Middle Leadership: Finding your way

Picture using an iPad in middle leadership
Making decisions as a middle leader, are there challenges?

(Re)Starting as a middle leader

Deciding to take up the mantel of leadership can be daunting. Whether you are taking on Key Stage responsibility, a Head of Department role or stepping into the Senior Leadership team, they all carry challenges. My experience in schools has largely been in middle leadership. Having taken some time away from the classroom at one stage, I can now (re)evaluate what it all means.

Detours away from any given career trajectory can provide the reflection that we often need. A bit like a car service! In 2018 I started as Head of Modern Languages at a small independent school a long way from my home. But it gave me the chance to reengage with leadership and modern languages teaching. It was a little daunting, and my first day was marred with a long delay due to multiple accidents on my drive on the M25. However, as teachers, we often catastrophise. It wasn’t that bad, and my colleagues were supportive and that is what we need. Support is required at all levels to ensure that we thrive in our schools.

When facing challenges for the first time in middle leadership, or elsewhere, we often second guess things. I have been no stranger to this feeling. Yet, these fears can soon be alleviated when you start to gain some confidence in your abilities. Whether you are a neophyte or a seasoned pro, you have experience and can draw upon this to propel you forwards. Confidence and the ability to ask for help are qualities that helped me and will help leaders in other settings. My first week in that job was a little bumpy, but I got through it.

Thinking clearly as a middle leader

Clarity of decision making is very important when taking on a (middle) leadership role. When working with colleagues, many like a sense of direction and decisiveness. It helps them to feel that they are in safe hands and it helps you to carry out your vision. When given some responsibility for the first time, we are not always clear on what we want to achieve or how to articulate this. It can take time to develop these skills and we do so at different rates, based on our life experiences and school contexts.

I like to think clearly and be organised. It is certainly my aim, although other factors can sometimes prevent this from being the case. As a Head of Department, I have always tried to manage my time so that I can provide support to my colleagues. I see the ability to prioritise and effectively manage my time, have been skills that I have worked on a lot whilst in middle leadership.

Middle leadership is a busy stage

Schools are busy places and there is always a lot to do and we can often feel a little at sea when things get too much. It is worth remembering that only so much can be reasonably expected. Stress and anxiety are common feelings amongst today’s teachers; however, prioritising tasks can help to alleviate these feelings. It has helped me in the past and I am sure I will benefit again in the future.

When I started as a Head of Department at the start of 2018, it was tough. Lots to organise, an NQT to mentor and exam classes to prepare. A colleague said that I was managing well. This was nice to hear, but I felt like a duck on a pond, serene above the water, but fast-moving legs below! As time moves on, we get used to our roles and how the school operates, things get easier over time.

Borrowing from elsewhere

When we transition into a new role, we draw on experiences and knowledge that we have gathered from elsewhere. My career has been no stranger to this, I believe our experiences enrich our ability to be effective. Similarly, the experiences of our colleagues, past and present, are elements that we draw on when forming decisions and planning for development.

These conversations with colleagues are invaluable, you are able to learn so much from these interactions, both on a formal and informal level. The informal chats over a cuppa are often the most fruitful and are moments that I value very highly. Whilst schools are busy places, it is my belief that we need to make time to communicate with each other. Emails are great but are no substitute for a face-to-face discussion. We need to avoid hiding in classrooms and offices and interact with our colleagues and surroundings, it helps to make more informed leadership decisions.

Commitment to development

When we get promoted, we are not somehow a finished product. I believe that we need to continue our development. It is important to remember that we are often promoted for being good at one role and then another. Yet, we must continue to develop these skills. That said, I understand that time can be tight the further up the ladder a leader chooses to climb. Whilst I am a middle leader, I do not forget that my primary function is to teach.

I use the online world, books and my colleagues to reflect upon and develop my teaching practice. It is important to keep on learning. At the same time, I am starting to think of how to solidify my middle leaderships skills and potentially look towards a senior leadership post in the future. There will be trials and tribulations along the way, but I am prepared and ready for this. Whilst certain events can be stressful, the resolution and learning curve are invaluable in developing as a leader. Whilst it can be a daunting prospect, leadership can also be very rewarding.

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