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Schools are Weird.

Mar 07, 2024

When you talk to people who work in a different environment such as corporate, healthcare, trades etc, people take leave at different times of the year. People come and go, annual leave days happen, maternity leave happens, long service leave happens. With a school though, we feel bound and dictated by the terms of a year and the weeks of a term.


I have heard several times ‘It’s not a good time’ to take leave, to be pregnant, to get sick or have an injury. As a school principal, you often get this reminder from parents when you send the pregnancy announcement, the long service leave message or the dreaded
secondment email. What should be an exciting time in a person’s life or a notification to keep people in the loop can be met with an opinion and anger regarding someone’s leave.


In any other workplace, people are taking leave throughout the year. Someone might be
coming back from mat leave, another person might be preparing for a week’s holiday, a staff member might be returning part time after illness and another could be returning after a year off.


At school, it can be different. If you don’t fit into the 10-week term, it is a huge
inconvenience. Selling a staff member’s leave to parents can be incredibly challenging and often can be met with a threat to move to another school. Spoiler alert – people take leave at other schools too!


How can we normalise this?

By drawing the correlation between the corporate world and that of a school.
It is hard but it is courageous. Remind staff that they are allowed to take leave. Remind
parents that staff are allowed to have babies. Remind yourself that you can take long service leave. Wear the complaints from parents to protect the teacher who is expecting her first child. Ask for compassion from the community when the complaints come in about a person taking leave to look after a sick family member. Announce with congratulations when someone is leaving to pursue a position they have been trying for. It's in the delivery of the announcement and it's in the protection of staff. 


Allow yourself to not feel guilty about the time you or others might take. Celebrate it. People are entitled to have time away from the job - including you! Even though you might be trying to work out how to fill that position or communicate to parents, people will remember how you made them feel. Treat others with the same happiness, compassion, joy or concern that you would expect if you were in that position.

 

There will be someone to fill the position whilst the teacher is absent and if not, it's an opportunity to test your creativity skills. People will remember how you treated them during those days so remember - people first, everything else second.


Whether you stress about the leave someone is taking or not, the leave is still happening. In other sectors it might not be as noticeable but in schools with our 10 week terms and everyone starting and finishing at the same time, it seems a lot bigger than what it is.

 

As I said, schools are weird like that.

 

Have a great week ahead!

Anne-Marie

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