Leadership within the teaching profession is an emotional journey that will require planning, resolve, resilience and the whole-hearted belief that you can have an impact on pupil outcomes – and believe me you can.
You should not lose focus on your teaching, but also find the time to consider what skills and qualities you can start to work on now that will set you off on your journey to middle leadership.
This process can be greatly enhanced by working with other like-minded middle leaders and building up your network.
In the meantime, here are a few tips to help you get ready to step up into middle leadership.
Mix and network with like-minded individuals, stay away from the cynics and associate with individuals that remain excited about their role and show a real passion for teaching and leading – these are the ones to listen to.
Take time to enhance your subject knowledge whenever the opportunity arises. Stay out in front by seeking out new research in education, stay current with government policy and familiarise yourself with the key influencers and thinkers in education. Twitter is a great way of doing this, as are education blogs and websites such as the Education Endowment Foundation or SecEd.
Take time to understand your strengths and areas for development. Self-awareness is a key quality underpinning middle leadership. Great middle leaders understand how their behaviour and leadership style has an impact on their colleagues. They are aware of their emotional triggers and are keen to identify ways they can manage them most effectively. It pays to formalise the reflective process, by keeping a log or journal – refer back to this whenever you need inspiration or encouragement.
An essential attribute for any middle leader is that they are able to inspire their team with their vision for their area of responsibility. If you are able to develop a clear vision for teaching and learning in your area and share it with your line manager, you can start practising and demonstrating those skills right now.
Be data aware
“The strongest middle leaders generally demonstrate an excellent understanding of data and are able to use this to track pupils’ progress and identify pupils that need additional support.” Sir Michael Wilshaw on what he thinks makes a great middle leader. Get to know the person in your department that has the reputation for being good with data. Schedule time to sit down with them and discuss what data is available and how it can be used.
Leadership involves real people with real emotions and real issues – you can’t put the colleagues on hold or switch them off when you need time to refocus. Invest time and effort into building relationships and really get to know your team. Great leaders are aware of the strengths of individuals in their team and are able to deploy these resources effectively.
As well as making the time to watch the other teachers in your school, observe good leadership at all levels. It is one of the best investments you can make. Learn from their approaches, take the best bits and blend them with your own style. Think about the characteristics and competencies that great leaders display. Do they have a clear set of personal values? Do they understand others’ viewpoints and priorities? Do they look to develop others as well as themselves? Watch, learn and listen, and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice.
If you say you are going to do something then do it! If you tell a student that you are going to contact home, then do so. If you promise to watch your form class play football, then do it. If you say you will complete a task by a certain date, then do so. It is also extremely important to be honest with your peers and find techniques for giving as well as asking for feedback. This can feel uncomfortable at first, however the rewards for you as a leader can be great.
As a middle leader you will face trials and challenges every day. However, nothing can match the sense of achievement that this role brings.
Jeanette Smart is a middle leader at Lord Derby Academy in Merseyside and a Teaching Leaders Fellow. Teaching Leaders is a middle leadership development programme for high-potential middle leaders, working in schools in challenging contexts. Applications are now open. Visit www.teachingleaders.org.uk