What would you do?
This is an in-tray exercise for a potential leadership interview. Now, from the outset, I will state that I am no supporter of the in-tray exercise used for school interviews; for the simple reason that they seldom, provide any feedback for the candidate.
The purpose of an in-tray exercise?
I know this is a sweeping generlisation, but any in-tray exercise that does not serve as a factor in the process is pointless! Don’t do it. From my experience of receiving and providing in-tray exercises, this, therefore, makes everyone I have ever completed, meaningless. I have found myself in situations where I have been told, ‘that the in-tray exercise is used when a final decision is hard to reach’, or ‘ to offer the panel an insight into your thinking and decision-making process.’ That’s fine, but I want feedback!
Now, this is not an argument to discount any kind of exercise used to decipher the aptitude of a potential applicant; and I do agree to some extent that the in-tray activity does serve a purpose at interview. Despite my misgivings, on my recent travels north of the border, I was lucky enough to go through an in-tray exercise twice – in the same Scottish council – and complete over 30 in-tray exercises. ‘Lucky?’ you ask; well yes. Not only was this great to troubleshoot a huge number of challenging leadership scenarios, but it was very useful to be able to discuss in detail, my thoughts after the task was complete. In a moment, I received instant feedback for the first time! It suddenly served a purpose just like a well-organised lesson (study) observation with feedback. It all made sense …
Now, before I and the reader get carried away, I am not a fully fledged convert. Far from it. But I am seeing the benefit in using these scenarios shared below as a revision tool for teachers seeking a new job. In short, any in-tray exercise is a fabrication. A tool to test the nerves and distinguish razor-sharp candidates from within the interview field. The reality of what is written below is a reproduction of artificial scenarios that you will possibly encounter. The likelihood of them all occurring at the same time is very remote and the likelihood that you will be the only person in all of these situations to troubleshoot discuss, delegate and resolve, are highly unlikely.
With this in mind, please do read on and test yourself.
It’s a typical Thursday morning and you have just sat down at your desk. It’s 7.15am and you receive the following information via email; voicemail; text message and paper.
The headteacher is off-site until 11am. You are leading staff briefing at 8.30am and lesson one starts at 9am. These tasks must be resolved by the time the headteacher returns from a council meeting at 11am. You are teaching an examination class period 1 (9am-10am) and have a scheduled meeting period 2 (10am-11am) with the Head of Geography as part of your fortnightly meeting cycle. After the morning break, you have 12 potential new parents on-site for a school tour and you are observing a lesson after lunch. As a senior teacher, you are expected to be on break duty every day, so with this in mind, you have approximately 30 minutes free between 12.45-1.20 pm before the lunch hour starts. Your day looks like this:
- 8.30am – 8.45am: Staff Briefing
- 9am – 10am: Teaching
- 10am – 11am: Head of Geography meeting
- 11am – 11.20am: Break duty (*Headteacher returns)
- 11.20 – 12.20pm Tour of school with parents.
- 12.20 – 1.20pm: Tour continued and possible free 30 mins around 1pm.
- 1.20 – 2pm: Lunch
- 2 – 3pm: Observation
Read the following scenarios and the time and format you have received them. Rank in order of preference how you would resolve each issue; detailing decisions and reasons made. You will have the opportunity to discuss your responses and explain what you would do and why. For this exercise you have 30 minutes.
|Time / Day||Format||Scenario|
|Wednesday 6.30pm||Voicemail on your office phone||
|Tuesday 12pm||Paper via Head of Year in-tray||
|Thursday 7am||Paper letter addressed to you.||
|Wednesday 8am||Email via local residents.||
|Monday 3pm||Email from Head of LEA||
|Thursday 7.45am||Text / Voicemail – directly from next of kin||
|Wednesday 11pm||Email – directly from a parent.||
|Thursday 7am||Scrap piece of paper under your door.||
|Tuesday 4pm||Email request||
Remember, it is Thursday 7.15am.
Download and print off this document here. There is a second sheet to record your responses.