Diary of a headteacher: Nurturing leadership experiences

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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With our schools’ young workforce, promotion can happen quickly, leading – perversely – to a lack of genuine leadership development opportunities...

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is developing the people around you to become as effective as you are. This is not a statement to highlight how great or successful I am as a teacher or leader, however it is something I have been saying to middle and senior leaders for some time now.

I recently had a conversation with a very effective middle leader; someone who should be working on a senior leadership team very soon. When I explained this concept to him, he smiled and said: “You’re right, and that can be either the most rewarding or most frustrating part of my current role.”

His reflections struck a chord with me and I thought about how satisfying it can be to coach effective middle leaders and assist them in developing their leadership skills and their careers. But I also thought about the challenge for leaders in achieving a consistent level of excellence in the teams we are responsible for.

Yes, we might be highly effective as teachers, and we may well have colleagues in our teams who are equally if not more effective than ourselves, but is everyone operating at this high level on a consistent basis?

The way I like to think about this is through the experiences of a student. If I’m a student in my school, will there be a marked difference in the educational experience I receive that is dependent on who teaches me? When I enter the English department, for example, do I get a good deal in year 8 because Ms X is teaching me, but then in year 9 I get Mr Y and English becomes a chore because he is not as effective?

The secret to being a great department, and a great school, is to eradicate any variations in the quality of teaching, because all teachers can be highly effective, even if they are very different in the way in which they teach. The experience students get in a subject should not be dependent on who they get.

However, how do our experiences prepare us for these leadership challenges as our careers progress beyond the realms of our own classroom? If you consider how most teachers advance through the leadership ranks in schools, it normally follows a certain pattern. Most of us start out as teachers and do a good job, our students make good progress, we establish ourselves as successful practitioners and then when leadership positions arise, we use our accrued experiences and track record to secure these opportunities.

The first leadership positions most teachers fulfil will be within a department, or a small niche area of the school, and from this we might take opportunities to delve into the world of middle leadership. Some people, through circumstance, opportunity or luck, jump straight into middle leadership roles and it is not entirely uncommon to see teachers promoted straight into senior leadership positions, such is the plethora of assistant head roles currently out there.

As someone who has progressed reasonably quickly myself, I have experienced the pitfalls of not spending enough time embedding strategies because further promotions have superseded things. Clearly, being promoted is mostly a good thing for your career, but sometimes it can happen too quickly and we don’t benefit from the opportunities that time in leadership roles can afford us.

When we are not able to spend an appropriate amount of time genuinely becoming great at our leadership job, we run the risk of not being able to achieve the levels of consistent excellence across our teams that we are all striving for.
I read the excellent blog of the inspirational Geoff Barton (the general secretary of ASCL) recently. He was making the point that in England we have one of the youngest teaching workforces in the world and we should value, cherish, protect and nurture this.

As leaders of this young workforce we undertake a moral imperative to do exactly this, ensuring we create the conditions in our schools for everyone to thrive, from our most experienced teachers and leaders, through to our NQTs and the young, inexperienced leaders who are just embarking upon their new roles.

It certainly is a challenge, but for those of us in the privileged positions of leading schools, it is one of the most exciting ones.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his fourth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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