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School Leadership: The Importance Of Focusing On Now

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

"It turns out to be perilously easy to over-invest in this instrumental relationship to time - to focus exclusively on where you're headed, at the expense of focusing on where you are - with the result that you find yourself living mentally in the future, locating the 'real' value of your life at some time that you haven't yet reached, and never will."

From 'Four Thousand Weeks' by Oliver Burkeman

OK, so I'm a massive proponent of the importance of planning both as a teacher and a leader, of looking forward and setting goals and actions which enable one to work towards those goals. But I also think there is wisdom in what Burkeman is saying here, too. He's writing about the way we approach life in general, particularly warning against using the present as a tool for achieving something else in the future, but there is merit in this for you as a school leader, too.

Knowing Now For Now's Sake

When you only ever think about what needs to be done at some point in the future, be that tomorrow, next week, next term or next year, you risk missing what is happening now. You miss the positives - all the things you've achieved - and you may even miss information which might be helpful in pointing you towards exactly what your next steps might be. It's all too easy to forget to stop and take stock, and to think about how things are now.

Knowing Now To Know What Next

It's really important to focus on where you are, as Burkeman says, when you are thinking about your impact as a leader. You need to know about the journey you are on, either as a school, within a particular subject, or more personally as a leader. Focusing on where you are currently takes into account what you have done in the past, and what you are doing currently. And you can't even begin to think about the future, and what's next, unless you have a really firm knowledge of the current state of play.

The Reward Of Knowing Now

Planning for the future may feel productive, but assessing how things are is productive too. And it is rewarding. There is real value in how things are right now in your school. It can be very motivating to take a positive view of all that has been achieved so far - and there always will be examples of success for you to see. Examples that you might otherwise miss if you are always looking to the future.

Knowing Now As Part Of A Narrative

The present is part of the story - its not just the past and the future. When working with school leaders and subject leaders I often talk about how important it is to know the narrative - the past, the present, the future, and the future future (more about that in another blog post). If you know about, and can talk knowledgably about, all four of these time periods, you are in a good position to be able to communicate with anyone who might need to know how things are going - a senior leader, a governor, an advisor or an Ofsted inspector.

Asking Questions To Know Now

In order to help leaders at all levels to learn the narrative of their school or subject area with regards to quality of learning I've created a question grid, a section of which you see here:

The whole grid guides leaders through a series of questions which, when considered and answered, will lead to greater clarity about the story they can tell about their school or subject. The grid takes phrases from the Ofsted framework, picks up on key words and frames questions around them. It has a focus both on actions and outcomes, ensuring that leaders think clearly about the difference between the two. It also takes leaders through the 4 time periods mentioned above, helping them to think through an entire narrative. In addition to this, it splits the key words into sections based on Ofsted's 3 'I's - Intent, Implementation and Impact, helping leaders to identify where on their journey they are, and where to focus their energies next.

The question grid can be downloaded here:

If you would like Aidan to work with your organisation on school or subject leadership, use the 'Contact' tab above, or the phone or email details at the top of the page to get in touch.


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