When I was first appointed to a senior leadership role I remember the head saying to me: “It’s one thing being able to do it yourself, but the hardest thing about leadership is getting everyone else to do it as well as you.”
It took me a while to fully understand this and recently I have been thinking about these words quite a lot. I have been lucky enough to work with some middle leaders who are exceptionally good. When I think of the most effective middle leaders who I have worked with, I think of individuals who have monitoring and evaluation processes which are rigorous, classroom teaching which is exemplary, and a vision for the department which is clear, aspirational and inclusive.
I have found that the biggest challenge for these individuals is establishing a level of consistency across all the teachers within their team, which results in a level of performance that would match their own.
As a headteacher, it is my job to create this level of consistency within all teaching across the school, and in a large school this is one of the most challenging aspects of the role.
So, I have asked my senior team recently, how do we achieve this? The answer has been simple; we need to invest in our middle leaders. Not necessarily financial investment through external courses and training, but an investment which is far more valuable than that – the investment of time, of trust and an investment in developing their leadership capacity through coaching and mentoring.
Time is a precious commodity in modern day schools. Budgets are tight, timetables are lean and the pace of life in schools is usually relentless. However, it is crucial that senior leaders ensure they dedicate time to working with middle leaders.
There are the obvious aspects of a middle leader’s role that a senior leadership line management link would want to discuss on a regular basis: monitoring and evaluation, data analysis and staffing issues might be topics of conversation that occur in meetings.
However, do we dedicate enough time to developing the leadership skills of our middle leaders? Coaching conversations are incredibly valuable in developing reflective middle leaders, but it is easy for the day-to-day operational aspects of school life to overtake these as immediate priorities.
But how do expect our middle leaders to progress if we don’t invest time in developing them as leaders rather than always checking up on their management skills?
There is an obvious balance to strike here, and if we are to develop a level of consistency across this very large school then I know that it is an important one to get right.
Trust is an important aspect of leadership for me too, especially when it comes to establishing consistency. As the headteacher I can have no credibility, no impact and certainly no buy-in if the staff in my school don’t trust me. And the same applies to the rest of the senior leadership team too. Transparency and honesty are really key here – but it boils down to more than just this.
Middle leaders need to be trusted by their teams too, but also feel trusted themselves. There is another balance to strike between holding middle leaders to account and giving them the autonomy to lead their teams in their own way in order to get the best out of each individual.
Traditionally one of the most challenging aspects of senior leadership is reducing the amount of in-school variation, but I am really clear in my vision for tackling this and it undoubtedly starts with investing in my senior and middle leaders.
SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his first year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.