What do middle leaders need to do to be effective?
Middle Leadership is one of the most challenging roles within a school because, as the job title states, you are in the middle which is why these leaders often feel in limbo between their teaching and leadership roles.
Darrell Williams refers to middle leadership being “the engine room of sustainable change” and believes that effectiveness comes from middle leaders placing learning at the heart of what they do.
10 Tips for New Middle Leaders
Below you will find some practical advice for those new to middle leadership, including how to manage crucial conversations, how to meet the needs of the staff you lead whilst also catering to the needs of SLT and identifying the parameters of the new role.
1. Have a clear vision
Know where you want your department/area of responsibility to be heading within a clear timeframe. Successful middle leaders have the capacity to know their vision and empower their staff in working towards shared goals. A vision gives you the ability to formulate and have an impact on the future. Good leaders are visionaries with a clear sense of moral purpose.
2. Know and support your team
It is now your task to create a culture where people are motivated to accomplish personal, team, school and student-centred goals. Give your staff time, coach and support them in their professional roles, support them personally, show interest in them as people not just colleagues and allow them to pursue professional development.
3. Be resilient
This new role is going to challenge you; you will be torn between the role that the senior leadership team want from you, supporting your team and the pressures of teaching a timetable. Take time out for yourself, set firm boundaries for your work so that it doesn’t encroach on your home life, exercise and have hobbies. Whilst in work set a daily to do list, use a priority matrix to identify the tasks to be working on and pre-plan your meetings with your team to minimise corridor conversations.
4. Get support
You cannot do this job single-handedly! As well as your own line manager supporting you in your leadership role it will be worth seeking a professional mentor. A mentor should be someone who you can bounce ideas off, vent frustrations to, and be a source of support and direction. Your mentor should be someone who is unbiased and who can give you valued specialised guidance.
Ben Solly advises that, “It may be that you worked with someone at a previous school who you can pick the phone up and talk to, or it could be someone at your current school who is a middle or senior leader that you have an excellent working relationship with.”
5. Hold your values
Don’t forget the reasons that you got into teaching and leadership. With the pressures of the role it is easy to just want to get on with the job in hand. Don’t do things that undermine your values or go against what you believe in.
6. Know the strengths and weaknesses
Ensure you know what your department is good at and the areas that need improvement. When talking about strengths make sure that they are genuine strengths with evidence to back them up, don’t try to hide any obvious areas for development – it is better to be honest and explain what you are doing to address these. Take a look at the NAHT guidance, ‘12 questions your middle leaders should be able to answer‘.
7. Don’t hide away from crucial conversations
It can be challenging to approach difficult conversations with your team. These can include addressing staff who are not performing to the expected standards or talking to staff who need further advice and guidance on areas of their role. It is important to plan for difficult conversations, possibly hold them in a neutral environment and ensure that you clarify that you are addressing these areas because you have high standards for the school and want to support school improvement.
8. Get to know your pupils
Lead by example and develop positive relationships with the students in your department/area of responsibility. Teaching high quality lessons should be your priority and don’t undermine their learning by constantly arranging meetings and needing cover. The students will respect you for the time that you are giving them and it will benefit your behaviour management.
9. Don’t spend your days firefighting
You may be asked to assist your team in managing behaviour and holding detention/catch up sessions break, lunch time and after school. This is good in moderation and you want your team to feel supported, but you also want to empower others to deal with the issues that are being presented.
10. Evaluate and be well informed
Evaluating your own performance allows you to reflect on your practice and continually improve. The most successful teams are up to date on policies and practices and use this information to deliver a high quality education.
Taking an evidence-informed method to decision-making and prioritising can have a impact positively on the performance of your team.