The ‘main thing’; a considered look at the SBM role

The school business management role is evolving to reflect the needs of the education sector, and there is a drive towards professionalisation. However, Nickii Messer of All the Geese suggests that, when on the path of professional development, you need to remember the ‘main thing’

Many years ago, as part of the National College’s Leadership Steering Group, I was engaged in launching the school business manager role in our schools. Despite being a proactive advocate for the role, from the start I had my concerns. When I met Estelle Morris – the then education secretary – I asked, ‘What happens when these new colleagues (of whom I was one of the first) take over all this responsibility and workload from our exhausted headteachers? How long will it be before they crumble under the weight of it all? What, then, will happen to our headteachers and our schools?”
There was no answer – and, for all these years, there has never been an answer. The difference now is that this is no longer a question of what might happen; it is happening now!
The main thing
I believe the survival of the SBM role will be down to the profession taking responsibility to ensure their own resilience. The ISBL Professional Standards describes ‘resilient’ behaviour as, ‘Focuses efficient and effective activity on the agreed priorities within own remit’ (Tier 1) – or, as the late, great Stephen Covey would have it, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”
For me, the main thing should always be the wellbeing and life chances of the children. If, as an SBM, you are spending time and effort on anything else then you seriously need to challenge it. Identify and prioritise those activities that truly add value for the children and ensure everyone in the support services team does the same.
Growing pressure
There have never been so many pressures on the role – and most of these are ones over which the SBM has little or no control. However, there is one pressure that I have seen increasingly impacting on SBMs of late and that is something I call ‘peer-career pressure’. This is where SBMs feel under pressure to aspire to a career they don’t really want, that they don’t currently have capacity for and which their school really doesn’t need them to have.
This is different from professional development; this is professional diversion. So, my message to SBMs goes back to Covey, “…keep the main thing, the main thing.” During the working week focus energy on the priorities of the job but, over evenings and weekends, get completely away from work. Recharge your batteries. Put life back in perspective and keep yourself fit and well.
Believe me, the week ahead is going to be at least as strenuous as the last one, and your school needs you fit and ready.
When it’s not time for work it’s time to make the ‘main thing’ YOU!

About Nickii
Nickii Messer, and her company All the Geese, provide school business management and leadership training and support – providing personalised training, development and reviews for support staff and school business management, along with system and process audits. She is also operational and quality assurance lead for school business management programmes at Anglia Ruskin University.  

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