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Be Aware of the Details but don't lose sight of The Big Picture

Your AHDS Area Officers continue to provide members with support and advice on a wide range of issues from job sizing, parental complaints, grievance procedures and working time arrangements to situations where members find themselves undergoing discipline or competency procedures themselves.

For some time AO meetings have included discussion about how we can try to support members avoid or at least mitigate some situations. Sometimes simply being aware of and being familiar with Local Authority, Education Scotland and GTCS procedures and processes could have avoided an issue developing and certainly greater knowledge of the content of these would possibly have helped.

As a result our AOs have been developing a simple audit tool that will list things to be aware of, where you might find them and allow members to consider what they feel confident with and what they need to find out.

While this tool may help members ensure that their policies and procedures are sound it is also important to remember that creating good relationships, open communications and developing a supportive management style could go some way to negate the need to refer to any policies and procedures mentioned earlier. Focusing on your personal strengths and the strengths of all staff and building on these is essential rather than focusing on weaknesses or perceived weaknesses.

The whole area of emotional wellbeing also needs to be at the heart of our school communities.

An article I read recently suggested that there are two kinds of people - big picture people and details people. Big picture people are described as visionary, creative and strategic. Yet they can also be disorganised and forgetful. Details people are conscientious, good at planning and exacting. Yet they do not prioritise easily and may lack perspective. Most people are more skilled at one and some may be even equally good at both. These skills may be part of your personality but they can also be learned. The role of school leader requires strategic thinking as well as attention to detail!

The rest of this article will focus on the big picture and in the next issue the focus will be the detail and the audit mentioned above.

Real leadership is demonstrated through both seeing the big picture and ensuring others see it too. Building a shared vision doesn't diminish the importance of the details but to get an accurate picture of where you are and where you are going, it is necessary to step back and reflect. What are the priorities on your improvement plan? (Have they been agreed with and developed by staff?) Are you suffering from innovation overload? (Are staff suffering from innovation overload because you are?) Were these priorities developed in a collegiate way? (Do they take account / do they need to take account of role and remits thus avoiding the pitfalls of "it's not in my remit") Will they make the school a better place? Are relationships in your school built on mutual respect and trust? Are communications open and honest? (Is it your way or no way or do you reflect on what others bring to the table?) Is the importance of emotional wellbeing understood by everyone?

We realise that time in school is always under pressure and you can feel that it is never your own, nevertheless you may find the following helpful in terms of big picture thinking:

1/         Allocate time to thinking. This might seem to be stating the obvious but when the To-Do list is always long, there always seems to be something that is more urgent. Pick a regular time of the day when you are at your most creative and do some big picture thinking. Writers often use a particular time each day to write.

2/         Have a conversation with a colleague or group of colleagues. Another HT, DHT, Group of staff? The best ideas are often generated in the course of a conversation. It may also be very useful to focus on listening, and important to communicate the value of what you hear, including critical feedback.

3/         Decide on specific goals. The big picture, together with specific goals, leads to specific actions with a finite timeframe. Break down that big picture into smaller pieces until each feels doable.

4/         Identify actionable first steps. Until you identify the first steps it will simply remain the big picture.

5/         Be consistent in sharing your vision. Schedule time to discuss with all the school community the vision of what the school will look like when the goal has been fully realised. This will generate further ideas and give others the ownership and motivation needed to implement that vision.

When followed up with action, regularly scheduled big picture thinking can bring new, better ideas to light and give confidence that the small tasks of every day are steps along the right path.

Remember, AHDS has published a range of supportive “Do’s and Don’ts” in previous editions of Head to Head.  These will soon be available in a members only section on our website but in the meantime, if you would like a copy please don’t hesitate to get in touch (info@ahds.org.uk):


Do’s and Don’ts                                                        Published in Head to Head 

When a complaint is made against you                      June 2014

Disciplining a member of staff                                    December 2013

Dealing with competency issues                                December 2013

Managing Staff Absence                                            September 2013 


Note: We realise “Do’s and Don’ts” involves a peculiar use of the apostrophe but “Dos and Don’ts” (which is probably correct) has the unfortunate effect of looking like we are talking about a computer programming language.  Suggestions on a postcard if you think we should write it differently!

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