The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Liz Murray

Flexible working in action: developing the working relationship

In the second of her blog series, Liz Murray reveals how plans are already changing, and what the job share partners are doing to ensure a successful working relationship. 

As readers of my previous blog will know, I’m in a new job share arrangement as co-director of curriculum support (basically a SENCO). I want to share our ongoing struggles and solutions as we navigate our first term of job sharing.

A work in progress

Writing about a flexible working arrangement as it happens is a very different experience to writing with the benefit of hindsight. Working in schools is eventful and as I write this blog today, I hold in my mind the many tasks that are ongoing in the middle of a demanding term. As those of us who work in schools know, we work on a dual track, actioning our longer-term strategic goals alongside the many operational and unplanned for tasks.

My job share partner and I have now been working collaboratively for over two months and have experienced many of our anticipated challenges already, including:

  • managing and planning workload between us
  • splitting the line management of our team and the challenges that this creates
  • ensuring that the other person is up to speed on key issues and not letting anything fall between us
  • managing colleagues’ expectations.

Communication and planning: an update

As the role of the SENCO inherently requires the ability to plan strategically, but to also respond to unexpected issues, we knew that effective communication and planning would be the key to our success. At the time of writing the last blog, we had decided to experiment with a communication and planning sheet which we had devised. 

Handover is absolutely crucial and that there is no substitute for having a face to face meeting

This was a useful document in terms of initial planning, especially for my co-SENCO who is new to the role, but we soon found that we required something more user-friendly and adopted the following instead. 

  • Shared electronic calendar: we have developed this so that we, and other team members, can see at a glance the meetings and tasks in the diary across the whole week. It keeps the workload transparent and allows us to plan more effectively.
  • Planning sheet: we have developed a simpler strategic and operational planning sheet which we update weekly. We return to this in our weekly meetings and discuss it in our line management meeting with the headteacher too. It gives us an overview and aids understanding re how and why we are choosing to prioritise some areas over others.  Whereas I have always written and used a department development plan, this is a better ‘working document’ and I think we are using it more effectively than we would if we were working independently. The fact that we are in a job share means that we recognise that we must share the vision of what we need to achieve.

Handover planning

The main idea behind our original planning document was that it would serve as a handover between us. We realised quickly that handover is absolutely crucial and that there is no substitute for having a face to face meeting.

To this end, we schedule a face to face meeting to handover every other week. On the weeks we can’t do this, we will provide a detailed email update. If we feel it is necessary, we will also have a chat on the phone one evening.

This does break our pledge to not contact each other on non-working days, but both of us prefer that the other is fully informed and able to maximise the time in school.

Sharing line management

After much deliberation we decided that we would split the line management of our large team between us. We decided to line manage areas where we already had experience and felt most confident.

However, we also recognised the need to feedback to each other regularly so that both of us are in the loop regarding every area of responsibility. It was important to communicate this to our staff clearly so that they understood that while one of us would meet with them regularly, the other would still be able to discuss any issues arising on the days that their designated line manager was not on duty.

The importance of trust and developing a good working relationship

This might seem like something ‘lucky’ that just happens when two individuals get on well, but I don’t think this is the case

My job share partner and I did not know each other well before embarking on this arrangement but it turns out that we have a very similar approach.
We have actively been developing our professional working relationship and this is now paying great dividends in the way that we have developed a level of trust which means that we can more quickly and easily communicate with each other.

In many ways, this might seem like something ‘lucky’ that just happens when two individuals get on well, but I don’t think this is the case.

We didn’t consciously plan these strategies, but the list below includes some of the things that we regularly do which have helped to develop trust between us.

  • Communicate regularly and check in with each other, especially if we know there is a difficult meeting or task ahead.
  • Co-plan for some challenging meetings, even if only one of us will attend.
  • Be honest with each other. If we are concerned about something, we say so; if we need help, we express this.
  • Prioritise workload together but trust the other to adjust this as necessary when they are on duty.
  • Praise and thank each other for completing specific tasks and openly recognise each other’s strengths.
  • Give each other credit with other colleagues.

Ultimately, we support each other, and this has led to a level of professional trust that I haven’t experienced so quickly before. It enables us to do our shared role effectively and to use our strengths more consciously.

The other benefit is that our problem-solving ability is most definitely enhanced, as we share our different perspectives and discuss issues; often they are resolved much more quickly than they would be if we were working alone.

What next?

I’m hoping that by my next instalment we will have had some time for proper reflection on our first term. I suspect some of the areas and questions I’ll be exploring in my next blog are along the lines of the following.

  • How well do we do when we have to pass a specific issue between us across a week? Up to now we’ve tried to lead on specific cases and follow through where possible, but we have some situations arising where we will need to pass them back and forth to each other.
  • How is the job-share working for other colleagues? What issues have arisen that we can find solutions for? Can colleagues identify benefits and challenges that we can then tackle?
  • What impact does the job-share have on our continued professional development as job-share partners? 

I’ve been really pleased to hear recently from other flexible workers and also headteachers who are keen to facilitate flexible working more effectively in their schools. If you’d like to share your experiences and thoughts, please do drop me a message via @liz4885

Supporting staff wellbeing

Offering flexible working is just one way to support staff wellbeing. To find out more about other aspects, including workload, absence and pupil behaviour, join us in Manchester on 25 March for the Supporting Staff Wellbeing conference. 

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