Make no mistake, being a middle leader in a school these days is a tough job. You’re probably spending most of your time teaching and trying to fit leadership and management responsibilities around it. There’s a good chance you proved your abilities teaching your own class and then got given additional responsibilities across the whole school. It’s likely you’ve had little to no training for all that other stuff; instead, you learned most things on the job. Your school probably has a senior leadership team, but no clear group of middle leaders that meets regularly. You’re probably juggling 101 different things, so it doesn’t feel like you have any time to take a step back and lift your head beyond your own school.
One of the privileges of my last role was that I got to visit schools across the country and meet lots of different middle leaders. If any of the concerns mentioned above sound familiar, believe me you’re not alone. In our schools, there are about 200,000 middle leaders and each of whom is teaching on top of their school-wide responsibilities. Given tight budgets and rising expectations of schools, it’s more important than ever before that every middle leader is motivated, supported and satisfied. Increasingly, we need our middle leaders to not only have a positive impact in their own school but also to be excited by the challenges that come with helping colleagues and students further afield. Working beyond your own school could help to improve outcomes for students, and it may also bring you greater satisfaction and a more rewarding career.
Here are nine suggestions for how middle leaders can broaden their horizons beyond their own school.
- Make a plan. Start thinking about what you’re trying to achieve. For example, you could ask yourself which students at your school need the most help and where you might learn from others that have supported similar students. Perhaps one of your colleagues is struggling with something, so how might you find out how to help them? And what do you want to do yourself? Are there parts of your job you particularly enjoy, or are there some areas you’re still unsure of? Once you’ve decided on a problem you’d like to fix, work back from there. Try to be as specific and realistic as possible. How might you address it, who do you need to speak to and what’s a realistic time frame? Share your ideas with your line manager and get their feedback and support
- Develop your subject leadership. Middle leaders often have an impressive mix of hand-on teaching experience and deep subject knowledge. They may be local champions for their subject and get involved with communities of practice, TeachMeets and subject associations. The moderation of teaching practices across schools can help those involved to learn from each other
- Mentor and be mentored. Middle leaders should proactively seek to develop and practise their coaching skills with others. Such relationships can be powerful with peers, junior colleagues, senior staff or even pupils. Remember, it’s important to ask good questions and not just provide the answers in such situations. This encourages the other person to reflect
- Use research, evidence and data to inform practice. Middle leaders should be advocates of evidence, sharing insights with colleagues and keen to learn. Lesson study can be a particularly powerful professional development model
- Make continuing professional development your own. Middle leaders are increasingly taking responsibility for owning their professional development – finding and evaluating different sources. This can range from formal training to Twitter chats (#UKEdChat, #MLTChat or #SLTChat), blogs or events (#ResearchEd or TeachMeets). You should reflect on what you’ve learned and document the evidence of that learning, even if it’s just a few notes and the time spent
- Find a secondment. School can feel like a small place sometimes, especially if it’s not part of a family, federation or trust. If you want to develop new skills, try a different role or tackle a particular challenge, a secondment opportunity could be a great way to do so without losing touch with your home school
- Connect with the community. Schools are doing more with less and middle leaders could build relationships with other local stakeholders through specific projects. For example, working with parents and carers to put in place strategies for the early identification of vulnerable children to prevent long-term problems
- Trial a new intervention. Middle leaders are typically the ones testing and evaluating a new teaching practice, supplier or learning technology in their school. By comparing notes with others locally and taking an experimental mindset – with a clear and modest measure to judge success – you can quickly work out what’s effective for your students and what isn’t
- Be a governor at another school. Working with the senior leadership team and governors of another school can be an enlightening and rewarding experience. All you need to give is a little of your own time
This blog was written for Challenge Partners.
(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job)