the best will in the world, well-being will always be an issue!
Secondly, I have well-developed systems for prioritising what I do. There is no right way to achieve this, but for me, for example, having an empty inbox has a really positive effect on my state of mind. I have a few simple email folders within which I prioritise my work. Every job, however large, is represented by an email, even if just in the header line. This allows me to move jobs around and feel like I am on top of things.
Thirdly, I am a great fan of what Brian Tracy calls “eating the frog”! This means taking the thing on one’s to-do list that is the one you are least excited about doing and getting that job done first. As he puts it, if you eat a frog for breakfast, nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day. For me, these can be routine repetitive tasks (which as a teacher, often meant marking!) The feeling of well-being that one gets from tackling the job you have been putting off is great. Not doing it, leaves that sense of dread or guilt there all day, which isn’t good for the spirit!
SW Where do you think the responsibility for staff wellbeing lies within a school?
AB Ultimately, senior leaders have to take responsibility for the well-being of their staff by modelling a good work-life balance, so far as is possible. This also includes doing some of the things I have already mentioned. For me, this is more complex than just watching the hours one works. It is about making sure each day is filled with joy and delight – a feeling that you have accomplished something and had some fun along the way. The best leaders shine a light on all they work with, rather than casting a shadow. That optimistic approach sets a climate that can become infectious in a very positive way. Of course the opposite is also true.
SW There has recently been a lot of change in school management and governing structures (for example MATs and Executive Heads). What do you think the impact of the changing structure of schools on wellbeing will be?
AB Anecdotally, I am hearing that changes to these structures can to some extent de-personalise the way leaders engage with staff. It doesn’t have to be like this, though. I know of many MATs where the executive team really understand the importance of building relationships, trust and the need for people to enjoy their work, based on the right values. Where this goes wrong, and where well-being suffers, is where the whole machine becomes an accountability-driven machine, where fear of failure is at the heart of the motivational approach. As Daniel Pink in his great book, “Drive” suggests (and his research base is sound), autonomy, mastery and purpose are critical. The link between his ideas and well-being are obvious.
SW In your new book, you talk about creating a “climate of openness and trust” when building a team. How do you recommend building that climate?
AB The best way to build the right culture and climate in a school is for leaders to say and do the things that build discretionary effort. These are best summarised in the diagram below.
SW Changes within school are difficult for staff – how can management best support staff through periods of change?
AB When it comes to managing change, there need to be three things in place:
ONE: A good process – you won’t find better than Kotter
TWO: You have ensured that all the conditions for success are in place (see below)
THIRDLY: You need to have cognisance of the way people cope with change and make sure you are acting in the best way possible for each individual. Kubler-Ross’ model is a good way to think about this.