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Behind the Scenes with Reno - Part.10 ‘All in a day’s work’
In this final chapter (for now!) Reno draws comparisons between his role as a headteacher and as the manager of a community football club, explains how they overlap, and his ambitions for the future.
Before writing this week’s chapter I just need to take a moment to reflect and question where the last ten weeks have gone. At the start, I recall having a chat with Adrian and Tim saying that I needed something to fill my time with, we were a couple of weeks into lockdown and I was really missing Football and School – in fact, I was really struggling. To go from a life that is action packed and full of pressure and enjoyment, driving from Preston to Blackpool (Leading a team of staff and 800 children) to Clitheroe (to pick Jack up), to Manchester (for FC), and then back to Preston (to home) all in one day, to literally starring at four walls and seeing people through a computer screen was always going to be tough to take! It’s just not me but there was nothing that I or anyone could do. This was a worldwide issue that was not going to go away any time soon.
However, when I started writing I had no idea just how much enjoyment I would get from it. I have been open and honest and hopefully it has given people a true insight in the work that goes on behind the scenes. I think you all know me by now, I believe in sharing things with the supporters. You are the owners and deserve to know what happens. Although each chapter has its own chapter, I have grouped them together and called it …The ’s*** that people dont see’!. I hope that you have enjoyed finding out a bit about my life, what motivates me but above all to fully understand just what happens on and off the pitch. If I have missed anything out, then please grab me when we see each other again and I will clarify or elaborate.
I want to thank Adrian, Tim and Lynette. They have been amazing during the last ten weeks. I always e-mail them a copy of the report before the release date. I will often get feedback from Adrian; Lynette will proof-read it and Tim will make suggestions on how we can improve it. The article may bounce back and forth but they make sure it is ready to go on the Friday morning. They may not be thanking me tonight though!! When you read this episode, it may be slightly later than the usual 9am release! I am still typing at 12:22am on Friday morning to ensure it gets completed. It’s been a hectic week at work as we are preparing to reopen our school doors for the first time this coming Monday. I am just praying that the team have not gone to bed!!! My final thank you goes to everyone that has read and posted positive comments – you have motivated me to continue writing.
Sometimes I have no idea how I manage to fit things in to a week! I never dread the start of any week but when I think how much I must squeeze in sometimes it freaks me out!! I will never moan at the pressures of the week ahead, but the climax is Saturday afternoon at 3pm. The working week needs to disappear so I can get that match day feeling!!
If anyone ever asks me, I say that I have three full time jobs: Being a Dad, FC United Manager and Head Teacher at South Shore academy in Blackpool. People question where I get the time from to doall three? I say that I just make time, if I did not fulfil all three with maximum effort then something would have to go – that will never happen though!! Eighteen-hour days are the norm; hence I have really struggled during the pandemic. I am always on the go and the thought of sitting around doing very little is not for me!
I draw so many similarities between being a Head Teacher and a Football manager. When I first became Head Teacher, I walked into a school that was in disarray. Before starting my new school, I was reading a book, ‘Leverage leadership’ …it gave me the advice of how to create a successful team. It encouraged leaders not to change everything at once. The advice was to try and keep to the hundred-day philosophy – only change three things but make sure they are true changing factors. After one hundred days, evaluate where you are at and change again if necessary.
The first, but to me, the most important factor of any successful organisation is the culture, change that, win that and you are your way to success. I picked up a staff body that was on their knees. There was no trust in the leadership of the school. How could an organisation be successful if people did not look up to the top and see a clear direction? I am a huge believer in strategy, but I am so motivated by keeping things simple. Produce a plan that is clear and concise, share it with the staff and ask for feedback and once agreed, put it into operation. I have also learnt not to make knee jerk reactions if things are not working…. keep to the plan and believe in it, it may need tweaking but give it time. I can only liken this to our first three games of last season; Grantham, Hyde and Scarborough…although we were devastated to lose the first three games, we knew what we had planned out and believed in our objective. I thought, do not change it because of the first three results. We knew the amount of work that we had done behind the scenes to create a new dawn at FC. We just needed to show faith and belief in this group. There is no different in what I set out to achieve in school.
Nearly three years after taking on the role of Head Teacher at South Shore Academy we have been recognised not only at a local level but also nationally for our work that we have undertaken at the school. Despite having one of the highest rates of deprivation in the country, this was not going to be an excuse not to make significant progress. These children deserve the best possible education, and nothing will get in the way of that. It is about being strategic, leading by example and not sitting still, there is not room for improvement. This is what I admired about Ferguson …. despite all the success that Man Utd had under his reign, he would always look for improvements. By doing this everyone knew at the club that you cannot take your position for granted, you must work hard and show that you want to remain part of the journey.
I have tried to replicate this at School and FC United. For me, there is no secret to success…Lead with integrity, give people the guidance they need, never shy away from the truth but above all remember that you can’t do it all on your own – create a team that will go with you.
Get the culture right and success will follow.
I have two amazing teams and with the speed of my life, I need them! My staff at FC United are completely transparent with me as I am with them. We all share the same goal. We are methodical in our approach, set goals and targets, are good around people but above all, they are winners! They always want the best, try telling Chaddy that its ok to play at 50%.... like me, he cannot even contemplate defeat on a Saturday afternoon!
The main difference at school is it is a bigger staff body, much bigger. However, my philosophy does not change. I understand that being the leader, boss, Gaffer…the pressures are very similar. The pressure that is put on me is to ensure that school results are always improving. Sometimes, it is not always that straight forward. I believe that the safety and wellbeing of a child is just as if not more important. Give the pupils the opportunity to enjoy school and learn, give them the best chance to look back on their experience of school with good memories. At football its usually about results. I must thank FC United as they saw past that in the relegation season. The board knew what I wanted to create, and they supported and helped me to do this. However, after speaking to the fans I know we want the same things; try to get three points, play an attractive style of football, encourage and support the lads to play with freedom, play for the badge but above all though – buy into our philosophy and know what it means to be FC!
Despite saying this, I am realistic, if you are not winning football games, or you are taking a school backwards then there is only one person that will face pressure, criticism and maybe even the bullet – the leader.
I knew that radical changes needed to be made at the start of both of my jobs. I needed to create a plan, a route of travel. Where are we now, where do we want to be and how are we going to get there? I knew that drastic actions needed to be taken. Some of the staff at school were just not performing and it was evident that their time was reaching an end, this might sound harsh but if you thought that your kids were being educated by someone who wasn’t giving it their all, you’d have concerns that your child wasn’t getting the education they need and deserve. At FC, I felt that certain people at the club were there for totally the wrong reasons. Individuals had dictated to the club that if they were to be there then it would be on their terms. Wrong! You have heard me say this a million times, but I swear my approach will never change. During my reign as manager no player will ever dictate to our club – if you do not like what we offer or the way we do things that you are not right for the club, we’re FC United of Manchester and we’ll do it our way. If you are strong enough to keep to this approach, then the culture will rapidly change.
Just be open and honest with people.
I remember when I was manager of Bamber Bridge. We played in a friendly game away at Lostock St Gerrards. It was nearing the end of pre-season and I needed to trim the numbers to get to a 20-man squad, as the reality was that we would have had players who might not have got a game if we’d retained them so it’s best for all.
I said to the staff ’After the game I will be releasing eight players. We will be frank with all them. I am not ringing, texting them with the news, let us do it tonight’. Remember, I like to see the whites of people’s eyes. The game finished and I asked to see them all individually. You do not look forward to giving this type of news but its ok, you always have the support of your staff. As the players came out one by one, I remember looking around to see where all my staff had gone.Wow…. I could not see any of them anywhere – they had bloody disappeared. They were all amazing in their individual roles but the thought of the pressure of releasing players just was not them. I understand that some people are not comfortable with giving bad news, however, I didn’t expect them to climb and hide in a tree, crouch down behind a car or scarper to the side of the club house so they could not be seen! Ok, I may have exaggerated that a little, but you get the point. I wouldn’t have minded; I did not want them to say anything just wanted them there to support the conversation. When I finally caught up with the staff, I told them what I thought!
I sometimes think that I am creating a reputation for someone who enjoys giving bad news – that is not the case. It is never nice to have give bad news, but it is occassionally necessary for both parties, my leadership team at school share a joke about me. They refer to me as the ‘Hatchet man’. They know what I am like and know how high my standards are. In my time, forty staff have gone (not all through their own choice), and forty new staff have come in.
It is simple, if people are not going to get behind you or believe in the improvement journey then the exit door is over there. My leadership team know when the time is coming…. They will say to me ’wow, who is next!!’ To be honest, its not that simple. Teachers have performance management targets and you must be clear with what needs to be achieved. Both parties need to agree on these. If certain people do not achieve these targets, we have a conversation about how we can improve. I will absolutely go to the end of the world for a staff member that admits that their performance could be better and asks for direction on how they can improve. I will support them through Continuous professional development (CPD). If they engage in the program and ask for feedback and show improvements, then that is fine with me. I am aware that people are at different stages in their teaching careers – they may need time to develop or improve. It came as a bit of a shock to some people when I started holding them to account. I am not sure how or if they had been challenged in the past; in schools we refer it as being allowed to coast! With me, they will always get the truth. People may not like it at times, but they will respect you for it in the long run. I have to say that the exit door rarely swings now, I have a remarkable team of staff at School and they have all bought into the culture. Like football, if you get a good dressing room then you know you are doing the right things, a good staff room is of the equal measure. I am fortunate to now have both!
People may want to know why the time comes to release a player or move on a Teacher – I think this is simple. If they want to be part of a culture of "it’s ok, we are in Blackpool, we have our challenges but we will see if we can do better next year"…or at FC, have a negative effect on the squad or simply not at the required standard then you are not for me. My main challenge is totally different to theirs. My challenge as a Head is to make our School ‘Outstanding’ and if you do not believe we can then please pick your belongings up on the way out. As Manager of FC, again, understand the club, respect the members/fans, never get comfortable and always play for the badge.
If the time comes to go our separate ways, I always thank the individual for their contribution and wish them all the best. I must admit last season I enjoyed moving certain members of the playing staff on, they just were not for me, they’d consistently not played to their own capability and I was not going to let them stand in our way. It is frustrating at times, as it may take longer than you would want to conclude their exit, however, when the times comes do not go back on your decision. After we got relegated I spoke to all the players and despite having let us down, some were on the phone promising it would be different next season, sorry, it’s hard but it’s best we go in different paths.
When I think about my working week it really excites me. You have no idea what will happen. Working in a school its hard to script just what positive or negative things may occur. That is the amazing thing about children – you cannot predict what will happen next! The children at school know all about my football and I am so open and honest with them. I have a group of lads in Year Ten that know anything and everything about FC United. They always wish me luck on a Friday before they leave and know exactly what to say or what not to say on a Monday!! They know me by now…I am not in a great mood if things have gone our way on Saturday afternoon, but they also know how happy I will be if we have won. They want to know all about the game if we have won but just say ’Unlucky on Saturday Sir’ if we have not won!
My typical day usually starts around 06:30. I drive from Preston to Blackpool and get to school for about 07:30. The students arrive from 08:30 but I hold staff briefing before that to update them about any arising issues or general information that they need. Once the day starts, I have several meetings to attend, on-going paperwork, lesson observations, visiting classes to see the children, dealing with finance, meeting parents to name a few. I need to ensure that the school day runs smoothly with nearly 1000 people in the building. Once the end of the day arrives the students depart safely and then we do what we must do. Generally, there is a meeting after work but as I receive on average 250 e-mails a day, I usually spend my time clearing and responding to these.
I know that on a Tuesday and a Thursday I must get away earlier as I have to get to football. I am also aware that these days will typically end around 11pm after starting at 06:30! Straight from Blackpool to Moston! I try and arrive earlier than everyone else, I just need a coffee and a bit of time to myself. I will always log onto my school e mails on my iPad and use my laptop to prepare for training/games. It’s great, I do not switch off, but I make sure that neither role suffers! I know that I need to organise match preparations, training, meet new players, media work etc.…you name it, there are always things to do. When the session/game finish I go with the staff for a meeting and then drive back home to Preston. Wednesday and Fridays have a similar pattern but responsibilities after school are based around Molly and Jack – my kids. Drive from Blackpool to Clitheroe. Take my daughter to dancing, pick up Jack and then drive back to Preston as he represents Preston North End academy. Training is from 17:30 – 19:30. I then drive back to Clitheroe, get molly from Dancing and then drop them off. I then drive back to Preston, get home and start my schoolwork. Saturday and Sunday are not rest days, Jacks futsal on a Saturday morning, then its straight off to the game for FC. After this, couple of drinks and then back home. Sunday morning, up bright and early and take Jack to his game. Shrewsbury, Wolves, Accrington, home game, you name it, Jack needs to get there every week for 09:30. After the game is finished its home time or a drive back to Clitheroe. Once home it is all preparation for school for the Monday! Monday night is usually my only night that I do not have a commitment, but I try and stay at school late. What I have not mentioned is the amount of Football calls that I take during the day or in the evening!! Its non-stop particularly with Football.
General update meeting with Paul Smith or Adrian Seddon, on-going calls to Tim Browning for regular interaction. My staff continually call to discuss matters. Other managers to get a low down on players or oppositions, media interviews with Ben, player conversations etc. I will also use my evening not only to complete school work when I am home but I also watch videos and analysis for our upcoming opponents, review the the match day stats from the vests the players wear, and anything else that is pressing.
It is hard to balance all three of my roles during a week and I could not do this without the amazing support I receive from my academy Trust. Bright Futures Educational Trust (BFET) are based in Trafford. They have several schools both in Manchester and Blackpool. We are led by our Chief Executive, Doctor John Stephens. I will regularly talk to John who has a real interest in the club. John worked in Moston for part of his career, and he follows the progress of FC and we will talk about things that have or are happening. John has been particularly impressed with the work that we have completed for the local community. Due to his experience of working in the area he is aware of some of the challenges. John has commended the wonderful work that Vinny hand his team have completed with the FoodHub. John will always look out for the results and watch my interviews after the game, and he knows me well and knows exactly what both roles mean to me.
BFET are an incredible organisation to work for. I am totally transparent and if I ever need to leave school early for FC united duties, they have always supported this. People know how hard I work and the hours that are needed to complete will never suffer. I will rarely go to bed before I have responded to all e-mails or completed any outstanding schoolwork. I like to get the trophy on my e-mail account to say they have all been cleared! I have a folder for every one of them. It is just what I do and how I stay organised. I am petrified to falling behind. Once you let it slip for one day then you will struggle to get back on top of it! The Academy Trust pay an active interest in FC United and know what I am like, particularly when we lose! I do have one confession though. I have had to make a sign for my door at work so people do not knock and come in. It says, ‘PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB’. If this is on my door you can guarantee that I am on the phone, you know the rest. If this sign goes up, I have FC duties to complete! It may also go up on a Monday morning if Saturday’s result has not gone for us. People at school know exactly what I am like – it should say "DO NOT DISTURB, THERE IS A CAGED ANIMAL IN THE ROOM" – that is only when we have lost though!!
People will often ask me which role I prefer. Its hard to say. They both have such similar rewards, I love doing my best to make a difference, a positive contribution and I experience every possible emotion during a school week. Many children in Blackpool tend to have it tough, it’s an area that has much hardship and I see this first-hand, we often lend uniform to students whose parents cannot afford to buy it, provide free school meals, issue equipment to complete their work, provide digital technology as they may not have it in their home, ensure that all safeguarding issues are dealt with immediately …you name it, I witness it all, pastoral care in a school is vital and it’s important they know they have a Head Teacher that really cares. I have a team of staff that really care. The students appreciate this, these are the same children that lacked motivation and aspiration when I first took over. They needed guidance, advice, clarity, structure, routines, quality first teaching and true care. I have noticed a massive transformation in how they feel about school. The new team of staff will go above and beyond for these children – there is no excuse for not providing a good education and every child deserves one.
Despite all this, and how much I love my job being a Headteacher, I have grown up with and in Football. I love the game so much. If a full-time role ever became available within the game (most preferably at FC United) then I would jump at the chance. Before anyone goes ’has he really just said that’? - I have been so open with Bright Futures. They are aware. I would miss working at school so much and seeing those children, but I am desperate for a chance to be a fulltime Football manager. There is something about it that I am desperate to experience, it may never happen, but I guess everyone can dream. The feeling I get from the involvement is like nothing else. I am so proud to be Head Teacher at my school but equally to be manager at our prestigious club.
Who knows what the future will hold? I will continue to give my all in everything I do. If I can help to make a difference, then I will be fulfilled as the thing that gives me the most pleasure in life is helping someone find and nuture their innate talent, be it a pupil or a player, allowing them to reach their potential by creating the right environment to flourish in is what keeps me so motivated.
I must finish with this…. It is not about me, without my exceptional teams that surround me, I would just become a lonely voice. The staff at South Shore and everyone at FC United deserves enormous credit. The skill set that surround me in both roles are incredible……however, if it starts to go wrong then you can count on me to address it…as tough as it may be, I will never shy away!!
Stay safe everyone, cannot wait to see you all again……….
For now, the chapters have ended…. the next chapter is yet to be written but whenever the new season starts, we’re writing it together.