Dr Denry Machin
Oct 23, 2018 · 4 min read
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“How you do one thing is how you do everything.” Anon

Some months back I asked a series of colleagues and acquaintances, all school leaders in various capacities, to share their wisdom. A range of prompts encouraged them to respond under ten broad themes. The first of those themes was routines and rituals.

Reported below are their collected musings; a sample of the kind of things they do, or try to do, on a daily basis. What routines, rituals or rules make school leaders daily lives that bit more effective, that bit easier or that bit more impactful?

Get out of the office

Across the contributions, one theme was clear: Principals need to have presence.

A Principal with presence is visible. But, not in the panoptical sense. Being visible improves ‘soft supervision’ of teachers and students, and improves accountability, but that isn’t its purpose. Presence isn’t about catching teachers or students out; a Principal with presence isn’t a threat.

A Principal with presence is emotionally engaged and actively involved. They take an energetic interest in what is going on. They walk the corridors, sit in on classes and join activities. They might even, if possible, do some teaching — or at least the occasional ‘cover’ lesson.

Being seen at the school gate, in the corridors, at parents’ meetings, in the staff room and at sports events is critical.

A wise Principal understands that presence is more than just being present.

A few selected quotes from the sample of leaders:

“…it is important to get out of the office as much as possible and be seen.”

“I try to show my face at morning drop-off and after school pick-up; a reassurance to our ever-demanding parents”

“Every morning I welcome students as they enter the school. It’s simple and not very noteworthy, but it does remind me why I’m there. For the children. On those rare days I’m not there, it gets noticed.”

“Be in classrooms daily!”

“Being present — at the lunch hall, in the staff room, at events. That presence should be positive, supportive, collegial and kind. Most of all, authenticity is the aim. The school leader who is box ticking their way towards presence is easily caught out.”

“Be available: have your office door open.”

“You must walk the campus at least once a day. In a brisk campus walk you can cover a great deal of ground and it reassures people that a) you’re still alive and b) interested in teaching and learning. Take a notebook with you; it can save a lot of email traffic if people know they will see you around.”

“I teach one class and have one duty per week, enabling greater empathy with staff and the demands on them.”

Prioritise, communicate and be consistent

As well as being visible, the leaders also shared a range of other daily rituals and productivity routines. Some are small tweaks, others are more philosophical:

“I write out my schedule for the day, and my priorities, before my first appointment. It helps me to focus on the most important tasks.”

“I like to end the day by ruthlessly prioritising my to-do list, highlighting items that must get done the next day. Inevitably I get to others lower down the list on most days.”

“Get in early. Be prepared for the day, whatever it brings.”

“An early start and a chat to staff over a cup of coffee in the staff room, if the luxury of time allows.”

“Always follow-up after meetings, get back to people to let them know what is happening.”

“I work on ‘active constructive responding’ whenever I can. When with colleagues I let them do the talking, while I listen and respond positively. It sounds easy, but I find that in a busy school it takes a lot of concentration to act in this way.”

“Take notes during all meetings no matter how large or small. This will help you stay engaged in the moment instead of thinking about the next task.”

“For any email or post, at the point of opening it, either forward it, file it, trash it or reply to it.”


Establish one new routine of your own.

Take inspiration from the list, or choose something of your own. Challenge yourself to do something new, but regularly.

It needs to be something stickable. Something that will become second nature.

If you are school leader this could be spending 30 minutes per week in other teacher’s lessons. If you are classroom teacher it could be as simple as standing outside your door, greeting children as they arrive.

Or, maybe it is taking 10 minutes every day to step outside for some fresh air. Maybe it’s talking to one new colleague, or one new student, each week.

Whatever you choose, make it a ritual. Make it part of your routine.

Want to read more? The next Wisdom of Heads piece is here.


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