Conversations and Middle Leadership in Schools
This post was written when I was Key Stage 4 Lead, I am currently Deputy Principal so have updated it with some further thoughts. The conversations we take part in as leaders take a number of forms, informal chats in corridors, and question-and-answer sessions where you or a colleague need a particular piece of information. Presentations to implement a new strategy with the aim of getting everyone on board with your way of thinking. Discussions where the best way forward is discussed with team members. Even the occasional “You need to do this”. Each of these is handled differently and takes a different skill.
In my 20Q assessment for the NPQML I received feedback that an area to work on was in challenging underperformance. I would not really argue this, it’s not my favourite type of courageous conversation so I challenged myself and now deliver training on the subject. I am also a fan of the book Radical Candour that my Principal introduced me to. If you follow David Jones’s thinking that then I am most confident in dealing with conversations for which I am most prepared and have all the facts.
Types of Middle Leader Conversation
As a PROACT-SCIPr-UK instructor, I am often required to discuss behaviour incidents of varying severity with staff or class teams. I can conduct these with my personal experiences of similar situations or even the specific student. I have also extensive specialist training in debriefing so am confident that I know the relevant rules, protocols and legalities. Sometimes middle leaders can struggle as they are reluctant leaders promoted to positions through having been identified by a senior leader rather than by burning ambition.
Pupil achievement is a trickier conversation. If I have taught the student I know the strategies that worked with me. I think I am easily caught off guard by negative reactions to my advice. Preparation and clarity are invaluable. As a key stage manager, it is my responsibility to ensure that support is provided where required and capability issues are tackled effectively using the resources I have available (usually staffing and time). Since I have completed leadership courses I have got better at targeting interventions where they are required and can have the most impact. It is a juggling act and can seem that if you take your eye off one ball another will fall.
The importance of dealing with situations and identifying potential problems early is increasingly clear to me. I have been attempting to do this over the last couple of weeks. Having the confidence to stick to decisions and trust in your judgement is difficult – I think I can often appear confident and then doubt myself when back in the office.
4 Conversations Senior Leaders Can Facilitate For Middle Leaders
When I was researching to update this post I came across this article by Liz Benson who talks about the types of conversations middle leaders should be having. I have adapted it slightly to fit the school leadership context. They are conversations that senior leaders such as headteachers should be facilitating to develop middle leaders.
One of the most important things School leaders can do to support middle leader development is to provide them with opportunities to gain insights into leadership. This can be done through formal training programs, informal coaching and mentoring, and by giving middle leaders opportunities to observe and learn from other leaders.
When middle leaders have a better understanding of the principles of leadership, they are better equipped to make decisions and take action that will benefit their schools. They are also more likely to feel confident and capable in their roles, which can lead to improved job satisfaction and retention.
Another important aspect of middle leader development is accountability. Middle leaders need to be held accountable for their performance, just like any other employee. This can be done through performance reviews, goal setting, and feedback.
When middle leaders are held accountable, they are more likely to take their roles seriously and strive to improve their performance. They are also more likely to be motivated to achieve results, which can benefit their schools.
Leadership coaching is another valuable tool that principals can use to support middle leader development. Coaching can help middle leaders to identify their strengths and weaknesses, develop their leadership skills, and set and achieve goals.
Coaching can be provided by principals, other experienced leaders, or external coaches. The type of coaching that is most effective will depend on the individual needs of the middle leader.
Collaborative projects with other leaders
Collaborative projects with other leaders can be a great way for middle leaders to learn and grow. When middle leaders work together on projects, they have the opportunity to share ideas, learn from each other, and develop new skills.
Collaborative projects can also help middle leaders to build relationships with other leaders, which can be beneficial for their careers.
Conversations about teaching and learning are great when they are two-way exchanges of ideas. I can sometimes use my passion for a topic or idea to get staff engaged with new developments, and not always the staff I would expect. I have had great success getting members of our residential team on board with my online safety initiatives. David Jones states that when passion is seen [in a subject specialist] children get excited, I think to a large degree the same is true of staff who will often be invigorated when they learn a new skill or give an ICT example of a new app or piece of technology. This actually happened last week with two members of staff who approached me and then implemented the ideas I gave them.
The fact that numerous teachers progress into leadership roles and other professions equipped to engage in challenging, motivational, and knowledgeable discussions with a diverse array of individuals is a testament to their exceptional abilities.