Jenni Osborn

This article first appeared in the Premier Youth and Children’s Work Magazine Schools Work in September 2019

Begin Mug

Starting Well

Think back for a minute to the first few weeks of this job or role you’re in currently: did the job start well? Chances are you’ll be able to tell me what didn’t go so well about the start, for example if you used the wrong mug for your tea, if you were left to introduce yourself to the team, if you perhaps revealed a little more about yourself than you bargained for in the first staff meeting (definitely not from first-hand experience that one, ahem!), or if your boss was conspicuous by their absence or a little too demanding in their expectations of you. Maybe the first few days have receded into the ether as it was a while ago, or maybe it was just a few weeks or months ago and you’re still reeling from the overwhelm it created, in any case we schools workers get a fresh start at the beginning of each academic year and it’s important, as I’m sure you’ll agree, to start well.  

What do we mean by this phrase ‘Starting well’?  

I would suggest that there are some essential elements involved in starting well and again if it helps to think about what not to do then by all means, do that! If we think of our schools work like a project we are managing then some things become clearer:  

  • Be clear about your goals – a project without goals will flounder because while everyone might appear to be busy, their efforts are going nowhere.  
  • Know your team – whether you lead the team or are a member of the team you need to know who you are working with, what are their strengths, how can you include each member in the project?  
  • Hone your project/practice – hopefully you read this column a few months ago when we talked about the importance of evaluation and acting on feedback to make your prayer space/assembly/lesson/mentoring project more effective.  
  • Allocate funds appropriately – this might be more for the team leaders among us but it’s an essential part of project management or indeed schools work to get right.  

If you are a team leader then these take on an additional element, that of responsibility for oversight and management of your team. Line management in the world of Christian Youth and Children’s Work is a mixed bag: you may be line managed very effectively, with your manager having a broad understanding of the work you are doing, holding regular meetings to keep up with any new developments or to assist you with any problems you come across in you work, they help to keep you accountable to the goals you have set for your work and give you the time needed to do this. You might have a very different experience of being line managed! If you have someone managing you who displays very little trust in your ability to manage your own time or who shows no interest in what you’re doing, this can make working very difficult. If you lead a team, take some time to ask your team what they would like from you in terms of Line Management. I would recommend reading ‘Leadership and The One Minute Manager’ by Kenneth Blanchard, it’s quick and easy to read and will have an impact on how to you lead your team. 

Why is starting well so important? 

If we don’t set goals and define the parameters of our work then we will have very little to evaluate against. Starting well is important.  

If you lead a team then it’s even more important that you start well. Things like knowing your team, training and inspiring your team and planning around the strengths of the team will all help your year go well! 

Every Schools Work Trust or project needs to have funding and starting well helps us to allocate funds appropriately, knowing which parts of our practice are most welcome in schools or well received by pupils will greatly assist this process.  

Taking time to plan carefully for your year ahead is another element of starting well. If you’ve begun with a full colour timetable that details which schools you’re in and when then you don’t need me to tell you how important this is, but if you haven’t then even a rough sketch of a timetable will help! If you don’t know which schools you’ll be in over the coming academic year then September is a good time to begin making phone calls, visiting Head Teachers or Heads of RE to get these conversations going.  

Another element to starting well is about ensuring that you look after yourself. It is all too easy to start the year with a burst of energy that quickly fades. Let’s think of our work as a long distance race, not a sprint! It’s important to create good habits so that you don’t burn out –  

  • put together a timetable so everyone knows where they’re going and what they’re doing. 
  • Build in rest, block out rest days in your diary and ask your Line Manager or team members to keep you accountable for taking them. 
  • Start your day with whatever helps you focus well: 
  • using a menthol shower gel will wake your senses up quick! 
  • A glass of water immediately upon waking is reported to do likewise.  
  • Try to limit caffeine intake as it only means you’ll end up more and more reliant on it.  
  • Having a short contemplative pause before getting your head into working is something recommended by many, Christians have been recommending this approach for a long time!  

And finally, start with motivation/inspiration – consider attending the SchoolsworkUK day conference on 2nd September in Luton or look out for something local to you. If there’s nothing already happening then you could do something lower key but still useful like gather with your team to pray and worship for half a day before jumping into the term.  

However you begin this brand new academic year, start as you mean to go on by starting well.