I need some sort of confessional here, not because I work in an RC school but because there will be colleagues who can tell the reader I might aspire to many of these aspects, but have failed to achieve them, and I will have let down colleagues, pupils and parents at times. However my posts were designed as an antidote to the secret teacher moans (often justified) about the job of a teacher. I am sure there are a lot more criticisms of SLT including me but here goes:
We need you, schools need you, children need you, parents need you. Succession planning is important and it might be you!
You might see members of SLT and think you can do the job better, then you should consider heading there; you might see members and think you can’t do the job but talk with them, learn it will make a difference to you. There are though, a few things to consider about what you might not be doing in the role, for example you might not be doing so much teaching, you might be doing tasks which are not really your favourite but significant in the life of a school, they need doing and most need doing well. Anyway here goes:
A new role, and title: you get more money, maybe status and pretty certainly an office, maybe even your own secretary or a PA (though we don’t in my school). You get a new title, but watch out you still earn your stripes by the job you do, the respect you earn, the authority others give to you. A badge with a title or an office sign are not matters you can refer a child or parent or colleague to. Almost certainly the day you have to say “do you know who I am?” you’ll know it’s not working the way you are doing the SLT bit. BUT there is a clue in the title “team” make sure you work with and seek support and challenge and plenty of good jokes from the team. I’ve been so fortunate to work with great SLT colleagues and can honestly say without them I’d have given up.
They say you must have a vision or at least be very clear on ethos, on short-term and long-term goals and articulate that ethos. In the 1980’s when I started, a teacher with vision would probably be put away but now we all need a vision. Have a moral compass, a vision, knowledge of “this is the way we do it” here. Then decisions, little and big must try to support that, we all make mistakes upholding it but if you say you won’t tolerate X and Y, then don’t, you don’t help teachers. If you say extra curricular is vital, put resources behind it. Then articulate your vision, the school’s vision and Heads vision, do it for parents meetings for pupils in assembly, on corridors, in classrooms.
Little things can make a big difference. You have some power over minor things which can make a difference: your staff not being exploited by a particularly awkward parent or pupil. You can say “I’ll deal with them”. Staff might be spending ages due to outdated tech, can you find a budget? They might need to rush home in a free – let them. I think its right you uphold the principle of the default position but you know staff who are busting everything, look after them, and as for the others who seem to take advantage – have a conversation at the very least. You move from middle into senior leadership, from possibly criticising SLT to being one of them. From moaning about decisions to actually making and defending and explaining those decisions. Oh and sometimes you might actually disagree with an SLT team decision but collective responsibility means you will do your bit to deliver.
Stay focused on the core job: teaching, learning and behaviour ( including child protection). The day you have spent hours sorting out the litter or the vitamin C content of the puddings in the canteen or signing documents, feels like the day you are losing the plot. You are a key operational person and all these little things do matter but you can’t do everything, you can delegate. SLT have to learn to treat pupils as pupils and treat teachers as teachers, I have often slipped up here, I hope that’s inevitable but I always try to learn to do this better. There are also personal stresses, work with the rest of the team to help you learn to manage workload too.
Appointing staff. In the Jim Collins book ‘From Good to Great’ there are two significant early chapters. One is called getting the right people on the bus. This is your role with other SLT and the Head and middle leaders, to market the school, recruit, train and retain staff. But the other chapter is “Getting the wrong people off the bus” this is much more difficult in schools and a reminder that getting the right people on is critical. Inevitably there will be staff, teaching and non teaching who are not doing the job as you wish. It’s a sensitive but important task to tackle, it’s not the extreme of capability or sacking it’s also about the way SLT point out and offer help with weaknesses. Your staff bill will be the most expensive of budget at 75 to 80% so this is critical in your role. You will have to support and you will have to challenge and you will have to learn when to do which, especially with the pressures of workload. We probably all recall going in on a Monday feeling a bit under the weather thinking it was manageable as we had a free after lunch, get in and see your name on cover- agh. SLT need to try to look out for people, as our job is to get the best out of colleagues today and for the next n years. You have to monitor, but do it nicely, staff and pupils will understand its your job but it need not to be like Ofsted. So many SLT moan about Ofsted “marching in” then…….well they march in. Don’t, if you can manage it. Develop your terms, evolve sensible system.
Keeping up to date. SLT need to stay knowledgeable about developments in schools, in Education – teaching , learning, behaviour, child protection, assessment progression, changes for children coming in (ie in primary) and for those moving on ( FE, HE, apprenticeships, employment). Now here is a trick knowing what is going on but picking what makes a difference, what is legal or statutory and what can and should be ignored. You might (like me) often feel overwhelmed with the pace of change. BUT this is but nothing compared to the teacher n the classroom. Your job is to try to protect and help them. Never forget the days of full timetables, marking and mocks and reports and prep. Before you ask for another piece of paper another task, ask if it is necessary and if so why. Make sure when others ask you if we can get the staff to……that you challenge…is it really necessary? It’s your job to try to protect from demands. Early on in my career a parent got hold of my home phone number and called me one evening, nothing major just a “chat” I felt a bit uncomfortable, mentioned to the deputy, he rang the parent said his call was quite out-of-order. I got an apologetic letter but as important I knew this deputy was wise and on my side. Where you have to embrace change, do it with enthusiasm, work out what are the disadvantages (often all too easy) and the advantages – trial the ideas with trusted colleagues and then with those who might oppose, chat one to one with them – then present.
SLT the problem solver. Have High expectations of teachers and pupils get to know teachers well encourage teachers hear them out, help them out. And hey the same with pupils. There are great things you can do. encourage those good ideas, resource them, release those people and see their ideas blossom though watch they make a difference and don’t impact workload, including your workload. Often schools breed people with great ideas……for someone else. There is a challenge to maintain focus and effort on student learning. Make sure it’s not too interrupted with trips, visits or assemblies. Part of your job is to encourage stuff, stuff like trips and visits and speakers and the sort of stuff which goes down well with pupils and teachers. EXCEPT it also impacts on work. those four year 10 missing an English lesson mean someone else has extra to do. Work out how to balance and explain decisions and create a fair and effective system if possible
Be a role model. Staff and students and parents will look up to you, That’s great but you need to fulfil the role. Watch the football, go to the play, help the PTA. Little things show your true colours, so make sure the little things are set right. and if you are fed up by all means share that with SLT but probably not with those at that sharp end. Never ever forget the real job happens in your classrooms by dedicated staff working their socks off. They don’t really want to know about your boring meeting with the LA. They need people of honesty integrity
Communication – probably couldn’t write a post about SLT without saying communication is vital. Many a time I have decided an action which seems obvious and yet in forgetting to communicate that effectively I get a load of complaints-sorry forgot to add it to the calendar, check that bit of sims was set up properly, overlooked that event. Hold your hands up and say you went wrong but if there is one rule of SLT it is communication, communication, communication.
Discipline – do your bit, do more than your bit, maintain high behaviour standards, think well ahead on exclusions, what will you be saying to a) the child b) the parent/carer/supporter and c) colleagues. Different audience different responses but get the right outcomes for all. Manage an orderly place.
Inspire, maybe be a maverick, whatever you do, inspire them to do better (pupils, teachers, SLT, even the head) inspire with stories carefully articulated, and presented.
Protect the vulnerable – a teacher or a pupil, maybe a parent. Chat with others understand the person at the centre. They may have been let down, your job is to rescue for the best. as the saying goes ‘some people lead complicated lives be kind’. This is not a ” at any costs ” matter , its more about seeing a way through a crisis. Sometimes others might never get to know there was a crisis, they might even be highly critical of you but you know, deep down it was right. I recall a very difficult situation with a very ill teacher who a) didn’t want anyone to know and b) wanted to teach classes to the end. We changed the timetable around and some staff were very fed up, we couldn’t say why, so just put up with the moans, eventually it became obvious, sadly. Sometimes we need to develop a thicker skin but in the end they will probably understand (actually a few won’t!)
Mentoring, coaching and training. Believe it or not you are wise, well at least knowledgeable and so people turn to you. You cannot micromanage but you can help. Know your school inside out – pair up the right people, staff and pupils, staff and staff; Support staff also. This leads back to the d word delegate.
Thank you – say it and do it, give appreciation, look our for the child who turned out for the practice but didn’t get the role. The quiet teacher who never moans, does the job sensibly, who you really appreciate -tell them. Th governor who is always there at a do, thank them look out for them value their opinions. Compliment, show gratitude and put money where you can. Don’t praise the PE dept for all that work then refuse them a trampoline. Recognise – believe me a word from SLT, a card, a note can make a difference, you wanted power that’s’ where it is. Pupils who help show someone around for you, write home, pass over a book token, make a quiet fuss.
Whatever you say or do, always try to be ambitious and aspirational. I recall going to a LA meeting over employment. I saw our Head ask a local employer if he would take some pupils for work exp. ” Have you met any of our pupils?” The head asked. “They are great, well-behaved, well-mannered, 100% reliable, diligent etc” I asked in the pub later, had he someone in mind? No he said but if we tell employers and then we tell year 10 we can make it happen….the rest is history.
You will get to work closely with a Head. I think you learn most in the role from working with a good headteacher you learn from what they do well and what they inevitably do wrong. It’s an important partnership however you look at it. Listen to everyone, pupils (school council, on the corridor, after the play, during a cover, parents ….teachers). Act on the things you hear pass on the good news, think carefully about the bad, talk over with others, then decide the actions. If they are important decisions and discussions give them enough time. Influence is probably a key element of leadership so establish ways to influence, to manage and to lead, and try to evolve systems and policies to benefit the school. BUT not bound up in an office. You will have to try and do both, the paperwork and the peoplework, guess which takes priority? You can’t? then forget SLT. Listen and reflect, you know those things we ask staff and pupils to do.
Relationships – you knew that would appear it does. One recent tweet I saw said “Congratulations on getting a deputy job, just remember its 75% about relationships and the other 25% well…..that’s about relationships” Quality contact and interactions. perhaps the most critical are those with other SLT, make sure they are embedded in humour, in generosity and appreciation – the job can be tough but it doesnt have to be tough 100% of the time, ensure creativity and teamwork support those meetings.
Adapt– you will have to do jobs you don’t like, speak to colleagues about stuff you would rather forget. Maybe teach one lesson a week of X, when your subject is Y. You might need to adapt and learn – hey that’s what good teachers always do.
There are some great rewards being a member of SLT, there are frustrations too. In much the same way as my other blogposts such as being a teacher or head of year, and I come back to them first point, your school might need you; and a school definitely will do…..and the next step…………..aha
The old NCSL videos are available on youtube and are very good.
There are lots of sites and blogs on leadership if you recommend any I’ll happily add them here.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish”