An In-Tray Exercise: What Would You Do?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.

Situation

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

Objective

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.

Scenario

Time / Day Format Scenario
Wednesday 6.30pm Voicemail on your office phone
  1. An angry parent claims her child had her money stolen in a PE lesson, she said her daughter was made to take her shoes and socks off in class, and had her bag searched. She is coming to the school at 3pm today to see you.
Tuesday 12pm Paper via Head of Year in-tray
  1. A letter from a parent wants to take her child to Poland, to attend a religious ceremony during term time. The event is in 3 school days (from date received) and length of the time away from school is for 4 days. The child will miss some of their mock exams. There are no contact details on the letter.
Thursday 7am Paper letter addressed to you.
  1. You receive a letter from the daughter of a former teacher at the school who has died. The member of staff worked at the school for 3 years and left in 2010. The funeral is next Wednesday. They have left their telephone number and hope the school will attend.
Wednesday 8am Email via local residents.
  1. Write a letter to the parents of two boys who have been involved in a fight outside the school. Both boys have been involved in similar incidents in the past. Further action will be required.
Monday 3pm Email from Head of LEA
  1. An email forwarded by the headteacher, says ‘Sort this out urgently!’ It is from the local authority asking for missing data reports for pupils in Key Stage 3. The deadline is Friday noon, before going to print.
Thursday 7.45am Text / Voicemail – directly from next of kin
  1. A telephone message from the husband of a teacher who has called in seriously sick. They have been in A&E overnight and will not be in school today. They have left you a voicemail and a text message asking for a return call ASAP.
Wednesday 11pm Email – directly from a parent.
  1. An email message is a complaint from a parent who would like to arrange a meeting with you to discuss unresolved concerns with the Spanish teacher. She wants her child to move class and the Head of Department has ignored her requests so far.
Thursday 8.55am Voicemail
  1. A telephone message from your son asking you to call home.
Thursday 7am Scrap piece of paper under your door.
  1. A note from a member of staff who is concerned about the behaviour of a pupil. All the message says is ‘Johnny. Form 8DZ. Safeguarding concern’
Tuesday 4pm Email request
  1. The headteacher has asked you to write a 500-word article to all parents, to introduce yourself as the newly appointed senior teacher in the school. It goes to print on Friday 3pm and the headteacher wants to proofread it by Thursday 5pm. They want to see your opening paragraph in an email before Thursday 12pm.

Remember, it is Thursday 7.15am.

 Test yourself

Download and print off this document here. There is a second sheet to record your responses.

Related:

  1. Headteacher: What would you do? (Part 1/2)
  2. Headteacher: What would you do? (Part 2/2)

 

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account in which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in Britain' in The Sunday Times as one of the most influential in the field of education - he remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing online as @TeacherToolkit, he rebuilt this website (c2008) into what you are now reading, as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the number one spot at the UK Blog Awards (2018). Today, he is currently a PGCE tutor and is researching 'social media and its influence on education policy' for his EdD at Cambridge University. In 1993, he started teaching and is an experienced school leader working in some of the toughest schools in London. He is also a former Teaching Awards winner for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, London' (2004) and has written several books on teaching (2013-2018). Read more...

6 thoughts on “An In-Tray Exercise: What Would You Do?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.