Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Panic If Your Staff Duck Out

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Panic If Your Staff Duck Out

Article excerpt

Remain calm when managing goodbyes, even if you're paddling hard under the surface

Teachers are defined by routines and rituals. Our days are measured in lessons and breaktimes, punctuated by clanging Pavlovian bells. Our weeks are counted out in teaching allocations, briefings and meetings, plus sporadic "non-contact" periods, before the sweet relief of a Friday night kicks in. Our years are cyclical - punctuated by training days, parents' evenings, concerts, non-uniform days and suchlike.

Some of these are a comfort, but some are decidedly not. Grimmest of all the school rituals are the hellos and goodbyes. Students have the pizzazz of a secondary prom or sixth-form ball. Staff gatherings are frequently less glam and more glum.

Perhaps it's just me. My wife once offered to make me a badge for the start of the term saying, "If you don't ask me about my holiday, I won't ask you about yours." The message is crustily cantankerous. Then again, so am I. That's why I dread training days at the beginning of the year: people in holiday garb trading small-talk through rictus smiles, while fending off the panic of the term ahead. Stuff the hellos.

And goodbyes? We are approaching that time of year when we have a glut of them. And they can be testing occasions.

Captive audience

In almost 30 years, I have sat through far too many staff leaving dos, sipping bad coffee or warm white wine, gloomily observing leavers intoxicated by the brief oxygen of an audience's apparent attention. Too often they deliver a speech that leaves no staffroom buttock unclenched.

What I have learned is this: using a farewell speech to have a go at the management rarely leads anywhere other than to squirming, self-inflicted humiliation. As Shakespeare's plays teach us, revenge is a dish best served cold. So leave your grudge for another day; make an appointment to say it in person, without an audience, and then at least you'll leave the establishment with some dignity intact.

As school leader you have an important role to play in goodbyes. You should deliver a finely crafted homily, saying things that characterise the very best of the leaver's career - their passion for an aspect of their subject, their trips and visits, their high regard among students. And if you can't, you should nominate someone who can. …

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