The school leader’s Christmas survival guide

Sara Martin
Sara Martin

The end of term is upon us! ‘Tis the season for good will, merriment and relaxation. Or, if you’re anything like the many educators I seem to surround myself with, ’tis yet another season for marking, planning and wondering what mishaps your pupils will manage to get themselves into in the short time they’re away from your care. What lesson-disrupting gadget will Santa bring this year? Will I need to recap the entirety of the autumn term’s teaching on the first morning back? How many of them will have forgotten who I am?

Let me stop you right there.

It’s Christmas, and if The Snowman has taught me anything other than to avoid tragically weather-dependent relationships, it’s that this is a wonderful and fleeting time of year. We at The Key fully appreciate that switching off from school is a difficult task, but we also know that it’s very important if you want to get the best out of your school, your pupils and yourself in 2016.

So to guide you through this period of necessary rest and relaxation, we’ve put together the following, thoroughly scientific tips.

Don’t check your emails. The virtue of emails is that they will still be sitting patiently in your inbox once the festivities have finished and you are ready to deal with them properly. It’s why we use them rather than smoke signals. Even if it’s only for one day, switch off the notifications on your phone and enjoy a proper break.

If turning off the notifications doesn’t do the trick, get yourself the email equivalent of a swear jar and pop in 10p for every email you read. If you respond better to positive reinforcement, treat yourself to a mince pie every time you find yourself straying to the inbox and manage to resist. Consider burying your electronic device at the bottom of a Quality Street box and only checking it once the box is empty. It’s all about finding a method that suits you (although I’ve found that incorporating food-based rewards often proves most effective).

Go undercover. Outside term time, there is little that’s more devastating than having your fragile holiday mindset disrupted by bumping into a pupil. If, like @lisa7pettifer, you live in a small community where running into pupils in your pyjamas is an all too common occurrence, you may find it necessary to don a disguise for the Christmas period.

santa

An assistant headteacher prepares for a visit to the post office

You could opt for something covert and nondescript. Or – and this is heartily encouraged – you could embrace the opportunity to raise festive cheer in your community while remaining completely anonymous (see the image on the right for inspiration).

This is the ideal solution, giving you freedom to roam as you please without the risk of that awkward conversation in which you find yourself explaining to a pupil that yes, you do exist beyond the school gates and no, you don’t spend Christmas tucked under your desk.

Sing. A wise philosopher once said that the “best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear”. It’s also the best way to shut down conversations dominated by talk of school.

General chitchat among educators can veer all too easily towards school. My colleagues and I know this, because we’re just as guilty of the habit. In defence of us all, education and everything that goes with it are fascinating. It’s also good to share the triumphs and tribulations of your working life when catching up with friends and family. Not to mention that classroom antics make for hilarious anecdotes.

But don’t let the classroom infringe too much upon your merry-making. If you catch the conversation turning into staff room talk, stop it in its tracks by bursting into a rousing Christmas carol. Encourage your assembled company to join in. Initiate a jig, if you must. Do whatever it takes to keep the Christmas spirit high and thoughts of work at a minimal level.

If all that fails, barricade yourself into your living room with your favourite people, food and beverages and indulge in back-to-back Christmas specials. Festive cheer will inevitably follow.

We wish you a wonderful holiday and look forward to seeing you in 2016 for a happy and successful new year!


Members of The Key for School Leaders can log in to read our articles on staff health and wellbeing, which include guidance on improving work-life balance. If I were you, I’d take a look then go and have a leisurely peruse of the Christmas Radio Times.

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