Advice For School Leadership Teams

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What advice would you offer to school leadership teams who are returning to school?

It’s ‘back to school season’ and teachers and schools will be planning for the term ahead. After 24 years in the classroom and 17 years in leadership, here are my 5 bits of advice for school leadership teams..

School Leadership

  1. The first day back (INSET) day should be set aside for ‘getting ready’, not necessarily for ‘training’. Everyone will be feeling anxious and will want to get ready. Please give your staff the space to have time in their classrooms and in departments with colleagues. Don’t think ‘keeping them busy’ with tasks and form-filling exercises is a useful task. It’s not. I’d far rather have teachers getting their lesson plans and resources ready for their kids, and new staff feeling settled and confident to meet their new classes.
  2. Go easy with the priorities and action plans. Those teachers who have worked in the school will know the school’s vision and values – share them with your new staff in induction sessions and share the headlines – but for goodness sake, don’t bore staff with mindless meetings about vision (unless you are a startup school / conversion school). Keep things simple, otherwise the message will be lost and no one will have a clue what the collective vision is.
  3. The start of any new term is often filled with ‘these are our results’ and ‘this is what we are introducing and why’. Why not do things differently this year? Announce the things you are ‘getting rid of‘ – perhaps you will finally banish lesson gradings or reduce the number of meetings for the year ahead. You may choose not to display all departmental results to all staff and instead, celebrate those students where ‘teacher expectations’ were surpassed and showcase those children who had a tarnished reputation, can succeed. Do things differently.
  4. Make a promise to yourself – if you know one member of your leadership who was not toeing-the-line last year – whether this is bullying, vitriol or worse, does not take their classroom teaching seriously – be brave, and this year, pull them up on the issue and challenge it. (Give them a couple of months to see if they’ve come back with a different sense of purpose.)
  5. Towards the end of the first term, what will you want all your staff to still be doing in 3 months time? This is what you should keep focused on. When the days are short and the nights are long and cold, the key thing here for any school is ‘collective teacher efficacy’. Consistency, insistence and persistence. Teaching staff who are consistent in the classroom, insistent on high-expectations and persistent on achieving classroom excellence are likely to be supported by a school leadership team that keeps things simple. Bombard teachers with meetings just because it ‘says so on the calendar’, or complicated data analysis and mismanaged deadlines, you’ll find your teaching staff more focused on your demands rather than the demands of the classroom. And what then? Well, behaviour starts to slip, followed by lesson planning and marking. Sooner rather than later, you’ll find yourself working with demotivated staff and wondering how that ever happened. Keep the main thing the main thing.

Have a good academic year.

7 thoughts on “Advice For School Leadership Teams

  1. Excellent advice – particularly the celebration of successes that were not expected. So much more to learn from unexpected success than anticipated failure.

    Have a good year Ross.

  2. Point 1. It’s true Ross sometimes leadership ideas get in the way of the business. Teachers know what they need to do to get the year going and many will have been planning and organising way before the first day back. There is a need to re establish contact with other teachers and build relationships with new staff. These things don’t happen if they are sat in a room listening to or taking part in INSET which is not their priority.
    Point 2. I sometimes think the ‘vision’ is the ‘mission’ of leadership, a sort of responsibility that accounts for their position in school. It’s not the vision that is important in practical terms though it is the mission statement. If we do promotes or gets us closer to our mission statement – do it, If not then don’t.
    Point 3. Yes, CELEBRATE not mull over accountability and how things went wrong.
    Point 4. By “toeing the line” do you mean being part of the team? Hard to lead if you have a divided team so yes get them back on board but start with empathy and ask questions of them.
    Point 5. AGREE, loudly agree. See my acronym about leadership. Leaders “ENABLE” part of my article on 40 years reflection on leadership in schools.

    Finally, I wrote this article 3 years ago now but it is still relevant today, “The Return to School” It introduces two models that I believe are essential in school leadership. The first is the “Leadership Responsibility Diagram” and the second “Teacher Learner Relationship”. The second model is what I strongly believe leadership is all about in schools – protecting and promoting the teacher learner relationship. You can find the article here:

      1. We have a different definition there then Ross, as toeing the line has meant doing as you are told to me. I think it would be very difficult for any leader to retain the respect of their colleagues if they were “constantly under par in the classroom”. As for not meeting their responsibilities there could I suppose be a number of issues from being in the right role to skills set, experience or even aptitude. Either way working at saving a teacher is better than losing a teacher don’t you think?

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