“Becoming a parent is the best time management training I’ve ever had.”
“I’m so much better at prioritising now that I’m a parent.”
“Returning to work as a parent has taught me efficiency: I work smart, not hard.”
“Of course I work well under pressure: I have a baby, a toddler, a career and a home to run.”
Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? Have you thought them, said them, or found yourself fuming at the colleague who just does not seem to get it? Do you ever want to rage at the lack of value that employers sometimes place on the skills and experience acquired through parenting? Or are you on the other side of the conversation: fed up with all the parents coming back from leave believing they are entitled to a promotion just because they’ve managed to keep a small human being alive for six to twelve months? “We’ve all watched enough reality TV to know that becoming a parent doth not an effective leader make,” you might be thinking.
Regardless of what camp you fall into, if you work in education, you probably agree with the stark facts of the teacher retention and recruitment crisis, and the leadership shortage. We don’t have enough teachers or school leaders for the number of students turning up at our door, so let’s try to do as much as possible to keep, and attract quality practitioners into schools.
For The MTPT Project community, however, there can sometimes be a frustrating language barrier between ourselves and recruiting leadership teams or governing bodies. Recently, I’ve been having lots of conversations about how we can empower teachers to ‘sell’ their parental leave or career break experiences so that they are returning to positions matched to their skillets, and so that schools are benefitting from recruiting these people to their teams. I’ve been having a think about exactly how these transferrable parenting skills might prove beneficial in the employment arena, and the completion of In Tray Tasks for SLT interviews seems to provide a perfect example.
If you’ve never interviewed for an SLT position, an in tray task is like a fun role play of tasks that you might be given to do in the role for which you are applying. A fun, timed role play. A fun, timed role play of panic inducing tasks that all seem to be happening at once. What you’re being tested for is whether you can prioritise, delegate, remain calm under pressure and do other things like follow up, evaluate procedures, hold people accountable, de-escalate situations. Basically, a both a parent and teacher’s whole life is a series of in tray tasks, with some being more fun than others.
Let me give you an example: last Saturday, I decided to go to the Edval Timetabling workshop run by WomenEd at Aureus School in Didcot (beautifully blogged about by our West Midlands Representative and Social Media Secretary, Charlotte Bell). If this was an in tray task, it would look like this:
It is 6:00am and you have just been woken up for your baby’s morning feed. You have to leave the house at 7:30am to catch a train from Paddington to Didcot Parkway with your 2 month old and your 20 month old to give your husband time to work on his MA essay whilst you attend a timetabling workshop. There are a number of issues and people to deal with. Prioritise the issues in the order you would deal with them and outline your actions in each case, summarising what the key messages would be. Please respond as if you are a parent who has their sh*t together.
Crazed toddler – your son needs to get up, have his breakfast, have his nappy changed and get dressed. He is not yet awake, but soon he will start screaming from his cot.
Breastfeeding baby – your 2 month old traps you beneath her for thirty minutes whilst she feeds. After this, she will cry because her immature digestion system and the simple act of burping causes her great pain. She will then be sick on whatever you are wearing, or the bedsheets, or the bag you intended to use that day.
French husband – your husband is a French man.
Equipment: children – you need to prepare a packed lunch, dinner and snacks for your toddler but you cannot let him see you doing this at any point, otherwise he will tantrum until you give him (sugar free) gingerbread men for breakfast. He will then refuse to eat anything for the rest of the day. Your husband works in the food industry and is incredibly pedantic so you must consider which food you can take from the fridge/ freezer and whether you need an ice block. N.B. your toddler doesn’t like any of the food currently stocked in your fridge, freezer or cupboards. You also need nappies and a change of clothes for both children for the entire day.
Self – you will be networking with professionals that you respect and would like to maintain an ounce of self esteem. Rocking up in ripped jeans without cleaning your teeth is therefore, unfortunately not an option. You need to look (and smell) presentable.
Equipment: parent – you’ll need appropriate resources to get you to and from the workshop, to make notes and to sustain yourself throughout the day. N.B. of course, nothing electrical is currently charged.
Travel – the train to Didcot leaves from Paddington at 8:15am. You live in Wimbledon. The District Line has planned engineering work (FML) and there are no routes to Paddington with step free access.
Now, there might be some days where we consider this in tray task as we are feeding the baby and cry, or laugh and decide not to go to the workshop because that would be bananas. However, I’m pretty sure that as a parent, you have encountered a situation like this at least once. More than once? Probably more than once.
But the content of this scenario, whilst it uses the same skills to resolve as the type of in tray tasks used for SLT interviews, does not translate to a school or industry setting and only the most open-minded of employers will appreciate you using this as an example of an experience where you have achieved results under pressure. But here are my two tips for any teachers pondering this potentially scary part of the application process:
1. Banish any confidence-gap demons by saying to yourself, ‘no SLT in tray task is more challenging than my toddler screaming and arching his back when I try to put him into the buggy when we are all bundled up in coats in a centrally heated house and I haven’t had coffee and I haven’t slept and I am going to miss the train. I’ve got this.’
2. Use your networks to ask people who have recently interviewed, or colleagues who sit on governing bodies to provide you with some example in tray tasks. They don’t have to be for the role you want in particular, but if you’ve got some concrete examples, you can sit with a stopwatch and enjoy practicing them in timed conditions. From this, you can figure out what you don’t know, what research you need to do to prepare for a role, and how to format your responses and approach to complete the task in the allocated 15-20 minutes. Then you are in a position to show an interviewing panel that you have these skills, without having to worry about explaining that you practice them every day as a parent – you can have that discussion on another day.
If you’re a school leader or a governor and you are interested in boosting the number of applicants to your posts by attracting teachers with career gaps, or returning from parental leave, then one very simple thing that you can do – for your school, or for your wider networks – is to provide examples of these in tray tasks for applicants to practice as they prepare for interview. You can include these in the emails you send to shortlisted candidates, or you can facilitate workshops at conferences, teach meets or internal CPD sessions.
These actions could provide an essential Google Translate tool between the language of parenting and the language of leadership.