Middle Leadership: People, Practice and Policy

Photo of the lightbulb moments associated with middle leadership
Can middle leaders show us the way?

Why do I continue as a middle leader?

Middle leadership is something that I have done for the majority of my teaching career. Therefore, it is something that I enjoy and decided to share my perspective about it during my #BrewEdHerts19 talk in September. Consequently, this post explains my reasons for continuing. It links to what I discussed about 6 weeks ago at an event full of positivity and interesting perspectives on everything education.

At the moment, it’s hard to deny that we are in a crisis in terms of education. Identity and recruitment being a big focus. It goes without saying that external pressures from Ofsted and other bodies have transformed (some of) our schools into highly toxic environments. Meaning that teachers and leaders in education are struggling to survive the constant school improvement merry-go-round.

In my role as a middle leader and with a positive mindset, I believe that we can keep people in the classroom. So, my focus on the 3Ps of people, practice and policy have motivated me to keep going and might help others to do the same.

3Ps: People

Middle leadership, for example, is a part of the school community in which you can work with many different people. I feel that the regular contact with people helps to make it both enjoyable and enriching. Working together to seek development and improvement can be exciting. However, it can be challenging to work with people. Sometimes we have to take off the rose-tinted spectacles for a dose of reality.

Therefore, in almost 10 years as a middle leader I have worked with a range of teachers and other middle/senior leaders. This variety of experience from the seasoned pro to the NQT has been rewarding. Therefore, I like the diversity of experience and the contributions that help to effectively run a department. I have learnt to adapt and appreciate a diverse range of experience with the passage of time.

Staff development

Middle leadership can be challenging, insofar as you receive pressure from the top and pressure from those you lead and manage. However, the people around me have helped me to develop my leadership style as well as my teaching practice. This is something for which I will be eternally grateful, be it in a formal setting or more than likely whilst chatting over a cuppa at the end of the day.

What’s more, I have really enjoyed working with trainees and NQTS. It has given me the chance to pass on my hints and tips and I have tried to protect early career teachers from burnt out. The profession is rewarding (this post is about why I teach), but we need to safeguard against burnout if we are to keep teachers in our classrooms.

Above all, it is my belief as a middle leader, that we should motivate, support and encourage new entrants to the profession. This should be our focus rather than burdening them with a myriad of unnecessary obstacles. In my middle leadership role, I try to remove this burden for all members of my department.

3Ps: Practice

Secondly, middle leadership, as a Head of Department, allows me to be involved with directing and influencing what happens in the classroom. This should take the form of informed decision making and not a series of knee-jerk reactions. If our teachers are up to date and continue to develop their practice, surely it will be a more enriching experience for all concerned?

Effective Teaching and Learning can provide new windows to the world for our young people, as well as staff. For instance, teachers working in UK schools can use their classrooms to develop social/cultural capital and not just exist to be examination factories. Similarly, we need to understand that whilst data and results are important, schools and education have a broader focus.

Context-specific Practice

Every school community is different. Even within the same borough or area, each school has a unique character and set of individuals that make it what it is. So, it goes without saying, this needs to be respected and we need to appreciate that there is no one-size-fits-all model. Therefore, our geographical and community features will all contribute to how we interact with our young people. Consequently, this will have an effect on how we teach our pupils. I have worked in different schools and I adapt my approach and respond to the needs of my classes.

Therefore, as a middle leader, or at any stage of our careers, it is important to keep up to date with effective practice. We should never stop learning and this variety of experience is invaluable in our profession. In addition, we need to continually adapt and not just re-run the same academic year over and over again. Sometimes it is broken, and we do need to recognise that it needs to be fixed.

3Ps: Policy

Workload and wellbeing are terms bandied around school corridors, the government and Edutwitter. But what are we actually doing to address these issues? In my view, it goes without saying that middle leadership does have a role to play in this. We have the ability to write policies that are not burdensome for our colleagues. Above all, we have the power to make effective changes, ones that are reasoned and well informed.

Our classrooms need teachers that are present and effective in real time. These same classrooms do not need burnt out teachers who have to negotiate a time-consuming and gargantuan marking policy. Middle leaders can and should make changes. It is important that we have the opportunity to switch off and take a break from schoolwork and life. It is difficult for some and they must do what is right for them. However, getting a balance to be happy, healthy and rested will mean that teachers are better equipped to work effectively with our young people.

Confidence to go against the grain

If other departments in your school are following an established trend, it takes confidence to take an alternative route. It might not even be possible, but middle leaders can put forward effective policies to protect their staff from becoming overburdened. I like to create policies like this. They should not be labour intensive, and they should try to give teachers time to do what they want to do best, educate and provide for our young people.

This can be as simple as ensuring that there is adequate time on INSET days to plan, prepare and organise for the coming term. Making sure that department meetings share and develop practice. I use a weekly departmental bulletin for all admin and reminders so that we can push forward with our de.velopment. Teachers are seldom motivated by money; time is often what they want and need.

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