Here at Hope Education we are on a mission to help schools to save time and money, helping SBMs to tackle the challenges that impact both. Over the last eighteen months we have been talking to SBMs from right across the UK, about how suppliers can help to make their working lives that little bit easier, as well as listening to their thoughts on how to get on in what can be a challenging and sometimes lonely role. Lots of great advice was shared along the way, so we wanted to capture and share it in the hope that it might help. So here are our 15 top tips for the Smarter SBM:
1. BE A PEOPLE PERSON
Being a people person is key to the job. According to Michelle Toy of Rodney House School, “often you’re a shoulder to cry and an ear to listen,” so being understanding and having lots of empathy goes a long way. As does having lots of patience. Michelle Cassar, who runs the South Leeds SBM Network, told us that an SBM has to be “fun-loving, versatile and emotionally intelligent” if they are to succeed. Sarah Hextall of Blatchington Mill School, spoke to us about how leading by example is key to “help others feel safe and secure.”
2. DON’T RUN BEFORE YOU CAN WALK
The key message for new SBMs is that learning the role takes time. Many of those we talked to commented on how wide-ranging the remit is, and how there will be elements that play to an SBM’s strengths and areas where they will need to up their game. Andy Heron of the Maelor School told us, “Learning is a cliff face. You do get through it. Learn the basics and don’t run before you can walk.” Hilary Goldsmith of Varndean School recommends that you “accept that you’ll never know it all, but find out what you need to know to get by. The rest will come in time”. She also suggests that you “get a mentor, network as widely as you can, pitch up on Twitter and join in.” Cheryl Campbell of Falconbrook Primary School also recommends the mentoring approach, “It was invaluable. Someone to get advice from. Someone who most likely has been through the ups and downs of the role that I was experiencing for the first time.”
3. GET NETWORKING
Networking with other people is absolutely pivotal to the role. According to Emma Gray of Cotswold Beacon Academy Trust, SBMs want to work together, “they want to take what they have learned in the form of process, procedures, policies, experiences (good and bad), and presentations, and share it with others, understanding that we will all benefit in the long run. Michelle Cassar believes collaboration is key and advocates joining a network, stating “There’s a big community to network with.” Andy Heron is a huge fan of finding support online, “There’s a big group of help and support in Twitterland.” Emma Gray adds, “Get yourself involved, be part of the Smart Ordering community, take a look at #SBLTwitter, join your local and national networks, start offering your experience and skills to other schools. You will be amazed at what you can learn in return, the positive attitudes and the willingness to share that are already out there.”
4. BUILD YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE HEAD TEACHER
The relationship with the head teacher is a crucial one according to Hilary Goldsmith, “I’ve seen the very best and the very worst of these, and the SBL / head teacher relationship is often a very good litmus test for the success of the school.” Many SBMs commented that the relationship has to be a partnership, with Sue Prickett of Hartest CofE Primary School commenting, “Even though both roles are busy and varied, and finding the time to plan and work together is often difficult, a good relationship makes the most of that time together.” In a recent blog post, written for us by Helen Burge (SBP) and Lisa Dadds (head teacher) at St Anne's Church Academy and Little Learners Nursery, the pair surmised, “Overall, we believe the secret to a successful HT/SBL working relationship is based on trust, admiration and appreciation of diverse skills and the importance of a shared vision. We don’t try to do each other’s jobs, in fact we enable each other to do our own jobs better.”
5. FIND WAYS TO SAVE YOURSELF TIME
For busy SBMs, the demands of the role are vast and often unrelenting and the need to make savings has never been so important. When we spoke to SBMs about how they make sure they use their time effectively, many cited planning and preparation as key. Hilary Goldsmith advised that you need to “develop the art of cutting through the preamble and get straight to the heart of the problem. Don’t waste time on meetings that don’t end with a decision or definite action.” Sue Prickett talked to us about dealing with constant interruptions, “Shut the door, say no, or if you can’t bring yourself to say no, tell them to come back another time. It’s too easy to get distracted by other people’s problems.” Jo Gathern of The Glebe Primary School told us about how using “suppliers that integrate with finance systems” can also help to save time. Our Smart Ordering solution does just that.
6. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
There are a lot of conflicting demands when it comes to the role and so being organised is of paramount importance, even when it comes to preparing for the unexpected @Harketsparkles tweeted us her tip, “Don’t plan your whole day’s activities as otherwise you’ll end every day feeling demotivated and that you haven’t achieved. I always plan in ‘unstructured time’ - student time, staff issues, unexpected urgent tasks - if I don’t need it all then I get other tasks done - win/win!”. Michelle Toy told us “It’s ok to do one thing at a time.”
7. LEARN TO SAY ‘NO’
Others will often think of you as the Google of the School – or the ‘Schoogle’ as we like to call it – and there is an expectation that you’re the expert in everything that’s non-curricular. However the trick to managing this, according to Samantha Crane of Tudor Church of England Primary School, is that “you have to know what to say ‘no’ to” and that “sometimes the smart thing to do is to say ‘no’.” In a recent blog for us Brian Herbert of Ferrars Junior School commented, “One piece of advice I always give is to not get stressed by it all, to work on small chunks at a time and not to work to other people’s deadlines, let them work to yours. Apart from your financial responsibilities and anything that the head teacher sends your way, everything else can wait and nothing is life threatening (apart from the peanut list!).”
8. FOSTER A CULTURE OF BEST VALUE
Money has become an increasingly finite resource in schools. Budgets have been consistently cut, overheads reduced and resources diluted. So, saving money and making sure that you’re doing the best with the resources available sits at the top of many SBMs’ to-do lists. Nemi Fisher of Clapham and Patching CE Primary School does this by haggling “definitely shop around and then be prepared to haggle, they want your business too and might be willing to offer a better price” she told us. Hilary Goldsmith advises that you “value your own time. Don’t waste hours chasing a minimal saving. Instead, work on fostering a culture of best value. Challenge the ‘always done it this way’ approach, but don’t sweat the small stuff.” Alison Deadman of Windrush Primary School have found that collaborating with other schools has saved them money. After piloting our Smart Connect solution, Alison worked with 10 other schools in her area to strike a deal that saved them all money, when they collectively signed up to it.
9. BE CREATIVE
Lots of SBMs talked to us about being creative with the resources available to them. This came up time and time again in relation to staffing. Samantha Crane told us, “Be creative and don’t always go for the obvious option.” Hilary Goldsmith said “Keeping hundreds of young people and staff safe, healthy and happy in a confined and bustling environment is a formidable task, and is one that requires the flexibility, creativity and adaptability.”
10. BUILD YOUR OWN RESILIENCE
As an SBM there’s lots of pressure from lots of different places, from parents to staff to governors, and more often than not you want to please and keep everybody happy all the time - but the reality is that it isn’t always possible. You are often pulled in many different directions and have to make tough decisions that can make you unpopular, learning to bounce back is essential. Many SBMs commented that you have to remember to not take things personally and that it’s the job, not you. Jo Gathern told us how “it’s quite hard thing when you have to be the unpopular one but you are there to do a job, not to make friends.”
11. REMEMBER TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY
Putting the stresses and strains of a difficult day behind you was seen as the ultimate way of staying motivated. Lots of SBMs quoted the phrase, “Remember that tomorrow is another day.” Andy Heron told us: “I tend not to worry too much because you can always put right what has gone wrong, and the next day is always going to come soon enough.” Sue Prickett agreed, advocating that you “shake away the stresses and strains of one day and be positive that the next day will be different.” And if that fails, Nemi Fisher told us, “Chocolate usually does the trick!”
12. SELF PRESERVATION IS KEY
Ann Butler of Westhoughton High School told us that being an SBM “can be quite a lonely role sometimes.” When you combine this with the pressures of reduced funding, and the recruitment and wellbeing crises in education, it's easy to see why so many SBMs are feeling overwhelmed and stressed. However, looking after yourself is seen as essential to both the SBM’s and the school’s wellbeing. Hilary Goldsmith says you have to “put your own wellbeing first.” For her an SBM is one of a school’s greatest assets, “It’s vital that we take as much care of ourselves as we take of everything else of value in our schools.” Sarah Hextall echoed this giving an analogy around how life savers are trained to preserve their own life and how it’s the same for the SBM.
13. THINK STRATEGICALLY
If your role sits as part of the SLT, then thinking strategically is seen as pivotal to your success. Hillary Goldsmith talked to us about leadership being the most important part of the role, and how SBMs need to be “stepping back and having the strategic overview” and how “setting yourself time to do the strategic part of the role” is essential.
14. INVEST AND FIND JOY IN THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Whether it’s dividers or colour coded notebooks, it’s online or offline, investing in and arming yourself with the tools of the trade will make your life easier. Offline there’s lots of love in SBM-land for plastic wallets, folders and bulldog clips. Sue Prickett loves a “happy little square of paper,’ better known as a Post-it note. Online tools, such as online diaries, dual screens, spreadsheets, and solutions like Smart Ordering have revolutionised SBMs working lives. Alison Deadman says that Smart Ordering “means we can spend the time we are saving on those useful things that are going to make a real difference as opposed to being bogged down in the administration.”
15. REMEMBER IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHILDREN
Without a doubt the most rewarding part of the job is the impact it has in making a difference to children’s lives. Nemi Fisher told us that the most rewarding part of her role is “watching the children grow and even though I don’t teach, I’m still involved.” So, when you’ve had a hard day, filled with interruptions and tough conversations, just remember those times when things have come together, and the glee on the children’s faces that has come about because of something you have done. Think about the changes that you have made, which mean every possible penny has gone into ensuring that the school is investing in the best possible outcomes for its children.
And, how do you know you’re on top of it all?
According to Andy Heron, “When there’s a low hum and no drama you’re doing your job right.”
Informed by, and created for SBMs, Smart Ordering is range of great online features and tools that can transform a school’s office with a smarter way of purchasing. It has been developed by the team at Hope Education to help save SBMs time and their schools money, by making the process of buying school supplies faster, smoother and more affordable. A claim evidenced by the 10,536 schools that have saved £2,074,168 since its launch in September 2017. Find out more about how Smart Ordering can save your school time and money here.