The 7 Things Top Leaders Do, by @MaryMyatt

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This post answers the 34th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks.

Thunk 34: The 7 things top leaders do, by @MaryMyatt

To celebrate my 200th blogpost, I am delighted that Mary Myatt has written this aide-memoir for outstanding leadership traits found in education. Mary has worked in hundreds and hundreds of schools; so the 7 pillars of leadership are gathered from countless hours, working with teachers, schools and leaders across the country.

Photo Credit: ffaalumni via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: ffaalumni via Compfight cc

The 7 things top leaders do:

1. Top leaders notice everything. Mostly they notice things about the people they are working with. They read the signs of when people need to be supported, when they need to be spurred on and when they just need to be acknowledged. They realise the significance of small things. They remember to write notes, send emails and seek people out. Mostly to say thank you, show appreciation. And sometimes to hold people to account. They look in surprising places. They know that the impact of what they do, shows in how reception greets people, how the caretaking is done, what the wider community thinks of the school. They never miss an opportunity to celebrate.




2. Top leaders know everyone’s name. Yes everyone’s. Incredibly powerful. They use names to great effect for praise and to hold people to account. They never forget that they are dealing with human beings first. They never label anyone. Ever.

3. Top leaders don’t accept excuses. Particularly for themselves. They know the difference between a reason and an excuse. They will take account of the former and dismiss the latter. Working to the principles of ‘high challenge, low threat’, they know that no-one wants to be made to feel a Muppet!


Do you have Muppet-moments?

4. Top leaders have high levels of energy. This comes from their enthusiasm. They love what they do. Their enthusiasm infects the way they go about their business. It is caught by others they come in contact with. They have a lightness of touch. They laugh often. They don’t take themselves too seriously.

5. Top leaders are no-nonsense. They spot waffle and cut through it. They know what their priorities are. They work with people where they are, not where they would like them to be.

Top leaders spot waffle and cut through it ...
Top leaders spot waffle and cut through it …

6. Top leaders know every aspect of their school. They don’t run their schools for Ofsted but for their students. When they are inspected, there are no surprises. They could write their own inspection report. They know what needs to be done to get better. And they hold themselves to account before anyone else. They regularly undertake 360 reviews, formal and informal. They know that it is a sign of strength to ask for feedback. They reflect on it and incorporate it.

7. Oh, and they teach … and the top, top leaders do their share of working with the awkward squad.




What do you think top leaders do?

Download the Powerpoint by clicking the image below or 7-Things-Top-Leaders-Do by @MaryMyatt

Mary Myatt 7 Top Things Leaders Do


Written by @MaryMyatt and edited and posted by @TeacherToolkit.

Mary Myatt is a lead inspector for Ofsted, adviser, writer and trainer, supporting schools to think imaginatively about learners’ progress. Mary writes an incredibly constructive blog here.

Mary Myatt is a lead inspector for Ofsted.
Mary Myatt is a lead inspector for Ofsted.


I would highly recommend working with Mary …

26 thoughts on “The 7 Things Top Leaders Do, by @MaryMyatt

  1. I love Jim Collins analogy that when things are going well, outstanding leaders look out of the office window and “blame” others for their success. But when things are not going well, they look in the mirror and “blame” themselves!

  2. As a teacher in the UK (and one who flipping loves my job – and I’m damn good at it too) I can totally relate to the points made in this post. It was a very interesting read (for most points) and they reflect the outstanding management in my school. But then I read that this was written by an OFSTED inspector and instantly found this laughable. Sorry, but I have no respect for you guys.

    Having experienced OFSTED inspections that have reduced amazing teachers to rambling wrecks and shadows of their former self, hard working teachers who were left demoralised and demotivated because OFSTED made bad judgements, I fail to see how this article is relevant. Why don’t OFSTED inspections reflect this listed ideal?

    Therefore I throughly enjoyed how you how you defined the definition of empty words? “They don’t run their schools for Ofsted but for their students.” As if that’s ever been an option. My previous and current management and I have prioritised our students to no end, but only while jumping through hoops.

    There is a need for OFTSED of course or at least some kind of regulatory body. I just think you’re doing a bad job most of the time.

    1. Peter. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Having worked with Mary on several occasions she is extremely astute, supportive and challenging. If I were expecting Ofsted, I’d want Mary to come knocking on my door. I am far from supporting a regulatory body, but I fear you are tarnishing all inspectors with the ‘rogue-inspector’ brush that Mike Cladingbowl wishes to eradicate from the system.

      What is your view on current SLT being trained to inspect? Is this a good thing? Can making school judgements – just like observations – be arbitrary and open to invalid and unreliable view? Yes they can.

      Having been to Ofsted HQ at February half term, Ofsted are keen to listen to our views and improve how they inspect. It’s only a matter of time before they remove gradings on teaching altogether. I anticipate that hard evidence (data) will be the sole source of information that Ofsted (or A.N. Other) use, alongside a school SEF to gather views of a school.

      It takes a brave school and a brave Headteacher and their staff to lead without Ofsted diktat and fad. I do know some who do and I do know that Mary supports both our views.

    2. Thank you for your comments Peter. I am working with other colleagues to try and make sure that inspections are as kind as they are robust. We are all human beings first and professionals second and I haven’t met anyone who sets out to do a bad job. I work hard to make sure that I carry the school with me and the rest of the team during an inspection. I also ask the school to tell me if we are getting something wrong and also to let us know if there is anything we might miss as we are only there for two days.
      Also, I get observed too. It’s stressful, but if I’m holding schools to account, then I need to be held to account too.

  3. Pingback: Out of their sight, going out of our minds | A little brainless yang
  4. I would like Ofsted to recognise that excessive workload, nightmare bureaucracy and lack of discipline is undermining the quality of education in our state schools.

    Head teachers are not allowed to exclude disruptive pupils with the result that these children spoil the education of the law-abiding majority.

    It is high time that Ofsted came to grips with a few classroom realities.

  5. This is a great list to print and follow. I’ve learned that leaders need to be courageous enough to go against the crowd and make decisions what is sometimes really difficult. I know that this is one of my weaknesses so I’m constantly working on it… Sometimes it still makes me feel uncomfortable when I have to speak up or present but I know that these skills are essential so I’m continuing to educate myself in this area as well. The best thing I can do is to learn and adapt fast. And of course, it is good to surround yourself with the right people who are more experienced in these fields.

  6. Thanks for replying TeacherToolkit. I’m sure Mary is an outstanding person and this was not a personal attack by any means. Unfortunately, she is representing an organisation that is highly and widely disliked by the very profession it serves. It is this problem that makes this article so irrelevant. It would be wonderful if OFSTED represented these ideals but it far from does.

    Moreover, I’m sure there are some very respectable inspectors out there that feel proud of the role they hold but I would personally not like be tarred with the brush of being an OFSTED inspector in the first place. Ask a decent teacher, and there are plenty in comparison to OFSTED inspectors, about their experiences during an inspection and you will be regaled with tales of tears, fear, panic, anger, anxiety and frustration. You will hear of inspectors who are rude, arrogant, brash, unnecessarily harsh and verging on just being plain cruel. Stories of incoherence and unfairness, bias or worse; predefined agendas regardless of the standard of pedagogical practice. These stories will repeat themselves over and over across every school in the country and they far outweigh any positives. Noone, in any profession, deserves to be treated the way OFSTED treats teachers. OFSTED’s reputation is damaged beyond recovery, but heaven forbid anyone who dares speak out against them – so we keep on plodding along to their ridiculous ideologies.

    I don’t know much about SLT’s being trained to inspect or find much information about it online, so I can’t comment much. Will they be inspecting internally or externally? Is it in the local community or further afield?
    If school judgments and observation are arbitrary and open to invalid and unreliable views, then why do they take place? How are they relevant? Any effort that a teacher puts into making their school look good is a complete waste of time and effort at the cost of our emotional stability.

    If OFSTED are keen to listen, why aren’t they? If they want to remove gradings and/or observation, why are they turning up without notice at 8am with no predictable timetable? This is the most damaging thing I can think that has been done to the morale of the teaching community. Teachers are terrified. More and more excellent teachers are leaving faster than ever and still OFSTED press on with doing as much damage as they can. After my school’s last inspection, rated as ‘good’, I don’t feel motivated or encouraged. I feel disheartened and damaged. Personally, I am so terrified of our next inspection and the feelings the cohort were left with, especially now they’re random, I can fully see myself walking out the door and not looking back as they walk in.

    Thanks for replying Mary. I would like to bring up your comment ‘We are all human beings first and professionals second and I haven’t met anyone who sets out to do a bad job’. I highly suspect anyone who is doing a bad job (intentionally or not) makes it very obvious. Moreover, however, on our last inspection our chief inspector came into our staff room on the first morning and was lovely. A human! Truly put us at rest by cracking a few jokes and telling us to make it obvious where good practice is; put a pile of books out and a copy of the lesson plan etc and to especially let him know if he was heading towards a child who is mute or wouldn’t respond to him. In lesson however, he was different beast. When he came into my classroom, I welcomed him, pointed him to a seat with a generous selection of books on and a copy of the lesson plan. At which point he huffed, turned to the chair, snatched up the lesson plan, ignored the books and charged, within inches of me while I was teaching, to a mute I had in my class. I went over and let him know that he probably wouldn’t get a response from this child and he huffed at me again and turned to another child as though it was a massive inconvenience. Smooth.
    I would also like to highlight where you said ‘I also ask the school to tell me if we are getting something wrong and also to let us know if there is anything we might miss as we are only there for two days.’ In regards to your first point, the school and its staff are too scared to truly speak out. As kind as that gesture is, it’s an empty one. In reference to your second point, as explained above when I mentioned the pile of books with excellent examples of my outstanding marking, they were disregarded. Telling staff to show you where good practice is is great, but only if this is followed up with actually looking where they show you.

    Finally, I want to point out your final comment ‘Also, I get observed too. It’s stressful, but if I’m holding schools to account, then I need to be held to account too.’ While I appreciate you telling me this as I wasn’t aware of it, I’m not sure how this is meant to settle teachers’ minds. I have little doubt that you will pander to your inspectors to get through just as much as teachers are forced to pander to OFSTED.

  7. Despite being relatively ‘new’ to the profession, it’s easy to spot those who are/will be good leaders and this list ticks the boxes of everything I’ve seen in such individuals. As an aspiring future leader, this is going on the wall to remind me along the way; like to think I have a few of them already!

    Thank you for the post!

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