Middle leadership: Getting your team on board

Written by: Iain Wilson | Published:
Image: iStock

When Iain Wilson introduced a new research-based approach to revision at his school, he worked hard to get the support of his staff…

I believe the role of a middle leader in this current changing education landscape is one of managing this constant change for our teams and enabling greater success and innovation.

In this article I will outline how I implemented the “cycle of revision”, a new strategy I have used as part of my impact initiative with the Teaching Leaders programme.

The cycle of revision is an experiential learning method that is designed to improve a learner’s self-regulation while also embedding concepts and knowledge in the long-term memory.

The purpose is to improve learner outcomes and prepare them for independent, lifelong learning, an essential skill in the modern workforce.

The cycle incorporates deliberately spaced and interleaved revision, throughout the normal learning flow, that promotes a “chunking” approach. Previous studies have shown that both chunking and interleaving lead to
improved outcomes for learners that are both immediate and lasting.

Within the cycle, learners self-regulate from previous learning experiences to identify areas for improvement and to select the most effective method of revision for them from the cycle. Research suggests that overlaying information, along with the learner taking ownership of their strategy, will increase information retention and improve outcomes.

While I would certainly recommend that you look further at this approach, in this article, my focus will be on that key challenge for many middle leaders when implementing new initiatives: achieving buy-in from your team and evaluating your impact.

To achieve buy-in for any project, you need to make it personal, useful, and where possible a time-saver. If you can also demonstrate a positive outcome for learners and make it appeal to the staff members’ moral purpose, you will be a long way down the road to achieving buy-in.

While this is true in most cases, the approaches needed to cultivate buy-in can be different for each team; yet there are similarities to note that can be useful in every circumstance.

Most important is the conversation from the leader. There must be clear reasoning and goals, and the conversation must be on-going, challenging and rewarding. Keeping this conversation open will enable the team member to see the impact of actions and by acknowledging progress staff will continue to be engaged.

This continued engagement and on-going conversation from the leader is important in ensuring any project endures, just be sure not to over-do the conversation frequency otherwise you may find staff become disengaged.

Using research with people who are unfamiliar with the approach takes careful planning so ensure the first pitch is well-thought-through. Ultimately, teachers want the best for their learners, as Gareth Mills said in SecEd earlier this year: “New ideas, underpinned by a solid foundation of supportive evidence are always welcome.”

It is down to middle leaders to ensure there is high-quality transfer of the research into high-quality classroom practice to underpin the impact that an initiative can have. Sharing the initial research, so staff can see potential impact within your context, is therefore essential, as are the follow-up conversations throughout the implementation of the project.

Encouraging teachers to explore the possibilities from the initial research themselves allows staff to see the positive impact that is possible. It is this opening of the door to a possibility that can enable us as middle leaders to energise our teams and empower them to take the lead.

The key to successful research-based practice is to effectively measure the impact, share this within the team and, if it works, do more of it (or if it doesn’t work, do less, or none). If done successfully, staff will see the benefit for their pupils, their workload and the improvement in their own practice.

When this is recognised, not only will it lead to positive impact from projects, but it will nurture a culture of continual improvement through research-based practice. As a result, the team will be encouraged to become more affiliative and self-organising, becoming a more effective body in the process.

In the case of the cycle of revision, the jury is still out when it comes to impact. While there have been promising preliminary results, and the basis for the project is from tried and tested methods, there is only one way in which an intervention can be known to work in context, and this is through effective evaluation of the impact on student outcomes.

Within this study it is not possible to run a randomised control, so to achieve effective impact measurement there will have to be a careful comparison to previous cohorts following a matching approach.

Using a selected group, with equivalent observable characteristics to the intervention group, will allow a deep evaluation against criteria for success that were established at the outset of the research. After all, an effective evaluation underpins the innovation process. Therefore, setting the success criteria at the beginning of the project is essential to avoiding bias and allowing for the impact to be assessed effectively.

Be aware that with high-quality research-based practice, evidence can take time to gather before evaluation. Allow the time in the project process for gathering the evidence, but if analysis shows it is definitely not working, then stop and try something else.

At the end of the project, if it works, do more of it and, most importantly, share the news for others to see and use – as it may work in their context too.

  • Iain Wilson is assistant head of science at Hindley High School in Wigan and a former member of the European Chemistry Thematic Network. He is also a 2015 Fellow of Teaching Leaders, a leadership development programme for high-potential middle leaders. Follow him @Linainiwos

Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders

In November, Teaching Leaders is joining forces with the Future Leaders Trust to form one organisation tackling educational disadvantage through high-quality school leadership. Visit www.teachingleaders.org.uk/who-we-are/our-future/


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