The view that binds us

We all have our own ‘view from our own engine room’, but all SBMs have a few fundamental things in common. This month’s ‘A light-hearted view from the Engine Room’ explores these similarities, while Working SBM muses on her own view

As school business managers, our literal ‘view from the engine room’ is always going to be very different. Some of us look out over a built up area of towns and cities. In my previous post, I looked out over a churchyard – now I’m surrounded by hills. Then, internally, some of us look at small, inquisitive children, some of us look at surly but equally curious teenagers –  and all of us look at very busy staff!

It’s always amazed me that, although our views are varied, our attitudes, dedication, processes and the day-to-day demands made on us are actually very similar. A room full of SBMs always have so much in common with each other and, in my experience, SBMs are happy to share insights and practice, and are keen to learn something new.

We are excellent networkers because we know how important it is to our role. We all need support, in both positive times and tough times. It’s so good that we can talk about our challenges; we all need someone to talk to and, of course, we like to meet new people.

It was a previous headteacher of mine who used to refer to the finance office of a school as the ‘engine room’; that was where everything happened, she always said. It was the place that kept all the wheels and cogs turning to enable the process of teaching and learning. When the leader of the engine room evolved into the school business manager, the role quickly grew into something that was crucial and effected the whole school community. Suddenly, there was someone who could plan and direct operations, someone who could manage the budget and the premises, who could solve problems, who could step in and have the confidence to turn their hand to many different skills in order to keep those wheels and cogs turning smoothly.

We all need support, in both positive times and tough times

An evolution of hats

I was lucky to be there at the beginning of that evolution and was able to take on the many different hats we wear, one-by-one. I’m in awe of colleagues who step into the full role now – it must be quite overwhelming to be suddenly responsible for a school, even though that responsibility is shared with the rest of the senior leadership team.

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Today, the school business manager comes in lots of different guises and has many different titles, but I think it is important to remember that – whatever the phase, size, setting or demographic – we are all reaching for the same purpose: to have a positive impact on the pupils in our community.

This is what unites us. This is what gets me out of bed on these dark winter mornings. This is what makes me give up my time to support other SBMs if I can, even though I know I have a full inbox and a million things to do. There is always something I can learn and use in my own office and I’ve always found that the more I put into this job, the more I can share with others, and the more I get back in return.

Positivity and new pathways

For this reason, my ‘view’ has always been outward-facing, embracing change, innovation and new initiatives and trying not to be jaded by those who claim to have seen it all before. I’m interested in new pathways, for my school and my own career, and I turn away from negativity. I believe the school business manager has got to be a positive influence in their own community, finding solutions even when there is no money, looking for ways to improve their environment and the well-being of their colleagues (not forgetting themselves!) and demonstrating that can-do attitude even after a long day of tasks – none of which were on the to-do list of the day.

For my outward-facing view to work most effectively, I know I need to bring everyone with me and that is often the biggest challenge. I guess motivating and inspiring others to follow me out into this collaborative world is what makes me a school business leader; I don’t always get it right but I’m convinced that supporting each other and working together is in the best interests, not only of ourselves, but also our pupils.

I used to enjoy looking out over the beautiful Cotswold stone churchyard with its historic headstones, neatly cut grass and trimmed hedges. There was order and organisation there. It was peaceful. Visitors used to tell me what a wonderful view I had and I would agree with them, but reply, “It is lovely, but we don’t go down there – it’s a dead-end.”

WorkingSBM has worked as an SBM for over 14 years – ‘supporting constant change and running the engine room!’ An active member of the SBM community, you can find her on Twitter @workingsbm2017 or you can read her excellent blog at https://workingsbm.wordpress.com/

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