The School Business Toolkit by @SBM365


The must-have items for anyone starting a new SBM job

It’s that time of year where shops are full of kids’ Back To School items, multi-packs of black socks to feed the sock monster in the tumble dryer, lunch boxes that are never quite big enough to fit a decent lunch, a tempting array of pristine notepads and folders which promise to organise your life and do your homework for you. But there’s never anything for school staff returning to work, or starting off in a new job. So, in honour of all those SBMs and SBLs setting off on a new journey this term, I looked around my own office for inspiration, and have collected some of my most essential items to help you on your way.

Forecasting Tools

During your first half term in the post, you will almost certainly be asked to predict government policy, pay increases, international markets, the Grand National winners and the price of cheese. Keep a crystal ball handy for such occasions, and practice your best Gypsy Rose Lee accent. Be sure to remember to get your palm crossed with silver, before giving anything away.

You should also invest in some Fairy Dust and a magic wand and keep them to hand at all times (I have 5 different varieties). Use sparingly, but with a hint of newt, when asked to magic more money from ‘somewhere’, to disclose the location of the mythical ‘main school budget’ or to refill any departmental pots of gold that have run dry.

Time Management Principles

I keep an old-style concierge style ‘ping’ bell right at the front of my desk, so it’s always on view. I don’t use it often, but just having it there keeps me focused on how valuable my time is, and to know when to bring a meeting or a discussion to a close. It also serves as a useful reminder to more, shall we say, long-winded colleagues that getting up and leaving the room are options too.

Sometimes just a subliminal glance at the bell is enough to let them know you’ve had enough, other times a more deliberate ‘reach for a pen and accidentally ring it’ approach is necessary. I did once have a wonderful Premises Manager who required, and welcomed, a full on three ring assault to move to the next agenda item, but he was a one-off. Also useful as an Early Warning System for over-excited Goat Club students or for those SBMs who might share an office. I use the following code:

1 ring = Shhhh, I’m working!
2 rings = You’re annoying me now – last warning!!
3 rings = Get the (insert expletive) out of my office!!!
Effective time management can save your sanity and your work life balance.

The Right Tools for the Job

I’ve talked about this before, but I can’t understate the need for a fine pen pot in the SBM role. Not only is the Pen Pot of Power an opportunity to express your personality and show you’re a real human being and not just a grumpy bean-counter, an interesting pen pot can be a great conversation starter. I immediately knew I was going to get on with my HR Adviser when she picked a sparkly light-up yellow daisy pen to make notes with.

In addition, for any statement-pen sceptics amongst you, there’s also a solid business basis for a diverse and flamboyant Pen Pot – it’s highly unlikely that anyone will ever steal your pen if it has a giant rubber shark on the end of it, and if they do, they’ll be very easy to spot in the staffroom.

A Diverse Skill Set

I have a pink hard hat. It’s awesome and never fails to raise a comment. It’s been worn many times on a variety of building projects and has been well worth the £2.99 outlay. I keep it visible on a shelf in my office not just because it covers a nasty gouge in the woodwork, but because it reminds colleagues that my job is not just about money and paper-pushing, The role of the SBM is the most diverse role in education – one day can take you on a journey through a disciplinary hearing, a skip through a 3 year financial projection, an amble through a food hygiene inspection and end you up, ankle-deep in sludge, inspecting a blocked drain on a building site.

I love the diversity of the job, and I don’t think it hurts to keep that diversity apparent. And frankly, if you’ve got to wear a hard hat, you may as well rock the look.

Strategic Oversight

Every SBM needs a notebook. No matter how progressive you might be, there are times when only pen and paper will do. I love my tech, but they don’t give you the pleasure of doodling or the perverse joy of scribbling cryptic words to unnerve the person sitting next to you when they look over your shoulder in meetings.

I’ve shredded many a confidential notebook, but I’ll never be able to let go my Evil Plans & Stuff classic edition, which has pride of place on my bookshelf. It doesn’t have anything confidential in it, it’s grubby and it’s dog-eared, but the delight of watching someone read the cover as they sit nervously in my visitor’s chair always convinces me that a dash of devilry can be a good thing.

There’s a definite argument for the wicked witch strategy in the workplace- and in all honesty, if it worked for Maleficent, it’s going to work for me.

Nurture and Wellbeing Skills

I’m not always best known for my touchy-feelyness, so it’s important for me to try to develop my nurturing side. I also have a tendency to kill anything that grows in a pot, so I have opted for cacti as my houseplant of choice. I have a collection of them in my office, each named after Headteachers and colleagues who have had a significant impact on my well-being – some good and some bad. Not many people get to have a cactus named after them, so it’s either a great honour or a major condemnation to be in the Cactus Club.

The process of remembering to water my spiky crew occasionally also causes me to reflect on my previous interactions with their namesakes and on lessons learned either from them or from my reactions to them.

It’s hard to bear a grudge against a cactus, however hard it might be to forget the pain they might have inflicted on you. I’d strongly recommend the pot-plant approach to well-being, especially with prickly customers.

Celebrating Our Differences

I have a collection of voodoo dolls strung along my notice board. No, no, not the wax and pin types, these are different. Each one demonstrates a specific characteristic – strength, friendship, courage, leadership, and yes, some other more personal-to-me ones about social media obsession and a fondness for pink things. I have them mainly for fun, but they also remind me that we all have elements of many differing characteristics but we don’t always recognise them in ourselves and others,

Everyone we work with is carrying a burden of some kind, but similarly, they all have great strengths too. My voodoo dolls remind me that sometimes we need to draw strength from others, to seek support from those who are better at some things than we are, and that doesn’t all function at 100% efficiency all of the time, even School Business Professionals.

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