CPD workshop: Middle leadership – vision into practice

Written by: Steve Burnage | Published:
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Continuing his regular series, Steve Burnage talks us through CPD ideas that can be adapted. He offers a template for a 45-minute workshop with free handouts and slides on our website. This instalment looks at how new middle leaders can put their vision and ideas into practice

The purpose of this article is to provide a summary of a 45-minute interactive training session that could be suitable for a middle leadership development group, CPD session or for individual study.

The training outline is included below while the PowerPoint slides and an accompanying participant’s handout is available for free by clicking the buttons above.

Slide 1: Welcome

In order to facilitate this training, you will need:

  • Copies of the PowerPoint slides printed three to a
  • page with space for notes for each participant.
  • Copies of the accompanying “Starting to lead” handout for each participant.
  • Flipchart paper and marker pens.

Slide 2: Introduction

From Vision into Practice will focus on five key pieces of learning that those new to middle leadership need to know:

  • Understanding why middle leaders need to have vision.
  • Describing your vision for the area you lead.
  • Knowing how to communicate your vision.
  • Using your vision to identify strengths and areas for development.
  • To plan and lead effective change and improvement.

So, before we address the first objective, let’s consider this term “vision”.

Slide 3: What is vision?


  • Individually, use sticky notes to record words that come into your head when you consider the term “vision” in the context of school leadership.
  • Now collate your notes on a piece of flipchart paper with those of others in the group.
  • Look at the similarities and differences.
  • Use the notes to come up with a group definition of the term “vision”.

Slide 4: The leadership and management issue

According to Best and Thomas (2003):

  • Leadership is about mission, direction and motivation. It is the expression of vision and the motivation of others to achieve that vision.
  • Management is the expression of leadership, the mechanisms by which vision is achieved. It is the designing and carrying out of plans (and) getting things done.
  • Administration is about keeping things ticking over.

Consider this scenario:

Leadership: A farmer takes on a new piece of land. The farmer thinks about what he wants from the land (the goal), how to achieve this (strategy) and what the land will look like once work is complete (vision).

Management: The farmer takes the plans for the new piece land and works day and night to turn these plans into reality. The ground is neatly ploughed, seed is sown, and weeds kept under control. Gradually the crops germinate and flourish under the care of the farmer.

Administration: As the crops grow and flourish, the farmer makes sure that weeds are removed, the crops are tended and watered and, eventually, harvested.


Work together to identify those elements of your middle leadership role that are:

  • Leadership.
  • Management.
  • Administration.

Do you think the balance is right? What would you change and why?

Slide 5: Communicating the vision


This activity will encourage us all to firm up our vision. To start with, try to summarise the vision you have for your area of the school in either one short paragraph or an illustration.

It is all very well knowing we have a vision, but is there evidence of it? Consider this: if someone were to visit your school, what evidence would they find of your vision for your area or department?

Finally, we might have vision and it might be present in the areas we lead, but how do we share this with the people that matter. Consider this: how do you communicate this vision to your colleagues, students and parents?

Our vision is the driver of our leadership and should inform everything we do. It should be the first thing we consider when we are planning change and improvement.

Slide 6: How do you know that your area is effective?

Key indicators of an effective school or effective subject or pastoral areas include that they:

  • Tend to be centrally concerned with providing a caring environment for pupils.
  • Place an emphasis upon involving pupils fully in the life of the school.
  • Have an overt concern with raising expectations of both pupils and staff.
  • Stress the importance of raising pupils’ expectations in the search for increased effectiveness.
  • Use rewards rather than punishments to change behaviour and motivate pupils.


This activity uses the RAG leadership monitoring tool – where RAG stands for: red, amber and green. Consider the key indicators of an effective school listed above:

  • Which would you rate green, meaning that we do this consistently well.
  • Which would you rate amber, meaning that we sometimes do this well.
  • Which would you rate red, meaning that we seldom or never do this well.

What would be your first steps to move red areas towards amber and amber areas towards green? How do you celebrate those green areas?

Slide 7: Establishing baselines

You must know your area well. Here is a simple way of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the area of school that you lead:


  • You have been asked to write an entry about your area for the school website. What would you write?
  • You may not have included those areas you would want to improve. What would you leave out?

We need baselines to identify what we are good at and what we need to improve so that all children learn and make good progress.

Slide 8: Knowing your area of the school

Think more closely about your area of school and consider these three questions:

  • How well are you doing?
  • How do you know?
  • What actions are you taking to improve?

Slide 9: Evaluation is not just about data

There are a number of factors that colour our judgement on the quality of the areas of school we lead:

  • The quality of teaching and learning.
  • The curriculum.
  • Care and guidance provided by the school.
  • The aspiration challenge and support from school leaders and governors.
  • Support from familie.
  • The pupils’ resilience and attitude to learning.


How would you RAG-rate each of these criteria for the area of school you lead?

Slide 10: Strategic planning

Strategic planning lets us take our vision, add in our baseline assessment of where things are now and use our evidence to decide where we want to be and how to get there. Here’s how it works:

  • How well are you doing? Consider a range of factors: attainment, pupil wellbeing, staff wellbeing, parent satisfaction etc. What you include here is up to you and your team.
  • How do you know? This is the evidence you use. This can be hard evidence, e.g. data, or softer evidence, like “thank you” cards from parents.
  • Where do you want to be? This is where your vision comes in. What do you want for the area you lead? Does your team agree?
  • What must we change to get there? If we keep doing the same old thing we will always get the same old results. So, what do you and your team want to change to improve things?
  • How will we know when we’ve arrived? The leadership expert Steven Covey advises us to “start with the end in mind” as one of his seven habits in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). What will the area you lead look like when you and your team have achieved your goals?

Note that each step refers to “you and your team”. Think back to the work you have done on leading your team. Why should we involve our teams in the changes we want to implement?


Work through the five-step model of pupil attainment shown on the handout and PowerPoint and identify one thing you and your team would like to improve.

Slide 11: There’s no ‘I’ in team


Decision-making: middle leaders should consider the following factors when making decisions:

  • The impact on students.
  • The impact on your area of the school.
  • The implications on other areas of the school.
  • The likely impact on the school as a whole.
  • The public implications – what will be seen externally?
  • The hidden implications – what will go unnoticed or surface later?

Produce a mind-map to show how your middle leadership takes into account these factors when you implement the change you planned in the last activity.

Slide 12: Making it work at work


What will you do as a result of this training? Working in groups, look at the action sheet you have produced during this training.

  • What are the three key learning points for you?
  • What will you change tomorrow to improve your middle leadership?
  • How will you know when your change has been successful?

  • Steve Burnage has experience leading challenging inner city and urban secondary schools. He now works as a freelance trainer, consultant and author for staff development, strategic development, performance management and coaching and mentoring. Visit www.simplyinset.co.uk and read his previous articles for SecEd, including his previous CPD workshop overviews, at http://bit.ly/2u1KW9e


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