Sharing strength (and magical forces)

A painted miniature described in the article

The Working SBM discusses which magical tools an SBM can use to help make their lives a fairytale

In my role as a school business manager (SBM) I have often wished I could take colleagues by the hands and, with our eyes closed, open a channel which enables the flow of some of my strength and resilience into them. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to use a magical force that gets them over the hump of whatever is causing their stress or anxiety, injecting a shot of confidence and calm so they can focus on their challenges and build back their own vigour?

Unfortunately, I’m not physically or magically able to make that transfer of resilience. I can use words, I can reallocate work, I can provide cover, I can put up wellbeing posters – but only they themselves can find that elusive work-life balance which can so easily be thrown off kilter.

Of course, my own strength and confidence is not unlimited. I have found occasions, especially recently, when I have been running near to empty on energy and positivity. I don’t think it is unusual to become overwhelmed by the role we perform, and we all need every tool in our workshop to keep that to-do list ticking over, and the smiles on our face.

With a mind to my own work-life balance, and to take my mind off lockdowns, mass testing, risk assessment (and yet another jigsaw), my son and I embarked on a new fantasy role-playing game earlier this year. We didn’t get far in the game itself, and we had more fun arranging the hundreds of cards and pieces into little boxes, and painting the little plastic characters, than we did trying to decipher the rules and get through the first room without being slaughtered!

My little character was called Quatryl Tinkerer and – her inability to stay alive notwithstanding – she got me thinking about magical tools an SBM could use to pass through the Portal of Job-done at the end of the day!

The Manual of Truth – Often as conflicting as a fantasy role-play game rule book, our policies, manuals, assessments, acronyms and guidance can be mind-blowing. Make sure you take someone with you who can help you cut through the jargon of the guide and play the game properly.

The Spade of Confidence – That old saying ‘call a spade a spade’ is one to remember; I imbibe my character with honesty to say what they think. Every opinion is valuable, and you can use a spade kindly, it doesn’t have to be blunt! Confidence is key for an SBM, and always keep in mind that your leader (as much as they may think it) has no need of a ‘yes man’.

The Spanner of Persistence – Imagine that huge project or task ahead of you is a long bolt. Line up the nut and start wielding your spanner, one turn at a time, slowly and with purpose, until the nut is tight.

The Goggles of Protection – We’re all so used to PPE now, but protecting yourself is the first priority. The fantasy character who doesn’t carry protection potions is not going to last long, and an SBM on their knees is no good to anyone. Sleep, exercise, healthy eating, a hobby – taking time for you – will all result in more effectiveness in your role.

The Walkie-Talkie of Collaboration – This is, perhaps, the most vital tool in every SBM’s fantasy rucksack. We can’t do this on our own and we shouldn’t try. Use the support characters around you. Everyone has experience to share (including you) and there is little point in struggling to get through that guarded doorway if someone else knows the secret passage!

As SBMs, one thing we must be good at is getting external support. We look to auditors, HR, and energy procurement services; we buy in our DPO, catering and cleaning…the list goes on and on. In conversation with one of my governors, who is also a school’s auditor, last week we came to an agreement that the role of an SBM in a single unit academy (SUA) is a really tough one. How do you keep up with the constantly changing demands? How do you carry the weight of responsibility? How do you keep going, day after day, in that relentless pursuit of ‘value for money’, ‘budgetary efficiency’ and ‘lean operations’?

At last, in my region at least, it feels like the bad press of the multi-academy trust is beginning to lift, and SBM’s are reaping the benefits of joining forces to work with like-minded schools – recognising best practice and the operational efficiencies that come with sharing strengths. I wouldn’t hesitate to advise every SUA SBM, or maintained SBM, to encourage their leadership team to investigate the newly introduced ways of enabling schools to work together. In my view there will, inevitably, come a time when the decision is taken out of our hands. I know I would much rather have had chance to look about and assess the challenges in the room before I am forced through by something coming up behind me!

So, our fantasy game, which came in a massive and heavy box, is now looking for a new home. We realised that we just can’t understand it on our own and we had picked a game that required a significant time commitment and someone who knows what they are doing! I also realised that I’m not particularly good at painting little plastic characters!

Jigsaw anyone?

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