1 Prioritising your work and managing your time effectively as a school leader

Every school leader has competing demands for their time during any school day. They work with teachers, parents, students or education officials who visit their school. As a school leader, one potential source of pressure is your teachers’ dependence on you to solve all day-to-day problems, which often leaves little or no time for you to do other equally important strategic school tasks. This can lead to unintended consequences, as Case Study 1 highlights.

Case Study 1: Ms Mehta’s leadership

Ms Mehta has been the school leader of a secondary school for ten years. Her staff find her very supportive and will go to her for all the answers they need. She spends every school day helping others but this leaves her very little time to do any tasks that she sets for herself.

In the last year she has been unwell and unable to provide the same level of support to staff as she used to. Although her staff are sympathetic, they feel that her standards have fallen and are beginning to question whether she should be replaced. In particular, it has become obvious that new initiatives in assessment have not been explained and embedded properly with all staff, and Ms Mehta herself seems unable to model or explain them clearly. In a recent meeting with the school management committee, a representative of the staff voiced her concerns about the drop in staff morale. Although teaching and learning standards remained good, the school management committee were concerned that student learning would begin to suffer unless Ms Mehta was able to lead changes in teaching and learning with her staff effectively.

In the coming month, the maths department has to prepare its students for the annual state competition. Ms Mehta has always enjoyed leading the preparation and accompanying the students to the competition, but this year she feels she cannot do this. She is now troubled by the criticism of her leadership, but is also losing her ability to do parts of the job that she really enjoys.

This case study highlights:

  • possible consequences of inefficient time and work management
  • feeling overwhelmed by other people’s problems
  • not attending to your own professional needs to keep yourself up-to-date on relevant developments
  • loss of job satisfaction
  • potentially stress-related health issues.

All of these ultimately may impact on the quality of student learning.

It is therefore important that you are able to multi-task, and – most importantly – prioritise your work to ensure your effectiveness as a school leader and that student learning is not compromised.

Activity 1: Analysing the school leader’s role and responsibilities

It is important to consider what it means to be a leader in your school and, more widely, your state. Record your notes from these activities in your Learning Diary, as they may be useful to refer back to in later activities and other units.

Think about your typical day and list all the activities that you lead on. Your typical day could include leadership actions such as welcoming students and staff to school, leading the morning assembly, ensuring all lessons start on time, etc.

Now reflect on the activities you have listed and rank them in order of importance (that is, in the order that have the most impact on your students’ learning). Prioritising these tasks may be difficult because you deem all tasks to be equally important. Nonetheless, you will need to identify those activities where you as a school leader will have the most impact, separating the tasks that can only be done by you from those that could be done by others.

For each of the activities, identify a member of your staff who can lead in your absence. You may find it useful to make a copy of Table 1 and fill it in, adding as many rows as you need.

Table 1 Who can lead in your absence?
ActivityStaff to lead in my absence

Do you have a job description for your role? If you do not, list all the tasks that you need to undertake and complete. Some could be immediate, whereas others could be long-term in nature.

How accurately does your daily activity list reflect your job description or job list? Do you do any activities that are not reflected in the job description or job list?

Being a school leader comes with a lot of responsibility. A large part of a school leader’s job is to get things done by enabling others to do them on your behalf. This includes:

  • providing direction
  • modelling good practice
  • managing performance
  • supporting the work of others
  • delegating effectively
  • making sure that your staff are motivated, that they complete tasks, and maintain professional standards.

As the school leader, you are expected to be an ‘enabler’ who helps people enhance the quality of their work and supports them to achieve their goals and targets. There may not be enough time in a school leader’s day to complete every task, so it is essential to use time wisely. This means that you need to schedule activities and plan effective use of the available time. If you streamline what you are doing every day by setting yourself simple goals and targets, and avoiding distractions, you will achieve more. Effective time management can help you to gain more control over your activities and increase your efficiency.

Being able to assign – or delegate – some of your activities to others will allow you to start to prioritise your work, manage your time better and more effectively, and develop trustworthy relationships. But clearly you will be able to do this better if you have a way of thinking about what are the most pressing and important tasks that you are responsible for.

What school leaders can learn in this unit