Being a principal requires character and the ability to handle every kind of situation. Principals will also experience many various emotions dealing with these situations. We found this article describing, from a primary head’s own experience, what budget cuts do to schools, what emotions are experienced and the tough conversations that must be had.
Though he’s used to having tough conversations, the financial pressures facing schools are starting to make this primary head wonder how many more emotional exchanges he can face.
I’ve had some pretty difficult conversations since becoming a head. Over the years, I reckon I’ve covered the full emotional spectrum. Let’s see…
I’ve felt awkward when listening to a complaint that on the surface seems quite justified, leaving me anxious about the conversation I will need to have afterwards. I’ve felt shame when explaining to a parent that school policy or procedure has broken down at the expense of their child. I’ve felt suppressed rage whilst having to listen to someone pontificate in my office about something I know they’re wrong about.
I’ve felt embarrassment when I’ve had to ‘have a quiet chat’ with someone in order to help them see the light. I’ve felt immense sympathy when being made aware of someone else’s pain. I’ve felt anger when I’ve learned about how someone vulnerable has been let down.
I’ve felt indignation when my school has been unfairly judged by someone who has only been interested in having a one-sided conversation. And I’ve felt saddened and depressed because there are times when I’m powerless to fix the problems we discuss.
This is all, I guess, part of my job.
A sea of debt
Whenever I used to think about my future, it never occurred to me that with experience would come an immunity to difficult conversations. It was never a milestone I aspired to reach. In fact, part of me always thought that if the time ever came when I felt happy during a difficult chat, that would be the day to hand in my resignation.
Another part of me, the secret part that nobody knows about, also thought that I was quite good at these conversations and that maybe, or so I always told myself, that was a good reason for carrying on.
And then the real world went to hell in a handcart, and people decided that schools didn’t need any money. I am now standing belly-deep in a sea of debt, surrounded by baby seals that I have to club to death.
Getting the message across
For those readers unfamiliar with either the current education landscape or poetic symbolism, let me explain that sentence. ‘I am standing’ means that, as the head, I am literally standing in the middle of all this. ‘Belly-deep’ should suggest that what is about to follow isn’t particularly pleasant.
‘Sea of debt’ is the budget which, for pretty much every school, does not look good as a result of the cuts, the variations in funding formulae and the staffing costs that have been imposed this year. ‘Surrounded by baby seals’ is meant to represent the quality of provision and services that my school provides. ‘Club to death’ infers that I’m going to have to cut all of these because none are affordable.
I could have just said, ‘As a result of spending cuts I’m going to have to review the school’s business plan’ – but I didn’t think that got my message across in the right way.
Prudent and precise
What keeps me awake at night now is not the reality of running a school, of which I’m proud. It’s the thought of those difficult conversations I’m going to have to endure if I’m to make my school financially viable.
What is particularly cutting (ha ha) is that we’re not exactly squandering money at the moment. Like many schools up and down the land, we’ve been prudent and precise with our funding so that we offer great value for money.
Over time, we’ve tailored our provision to meet the needs of the children attending our school, becoming better at providing for the vulnerable and socially disadvantaged. And as we’ve done this, we’ve improved upon the educational standards all our children have achieved. I can tell you now I have some difficult conversations ahead of me, as I face having to dismantle much of this in order to prevent a budget deficit from squeezing the life out my school altogether.
How I’ll maintain standards whilst looking after the children, I don’t yet know. But I’m pretty sure that along the way, as I ask more and more members of staff to ‘Step into my office for a quiet chat’, I will feel all those emotions I listed earlier – from awkwardness, sadness and shame, to sympathy, anger and indignation.
But that’s a good thing, right?