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: planning and communication

In the first of a blog series, Liz Murray shares her experience of setting up a new job share. 

As teacher, SENCO, and educational consultant, I haven’t shied away from publicly advocating the importance of embracing flexible working across all sectors. I recently wrote about my zig zag career path and was delighted when readers then got in touch to ask for advice or share their own journeys.

I’ve been open about the ever-pressing reasons for schools to embrace flexible working arrangements, even if it does require some creative thinking. Even so, it was with a little trepidation that I accepted a request to write about the challenges and solutions involved in building a successful job share arrangement – as it happens!

My story so far

Over the last ten years, I’ve worked part-time in various flexible arrangements: one three-day role, two four-day roles and a job share. My part-time roles have been at middle and senior level across state and independent school settings.

I’ve learned that each situation and context is different and requires a bespoke approach to make it successful. A job share can be brilliant and inspiring when it works, bringing added value and cultivating rewarding collaborative working relationships. But it can also go wrong, and if this happens it creates problems for not just the colleagues in the job share, but for those around them too. 

Our Context

My job share partner and I will be Co-Directors of Curriculum Support (Co-SENCOs) in a state secondary school setting. We have a busy department and a big team to manage. The school has a high number of young people with complex special educational needs and it is our job to ensure that school provision enables them to feel happy and successful and make progress in every area.

There are opportunities to make positive changes... but first we must find a way of working together effectively

I am an experienced SENCO, but only joined the school recently. I will work two days a week. My job share partner will work three days a week. She is an experienced teacher at the school but is new to the SENCO role. However, she has managed a large department on four days a week so neither of us is new to the challenges and benefits of flexible working.

We bring different strengths to the job share and there are obvious ways that we can support each other. There are also opportunities to make some positive changes through combining our different perspectives. But first we must find a way of working together effectively…

Step 1: Planning (content and logistics)

Being at the same school already, we were able to do some planning before the summer holidays.

Content: Sharing our perspectives regarding what we needed to plan for next academic year was a powerful and positive process, especially as we were approaching it from different perspectives. After many discussions, we wrote a draft development plan with some agreed strands for improvement which we have submitted to our headteacher (also new!) and will use this as a basis for our initial autumn term discussions.

Logistics:  I’ve written about the importance of overlap time in my practical guide to flexible working. We were upfront with our headteacher about requiring this for our job share arrangement to work. We’re pleased to have a one day overlap where we can catch up and plan together, as well as talk to our team together.

This is a positive arrangement, but it didn’t come without a compromise as there will be one day a week that neither of us will be at school. We had to think about the issues that this might create and find a solution for them, so we decided to discuss it with another member of our staff team, our excellent curriculum support manager.

Thankfully she is very supportive of our plans and will provide some cover on the day that neither of us is in school. We have also committed to carefully planning each week and not compromising the provision.

Step 2:  Planning and communication (tools)

The SENCO role is one where we need to plan: yearly, termly and weekly – but it is also a job where unexpected issues arise and must be dealt with quickly.

Our challenge is to keep on track and find a way of communicating tasks and making collaborative decisions when we are unable to plan in advance. We’ve decided to experiment with a planning and communication sheet, to be updated regularly to keep the job share partner and other team members informed.

Communication

Open, regular and effective communication is probably the most important aspect of making the arrangement work. We’re going to experiment with the planning sheet above but will also have a weekly meeting where we sit down and talk about the tasks ahead. We’ll also try to reflect honestly on where things are going well and where they are not. The role of the SENCO is sometimes emotionally draining so I’m looking forward to having someone to talk through challenges with and find ways forward.

We have pledged to not check emails on our days off, or to contact the other person when they are not in school

It’s important to ensure that colleagues can easily communicate with us too, so we’ve already decided to attend an after-school meeting together on a day that we are both in school.  It would be tempting for only one of us to go and for the other to complete something else, but we feel that this will be beneficial for our colleagues, present a united front, and keep us both in the loop on important issues.

There is very little point in requesting a flexible working arrangement if you work on your day off. It can be difficult to resist checking emails or catching up on paperwork in the mire of a busy school term. So, we have pledged not to do this, or to contact the other person when they are not in school. This is another incentive to stay organised and communicate effectively.

Step 3: Questions

We definitely don’t have all of the answers yet, and we certainly have many questions. Here are just some of them.

  • How will we divide the workload fairly, especially with those hard to plan for issues?
  • Will we take the lead on some of the student cohort each? If we do this, how will we keep each other up to date so that we can deal with issues that may arise on days off?
  • Will we divide the line management of our team? If so, how will we effectively keep each other in the loop?

Reflections and tips so far

  • Talk honestly and openly about concerns and try to come up with solutions in advance.
  • Involve other members of your team in these discussions. They may have a different perspective or solution to offer, and this will also strengthen your working relationships.
  • Be clear about what you need to make the job share work and share this at an early stage with senior leaders. Don’t make a compromise that means that you will not be able to succeed.
  • Resolve to have some basic ground rules such as not contacting each other on days off.
  • Build in time for planning and reflection at regular intervals, and be prepared to be honest and solution-focused.

Supporting staff wellbeing

Offering flexible working is just one way to support staff wellbeing. To find out more about other aspects, including workload, planning and marking, absence and pupil behaviour, join us in London on 27 November for the Supporting Staff Wellbeing conference. 

 

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