Developing your middle leaders

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

How can we best support our teachers who want to make the step-up to middle leadership? Adam Riches offers some ideas for school leaders to help them boost staff development

Developing middle leaders is not a straightforward job, especially with the changeability and fluidity that we often find in education.

With challenges around retention, schools need to think carefully about how they can support, encourage and develop their middle leaders.

Strong middle leadership is vital for the success of a school – less experienced staff are well led and senior staff are supported from below. Getting middle leadership training right takes time and money, two things that schools are quite often short of.

Middle leadership can be a grey area in some teachers’ careers. The concept of management at a departmental level or a pastoral level is something that takes time to master. Quite often, middle leaders are burdened with relatively high teaching loads too and this can make the concept of professional development somewhat daunting, especially with the level of day-to-day tasks that can quickly accumulate.

In order for schools to move forward though, middle leaders are the ones who need that extra support, because quite often, they are the ones who disseminate the ideas and ideals of the school to the masses – so how can you ensure that your middle leaders are given opportunities and are aptly supported?

Clear pathways

Establishing a route of progression for middle leaders is one of the first things that schools need to establish. Not only does this benefit the school in the long term, it benefits the individual and allows them to streamline their career focus.

By helping middle leaders map their pathways, schools make their investments in training more equitable. It is inevitable that staff move on, but by ensuring that teachers get the right help at the right time their career can be the deciding factor in staff retention.

As a profession, teaching has a lot of different routes. Of course, curriculum and pastoral are the beginning stems for most teachers and as you progress towards leadership roles, the field opens up a lot more. Quite often, middle leaders may not have experienced the requirements of the leadership roles that they aspire to hold. This I think is where an explicit pathway is most important in a school. Staff need to know what their school is willing to do to support them – this knowledge can be a real motivator.

Mentoring

It is always good to have someone to look up to or to turn to for advice. A relatively cheap way for schools to develop middle leaders is to use the expertise that they have in-house to guide and mentor teachers to help them progress. Not only does in-house mentoring create a sense of comradery within schools, if your school is part of a trust, it is a great way of building cross-school links.

Moreover, by working with colleagues, middle leaders are able to learn from actual contextual past experiences. There are many things that external courses do not offer – context-specific training and examples is one of those things.

Mentoring allows middle leaders to get their hands dirty – they can get involved in the practicalities of their chosen leadership area and it lets aspiring leaders sample what they may face in the future.

CPD

CPD within school is such a powerful training tool. Having middle leaders deliver elements of your CPD programme is something that can help them to develop their skills of presentation and professional planning, but it is also a real enabler when it comes to reputation.

Contributing to the wider school is something that middle leaders quite often are unable to do due to departmental or pastoral time limitations. The burden of work within their own area of responsibility often leads to them not being able to get out-and-about (so to speak) to be involved in whole-school business. Ask yourself whether your middle leaders have the time they need to share their expertise more widely.

In addition to delivering CPD, providing middle leaders with targeted CPD as a group is also vital for development. It may be that your school runs an internal programme for essential skills for middle leaders, or you may have the budget to outsource this kind of training.

Either way, training opportunities are key to helping to develop critical skills in middle leaders, especially if they have not yet had a huge amount of time within school to be exposed to situations beyond their own current responsibility.

Master’s courses

Research in education is on the up and up. The importance of having data and research findings to support schools’ visions and approaches is something that I think will only increase in the coming years. Having an academic understanding of learning is something that is so important within schools and as such another way in which middle leaders can be further developed is through Master’s level courses.

By supporting staff to undertake learning such as this, schools have an opportunity to explore and research areas that they may need development in, without the often high expense of hiring a consultant in. A dissertation or extended study in a highlighted area of need is a great way of improving the school as a whole, while once again empowering middle leaders to be a part of moving their school on.

A culture of growth

Of course, it is short-sighted to assume that all middle leaders want progression, and that all of them aspire to be on the senior leadership team. Some middle leaders are happy with their level of responsibility and they do not have the aspirations of senior leadership.

In this respect, schools still need to enable their middle leaders to develop within their own areas and one of the most powerful things that schools can do is encourage cross-school collaboration.

Allowing middle leaders time to visit other schools to see how different departments do the same things can be hugely empowering. It also allows for a professional dialogue between colleagues in the same position – something that can be really enabling, especially if you are working with someone in a contrasting context.

Another great way to build a culture of growth is to have a CPD library. It sounds so simple, but having a collection teaching and learning books can be a valuable tool when it comes to grounding progress in research. It also stimulates great discussion between staff. Having access to teaching literature can also encourage middle leaders to branch out of their comfort zones and explore other areas that they may not have experienced before.


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