A New Year Guide for Middle Leaders (New and Old!)

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After the initial first days of feeling quite lost at the end of a term, I finally relax and live a different life for a little while. Holidays give me the much-needed distance away from the day-to-day challenges and school routine (not least being able to go to the toilet when I choose to!) and give some essential space to do some thinking.

I enjoy thinking about how I lead my department: how we will collectively live the ‘vision’ for the next academic year and how this might look for years after that. It’s exciting- challenging, but exciting.

I wondered whether at the start of this year, other HODs or Middle Leaders might be feeling the same and so thought it might be a timely moment to share some advice that I’ve gleaned through my experience as a middle leader.

I was asked to deliver a session on ‘Galvanising and Leading a Team’ to a group of aspiring middle leaders as part of our school’s Aspiring Middle Leaders programme back in October. I have a copy of the presentation free for you to download here.

For the abridged version, here are my 10 top tips for successful middle leadership:

  1. To lead well, you need to communicate well- communication is everything. There’ll be days when you don’t feel like this, but you need to do your best to be balanced, approachable and reasonable.
  2. In the words of the famous prophet Barry White, you need to practice what you preach. YOU create the climate, YOU embody the vision, YOU set the tone- day in and day out.
  3. Be creative in marrying ideas with people- who should have responsibility for what? (You don’t do it all yourself- that’s an impossible task!)
  4. Succession planning – 1 year plan, 3 year plan, 5 year plan (leadership has been successful if the place runs smoothly without you there and if it is sustainable!) Who will be your next in line? And after that? Who will be well-prepared to take on additional roles/ build their capacity? How have you created those opportunities?
  5. If people feel you have a genuine interest in their professional development, you are more likely to get the best out of them. Give them the benefit of your time and your energy. Take time to care. Recognise pinch points, alleviate pressures where you can.
  6. Your team spreads further than your department/ subject area (how do you get everybody on board to carry out your vision? The caretaker? The cleaners? The office staff?The students?)
  7. Find your flag fliers, the ones who will carry your vision forward (get them young! Ensure new teachers are inducted and know what it feels like to be part of a winning team)
  8. Give people ownership and autonomy over an area of your department/ area. Ensure they feel valued and ensure that failure is NOT an option— especially in the early stages. This will take time, but it’s worth it.
  9. The people you have around you are your biggest asset- INVEST in them as PROFESSIONAL
  10. You won’t get it right 100% of the time. You’re human. It’s important for your team to see that too (you’re no superhero!

I ended this training session by getting the group to imagine they’ve been appointed in a new school and that they had a new group of staff to lead. Each teacher’s strengths and weaknesses were listed and I was interested to know how they planned to build this team. The outcomes were interesting! If anybody running a similar course would like copies of the staff profiles, please let me know by commenting below or via Twitter @miss_goodyear

An activity for aspiring Middle Leaders

It certainly isn’t easy being a middle leader but it is hugely satisfying to build a team who challenge you, support you and help you to improve the quality of provision for learners.

I think the best starting point is to get to know you as well as you can– and you can only do this by taking the time to allow yourself to do that. Ask those closest to you, ask colleagues, seek advice from others that seem to do it well- look INTO what makes them experts.

Happy leading in 2019!

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