How Can School Leaders Develop Middle Leaders? 1

How Can School Leaders Develop Middle Leaders?

Building Your Middle Leadership Team

In the complex ecosystem of a school, leadership is not confined to the top. Middle leaders (department heads, assistant headteachers, etc.) play a pivotal role in driving school performance and improving teaching and learning. In many ways, middle leaders are the bridge between senior management and teaching staff, translating strategic vision into everyday practice. However, their development often remains overlooked. This article delves into strategies that the senior leadership team can employ to enhance the growth and opportunities of their middle leaders.

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Understanding the Role and Importance of Middle Leaders

Middle leaders occupy a unique position in the school hierarchy, managing both upwards and downwards. They’re responsible for leading their teams while also implementing the strategic plans of the school’s senior leadership. The development of these keen and capable is crucial, as they significantly influence school culture, teaching quality, and ultimately, student outcomes. Not all will want to progress into leadership or even see themselves as having a leadership role.

Common middle leadership roles in Schools include subject leaders, middle managers, heads of department, curriculum coordinators and SENCOs). It may be a smaller whole school responsibility with a TLR or a larger role.

Strategies for Developing Middle Leaders

1. Fostering a Leadership Mindset

The first step towards developing middle leaders is to foster a leadership mindset. Encourage them to see themselves as leaders and have them understand that their role isn’t just administrative but also strategic. A leadership mindset also involves a commitment to continuous learning and improvement.

2. Providing Professional Development Opportunities

Professional development is a critical aspect of leadership growth. Headteachers and deputies should provide middle leaders with opportunities to attend relevant training programs, workshops, and conferences. The professional development I followed was the NPQML/NPQSL route and I would still recomend this. This doesn’t just enhance their skills but also exposes them to new ideas and perspectives.

3. Creating a Mentoring Program

Mentoring programs can be highly effective in developing potential members of the leadership team. Pairing less experienced middle leaders with more seasoned ones or even members of the senior leadership can provide them with valuable guidance and insights. The mentor can provide feedback, share experiences, and provide advice on handling various leadership challenges.

4. Providing Leadership Coaching

Leadership coaching is another powerful tool for leadership development. A good coach can help middle leaders identify their strengths and weaknesses, set professional goals, and develop strategies to achieve them. This personalised approach can be particularly effective, as it addresses the individual needs of each leader.

5. Encouraging Peer Collaboration

Peer collaboration allows middle leaders to learn from each other. Regular meetings where your future leaders can share their experiences, discuss challenges they are facing, and brainstorm solutions can be a rich source of professional learning. This also fosters a sense of camaraderie and mutual support among the leadership team.

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6. Offering Opportunities for Decision Making

Empowerment is a key aspect of leadership development. By offering middle leaders opportunities to make decisions and take on responsibilities, headteachers and deputies can help them build confidence and competence. You can use questioning to develop a culture of leadership. Even if they make mistakes, these can be valuable learning experiences.

7. Providing Constructive Feedback

Certainly! Constructive feedback plays a pivotal role in the growth and development of leaders in any organization, and the educational sector is no exception. In the context of schools, it becomes crucial for school leaders to provide timely and meaningful feedback to middle leaders, as it serves as a catalyst for their personal and professional growth.

One of the primary objectives of feedback is to acknowledge and reinforce the strengths demonstrated bythe member of staff. By highlighting their achievements and successes, headteachers can encourage and motivate middle leaders to continue excelling in their roles. This recognition not only boosts their confidence but also fosters a positive work culture within the organization.

However, constructive feedback should not solely focus on strengths; it should also shed light on areas that require improvement. By pinpointing these areas for growth, specific areas for development can be identified and staff can be provided with the necessary guidance and support. This feedback should be specific, actionable, and delivered in a respectful and supportive manner.

Moreover, effective feedback should be ongoing and continuous. It should not be confined to specific evaluation periods or performance reviews. Regular check-ins and informal conversations provide opportunities to provide feedback in a timely manner and address any concerns or challenges that middle leaders may be facing.

The Role of Headteachers in Developing Middle Leaders

School leaders play a crucial role in developing their staff team. They need to create an environment that supports leadership development, provide various learning opportunities, and offer guidance and support. By investing in the development of middle leaders, headteachers can build a strong leadership team that can drive the school towards its strategic goals.

How Can School Leaders Develop Middle Leaders?
School Leadership Development


Developing middle leaders is a strategic investment that can significantly impact a school’s effectiveness. By nurturing their growth, school leaders not only strengthen their leadership team but also enhance teaching quality and student learning. As such, middle leader development should be a key priority in a school’s strategic planning. With the right support and opportunities, middle leaders can become powerful agents of change and improvement in schools.

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