This post is based on “Leading a Team” training I delivered to colleagues in Kent special schools. It is aimed at ECTs, Teachers, and HLTAs. Anyone stepping up to lead a class in a special school becomes a leader of a team. This is usually of a team of Teaching or Learning Support Assistants (TA/LSA). Often these are established, experienced teams. As a newly qualified teacher I started in a class with 5 LSA’s all of whom had more experience than me. My PGCE did not even mention leading other adults so I had to learn quickly. I hope you find this post useful, please share if you think it will help others.
Leading a Team: Seeing Yourself as a Leader
There will be specific elements of personnel management in your role but that is different to leadership. It is important we recognise that a job title or promotion doesn’t automatically make you a leader. It may give you responsibility and accountability over others. This means people may well do as directed. Walking into a room with a list of jobs and directions for people is not effective leadership. You may get through the day but it is unlikely anyone will enjoy their day.
Leadership is not about power or forcing people to do as they are told. It is about gaining buy-in and building trust.
In a special school classroom this is not enough to create an effective provision. You need to ensure your team comes together to follow your vision and expectations. You need to show them they are valued and you have confidence in them. To ensure they follow you you need to have confidence in yourself.
If you are not a naturally confident person it can help to sit down and consciously build your confidence. Please do not get disheartened if things don’t go to plan straight away. In teaching we are all constantly learning and developing. A lot of the people you look up to will either have overcome confidence issues or still struggle with it. don’t compare yourself, develop you! When researching this training I came across this statistic from Keele University :
“At primary school level, men are present at senior level at a ratio of almost 2:1 of their representation overall – while just 14% of teaching staff are male, 27% of headteachers are”THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN EDUCATION LEADERSHIP 2021
100% of the attendees of this course when I delivered it were women. Herminia Ibarra, Ph.D., author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader and professor of organizational behavior at London Business School States that women are affected by persistent, subtle gender bias. This impacts how they see themselves as leaders. It is essential school leaders work to ensure this bias is removed in their schools.
6 Tips for Developing Confidence as a Leader
Small steps are key here, you are not looking to change the world (yet!)
- Sit down and Identify specific times in life where you have led or people have seen you as a leader. To help think about night’s out or activities you have organised. Have you recommended a book or film to someone that they went on to enjoy?
- Spend a few moments each day reflecting on the challenges you have faced. How did you overcome them or how would you approach them differently next time.
- Connect with your team, focus on building positive relationships rather than popularity. That they follow your lead is more important than being invited into their private lives.
- Trust in your skills and knowledge in finding out the answer rather than having it at your fingertips. This is especially important if you are teaching, planning or focussed on something else.
- Recognise that your TA’s may well know the pupils in much greater depth than you, they may have pre-existing relationships with parents or carers. It is not a competition, the point of a class team is the collective skills and knowledge. A pupil may well not respond to a request from you but will from a familiar TA. Go with it, use your team. You are not expected to be the best at everything but to manage your class effectively.
- Seek input if you are unsure, an experienced TA is invaluable. Yes they may not be a qualified teacher but their experience is valid. Frame questions you want feedback on carefully. i.e “I have noticed Dave is not engaging well with phonics, what have you seen other teachers try?”. Rather than “what do you think of my phonics lessons?”
Using your Leaders
You always have your line manager for support and guidance if you are facing resistance. I would always encourage you to ask for advice and try applying this before getting another school leader to specifically manage the situation. Having said that they can reinforce your message by “popping in”.
Reminder to school leaders supporting your emerging leaders: “As a leader you encourage you don’t demean or alienate”. Create opportunities for networking and ensure they are comfortable with their coach or mentor.
What’s Your Why?
I went into leadership as I didn’t like being micromanaged. My leadership journey started in my NQT year and the team were all older and more experienced than me. It took me a while to purposefully develop or see myself as a leader. It took me even longer to realise I could specifically develop or write down my purpose. The first time I really thought about myself as a leader was at Assistant Headteacher interview. But by then I had led a team for years.
I always recommend the Simon Sinek TED talk Start with why. Then follow the steps below to come up with your own “Why” statement. This can be shared with your team or just be used to refocus you after a hard day. This will help you when leading your team because you will know what you stand. Further down I will talk about vision. Like the vision you can use your “Why” as a filter to determine your discussions and decisions.
Developing your Teaching why
- WHY is our purpose, cause or belief it drives everything we do.
- HOWs are the actions we take to bring our WHY to life.
- WHATs are the tangible manifestation of our WHY, how you run your classroom everyday.
Gather stories “Each of us has only one WHY. It’s not a statement about who we aspire to be; it expresses who we are when we are at our natural best.”
Our WHY is our story. By looking to our past and teasing out the most significant threads—the experiences we’ve had, the people we’ve been influenced by, the lives we’ve touched and the highs and lows we’ve faced.”
As the process unfolds, one or two of those nuggets will seem to shine brighter than all the others. They will feel bigger, more important, you’ll point to them and say, ‘That’s me—that’s who I am,’ or ‘That’s us—that’s our team.’
Use these elements to draft and refine your Why Statement. Keep it simple and clear, actionable, focused on the effect you’ll have on others, and expressed in affirmative language that resonates with you. If you can wrestle your WHY into one sentence, you’re much more likely to remember it—and to act on it.”
Sharing your Vision for Your Team
Now this takes confidence. Leading a team with vision requires you to be vulnerable – stand up and share your vision for the class, school or pupil. You need to make this and your why your mantras. If you think you have made yourself clear say what you expect of your team another 10 times. Never underestimate the importance of communicating your vison and sharing what it is you believe in.
However leading a team is not about you. It is about inspiring your team to follow your vision or ideas.
What you are doing is inspiring people. You as a leader will be inspirational – stop cringing! People will probably already have taken things from your practice. It might be the tone of your voice, the way you say good morning. How you deliver Attention Autism session or Sensory Story. What people tend not to do is tell you you inspire them, they might not even be conscious of it. People buy into you because you inspire them whether you want to admit it or not. I have spent the last few years actively trying to develop my leadership skills.
One of the people who has inspired me is Diana Osagie. I would encourage you to listen to her podcasts. Hearing other leaders talk about how they developed and the times they visited “Planet Numpty” is great. I have chosen this video to share with you – mainly due to the times she says “Encourage your team!”. It is aimed more at senior leaders but you will be one day.
Sharing My Vision With My Team
It was September 2021 and following the hardest years in my career as a school leader I wanted to reset, I wanted to be seen to be leading my team of over 100 staff. My CPD slot was behaviour support. 1 hour – I could have given some tips and theory but most of the staff knew this already. What I needed to do was change mindsets. I set up “The School of Joy” and ethos or approach I expected everyone in the school to follow. It had 7 key values that I truly believe make a difference and make a special school outstanding provision. If everyone knows what I stand for , they know what to expect when they come and talk to me, how I will respond and what guides me. I’ll let you judge if you would follow it find out more about the School of Joy Approach here.
Leading a Team through Change
Change Management processes.
Change is inevitable in schools when you are leading a team at any level you will find yourself leading or implementing changes. This may be to the makeup of the team, a new maths scheme, a new behaviour approach, even new display rules. Here is a quick 4 Step guide to follow.
Understand, Plan, Communicate and Implement
Step 1. UNDERSTAND CHANGE.
First of all, you have to clearly understand the change yourself. You will be directed to make some changes and some will be your own idea. Think about the reasons for implementing the change. What the disadvantages are. How it will impact your class. and finally, how it will be implemented. If directed change ask questions, think, do not be afraid to clarify points.
Step 2. PLAN CHANGE.
Consider the strategies that are best for your team. Decide carefully how you will delegate tasks related to designing and implementing the change process. In this step be sure to be clear on how you want the end result to look.
3. Step 3. COMMUNICATE CHANGE.
Communication is always the key to success. Once you have completed the plan, explain to your team why they have to do this or that. Make sure your team has a buy-in – not necessarily agreement
4. Step 4. IMPLEMENT CHANGE.
Here ensure that you and your team take the steps to make the change happen. Make sure that everyone in the class/team understands the things to be done and don’t forget part time staff!
In summary, since there is no such thing as “one size fits all.“ You have to identify which method really works for you and your team. You may experience challenges along the way, remember that mistakes are opportunities for further improvement.
Forming a Team
Tuckman’s Model of Team Development
When you are responsible for leading a team it is worth knowing that teams don’t just work immediately. This is Tuckman’s model – Find out more here. I won’t go into each stage here. Each stage represents a process that any team goes through. Have a read of the link then think about where your team is. Unfortunately in education your team is likely to change often, this may knock you back to an earlier stage. You may have just created a high performing team when someone leaves or gets promoted.
You can guide this process but some will be out of your hands. With a new class aim for Christmas to be performing at its best. Where people just get you and everything is at its most efficient.
Complex Human Relationships
It is important to connect individually with each member of your team. When Leading a team you will also be reliant on them for your own development, enjoyment and career. these relationships are complex and need managing. sometimes you may be promoted from a TA to HLTA, this may change the nature of your professional relationship.
- This may be individual conversations or within a group setting
- Explain why you wanted this role – share your why
- Choose key areas of your vision to share, reinforce and over communicate.
- Identify those who need you to “prove yourself” to
- Make yourself open to questions
- Try to manage genuine concerns sensitively
- Validate concerns, if you have a plan for them or have prepared/foreseen these address them
- Managing “Gripes” needs a different approach – how can you tell the difference?
- Push back is part of the process do not take offence.
- Use and respect the background of the team members.
- Think about what you know about them and what drives them
- Don’t come in like a wrecking ball
- Yes you have authority to make changes – but use this wisely
- Find out why a system or process exists before changing it. i.e is there a break or personal care rota does it fit with your vision?
- Find out if a member of your team implemented it or is invested in it – ask why but don’t be judgemental
- Demonstrate you value the work people have done, continue to do
A key part of you role leading a team will be developing others, providing growth and opportunities for your team. Identify ways they can share and explore their passions. Together you will achieve the best outcomes for the pupils.
When you first become a leader or manager, whether an HLTA or trainee teacher people rarely teach you how to lead a team, manage others or how to set boundaries. It wasn’t even mentioned in my PGCE or during induction. The hardest thing is setting boundaries especially if you moving from part of a teaching team, to leading that team. If you are a people pleaser, perfectionist or lacking in confidence it can be hard to set professional boundaries. I had to ask my teaching assistants to not text me if they were ill or not in the next day as it would cause me to worry about something I couldn’t control all night.
Signs you need to set a boundary – You get anxious if your phone goes off in the evening. You constantly check your email. You feel the need to be “on-call” all the time for your team. You are starting to feel burnout/thinking of changing jobs. You lose sleep. You start building up resentment towards your team members.
Focus on You
When Leading a team a lot of your energy will go on others. Don’t neglect yourself. You will constantly face new situations. You need to learn to trust your ability and judgement. There is no right way to grow and develop in your role, the more you invest in yourself, the more confident you will feel and the more people will learn to look at you as a leader. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Where do you want to go?
- How are you securing CPD opportunities
- What opportunities exist in your network?
- Who are your allies and supporters?
When leading a team there will always be challenges. If you find yourself having to have difficult, courageous or challenging conversations have a look through this post.
I hope you have found this post helpful.
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