There have been many posts over the years about stepping up to Middle Leadership along with much helpful advice. Two posts really stick out to me and seem to have left a residue of thought, even after a year – Marks Roberts’ How to be a Head of Faculty and Freya Odell Moving From Inadequate to Good.
I’m sure there will be many new HoDs and HoFs taking time this week to simply ‘breathe and be’ after a whirlwind term. Some may feel overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility. It’s easy to be your own, most critical, least supportive friend, but nothing was ever solved through harsh self-castigation. Your time is far more productively spent assessing your priorities. Are the students, are your team, front and centre of everything you do?
I’ve always felt that any level of leadership, from the head to the classroom teacher, is about enabling and supporting those in your remit (staff or students) to do their job, so that they may shine. I am amazed that the lessons we have learned about managing students are almost completely forgotten when it comes to managing staff. Supporting students does not mean that we excuse poor work or are inconsistent; it means that we apply our high expectations to all and make it achievable. Adults are like little people, just bigger.
When I first became Head of Faculty a year ago, I was bursting with strategy and vision. I could easily have had my strategy eat colleagues for breakfast and blinded those around me with my incredible laser-like sight, but I was also in the fortunate position of being promoted from amongst my colleagues. The department was made of up friends; people I had been through, and seen through, difficult times. I had a keen awareness of my responsibility to them as well as the students in my care.
If anyone had told me how much a HoF/HoD role is about the staff, I would not have believed them had I not lived it for the past year. It’s easy to forget that staff, like students, are not fixed constants. They grow, they develop, they move forwards. Whatever the experience of the team, a belief in (and support of) everyone, to work towards excellence, both collectively and individually, is vital.
Every time I see something amazing on twitter, every new policy that seems to be the best thing ever, I need to pause and ask myself: what impact will this have on the staff and students? Will this enable staff to do their job better, more efficiently and effectively? Or is it new for the sake of ‘new’? It’s easy to look at other departments and feel a sense panic and urgency that you’re not doing it like everyone else. Indeed, this remnant of our evolution is pretty useful, safeguarding our survival, but you also need to work with your context, your teachers and, of course, your students. The wisdom of twitter leaves me in awe, but I’m not doing what I do for twitter.
So, how do we keep students front and centre of everything we do? Simple: frame every conversation around them. Make sure the key to all your vision and strategy is benefit, in real terms, to the students. Be transparent about what is preventing students from experiencing the success that they should. Where there are issues within the department, be brave and name them – low expectations? subject knowledge or approaches? lesson planning? marking and feedback? Expose the gaps that you have inherited, or that have been allowed to fester, and work together to fill them. As the wonderful Mary Myatt says in ‘High Challenge, Low Threat’, no one wants to come to work to do a bad job.
My advice to anyone trying to take stock before the bell rings for the next round, is this: it’s all about taking care of the people in your remit. Keep them front and centre and you won’t go far wrong.