Great Teacher to successful Middle Leader

Teacher journey mindI have blogged elsewhere about why staff should consider being middle leaders this post is more about the move from great teacher to middle leader. Heads of department, heads of year, i/c of gifted and talented, SENCO, ITT coordinator – a host of roles and most are at the heart of the success (or otherwise) of a school. Successful middle leaders can become successful senior leaders and headteachers – and we need them because in so many aspects they run the school.

First of all I recognise not all great teachers want to be middle leaders – there is an important place for the great teacher who wants to try and stay just that “great”, who enjoys the work of the classroom teacher and should be valued at that -full stop. However schools do need middle leaders, and I want to encourage staff to consider those roles.

Early steps:

Know the job.
imageWork out from the job description what is expected but also talk to others about the role. Start with the head, heads should be willing to set out clearly what they hope from your appointment. Listen and take note and return often to discuss progress. This might be easier with a line manager or SLT but get yourself a mentor, a critical friend, a coach – these may sound like similar roles but they aren’t – they may be performed by the same person but these are all for quiet discussions over coffee or over lunch or after school. They allow you to tell your bothers, concerns, hopes but then to go home challenged and reassured and hopefully uplifted. Gather together the metaphorical tools for the job.

Know your people.
imageExactly who are you responsible for and to? This might be easier for a head of year (tutors) but my view is that all roles are fairly grey. For example as a head of year you are responsible for a year group but that involves tutors and clearly involves parents. You don’t need to announce your arrival, but think over with senior staff/heads how to introduce yourself. For the start, now much more important, learn about people ( staff parents, pupils) and the work they do with you. We have some great middle leaders, in my school, for example our ITT coordinator but at the heart is the ability to connect with key players in the team – the deputy who supports, the head of subject who embraces, champions and understands ITT. There will always be ‘problem people’ those who don’t respond, those who aren’t keen but in the early days don’t worry about them as much as those who will support you and encourage you and expect greatly of you.

Communicationimage
You don’t need posters, or video footage, staff will know via the usual channels and the last thing we all need is a meeting with you, but think about the most effective ways to communicate – email, presentations, notes on the school platform, letters etc My view in your early days is to talk to people. Never use “all staff” email, if you need a message to everyone talk to others or SLT how they do that effectively. They key word is effectively. Communication is vital in schools but often those who didn’t empty their pigeon holes don’t read their email – so don’t worry about them as much as those who do read, listen and act. Once you have them on board others will pick up and those who miss probably miss other stuff and that’s a job for SLT or headteachers to deal with, not you. Remember your aim is to ease everyone’s workload by your role, not to increase it.

Priorities.
e devicesTeaching is a never ending job. You will always have areas to develop, aspects frustrating you and ideas you never seem to get sorted. Stop worrying. You’ve been appointed because people believe in you. Just get on with the tasks and pick the tasks at the core of the job and do them to the very best and highest standards. Don’t duck any important issues and get the important routines up and running. It isn’t a bad place to start with the present systems and use them to deliver the role. Your reflective journal will be vital to help here – nothing better than a note that “this would be better done if …..everyone had the dates in advance” – so get that on the school calendar for next year.

Keep a reflective diary
picjumbo.com_HNCK3576I am very keen on this! Reflections help us to improve and help us note issues which need changing and yet so often we become “socialised to” – by which I mean early on in a job staff often wonder why does the school do stuff like that? And after a short while we become socialised and just say Oh OK let’s carry on in that routine. A reflective journal helps halt that and bring effective change. I once mentored a new SLT member and made him email me a paragraph every week. He was reluctant bu in the end it be an=me an effective and hugely humour out journal which saw much change and saw much “stay the same” on that reflective analysis.

Put on your imprint.
sparklerYou do need to make your imprint preferably within the first year. Don’t look for a hugely better way of doing things, jobs are just like schools, quite complex, but early on understand the role as we said and now make your imprint. Make it in simple ways, and make it simple – for example, a brief email at the end of term to colleagues thanking them; postcards home to pupils who succeeded, or maybe some celebration and invite SLT or the head – maybe a story for the school website. A short slot at INSET – trumpet our success or better use other colleagues to do so – especially if you have a colleague who has piloted your ideas with you, get them to share that effectively.

Feedback
I try and ask a question after a term and after a year in the job. “How is it going?” My bottom line would be – “no disasters and the role understood and being developed.” My top line would be ” pupils and staff are very pleased with the way this person is working because…” I would start with the views of those closest to the role eg the geography staff about the new Head of Geography or a sample of Y11 pupils and Y11 tutors for the new Head of Y11. BUT I am not expecting the finished article. Jobs take about 3 years to be fully understood assimilated and done routinely well and effectively. Are we on track?

Learn from others
You have a coach, or you found one, you have some line managers or SLT you are answerable to, but you need a ‘friend’. Dig out a colleague who you can confer in, and who you can let off steam to, and who can advise you from their experience. So if your middle leader role is head of year, find another head of year, you are a new head of dept, find another relatively new one. Ask them how they learnt, ask what CPD went well, what CPD they had, what else they wished they knew about. Don’t jump at the opportunity for the first course on middle leadership – best place to learn the initial stuff is….in school. However schools can be bad at telling you what is around the corner and may be just assume you know – for example “check exam entries” we all know that is coming but what does it really mean – ask this colleague or else ask the exams officer but seek…. done once it will be fine second time around and you’ll probably develop new aspects in year three. Hence my 3 years to get to be great.

Two warnings:

1) You are paid most of your salary for being a professional classroom teacher. You do have responsibilities (new ones) and they may well hijack you during the school day. However never lose sight of the day job: planning lessons delivering lessons, marking work, feedback and assessment. Just keep a vital perspective – if you have a team of staff relying on your prep or decision get that done first, then prep your lessons. Just don’t neglect classroom duties

2) I think there is a considerable difference between internal promotions and external ones. In the former case you already know the people around to help you, the potentially awkward ones and the children, you should be aware of your community. So your day to day work as above is relatively straightforward. However if you are moving school it’s pretty well back to square one. Learning a new set of systems, learning and contributing to a new ethos, learning about a lot of children, understanding a different community. However you should be able to bring your great teaching into operation so the big part of your role is, well should be OK. Nevertheless there will be expectations and you need to quickly find a colleague who will work alongside you, sharing with you in the role, helping you learn the new systems that operate. I have seen a few staff struggle badly when moving school, perfectly competent and sometimes outstanding classroom practitioners but the new school is just that: a new school, and needs time to understand the role, the people and policies. If you have a new colleague joining your school -look out for them, help them, and in due time they will be as good as those who appointed them thought but if you expect them up to speed in week one think again.

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One thought on “Great Teacher to successful Middle Leader

  1. The first of the two warnings is a very important one. As a Head of Department, I had a Head of Year in the team. They were always to busy to attend meetings and muck in with departmental work. I always mentioned the first warning but it never sank in.

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