5 ways to develop new middle leaders

May 1, 2018
Vicki Manning

Vicki Manning

Headteacher at Ash Hill Primary School

This year I have been lucky enough to lead on the launch of a significant change in the curriculum of my school.

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This blog is part of Ambition:Feed's developing others challenge. Find more tips and discussion on the Ambition:Feed homepage.

I have been working on this with a team of new middle leaders this year, which has been the perfect opportunity to develop them as leaders. While the project was challenging, I count it as one of the most significant successes of my career. Based on this experience, here are my top tips for developing a team of new middle leaders:

1.       Appeal to moral purpose

Most of us are in teaching because we have a moral purpose that motivates us to make a difference in the lives of young people.

Appealing to moral purpose is a sure-fire way to get energy from your teams. At the launch of the curriculum project, I engaged my team in the vision of preparing our children for life in an ever-evolving world by providing a fit-for-purpose curriculum.

2.       Create a contract to manage expectations

A contract can include the basics, like being on time to meetings and listening to each other’s ideas, but with my team we also talked about how we might ‘sabotage’ each other, the team or the project.

This was a collaborative exercise focused on making the contract relevant to us as a group. For example, a team member talked about how they sometimes felt their ideas might not be ‘good enough’ so sometimes held back on contributing to the group.

We added ‘listen to all ideas’ and ‘contribute to discussions’ to our contract, identifying these behaviours in our list of sabotages. The team liked this strategy so much they implemented it with their own teams, and we now hear calls of “sabotage!” during PPA sessions in the staff room as team members keep each other on track.

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3.       Trust your team

When developing others, be clear on the strategic overview, but leave the details to be planned by the team.

For example, when I first wanted to get stuck into planning an exemplar unit, I focused more on planning the non-negotiables of the project-led learning, leaving the team to decide on how the planning would look and the operational decisions about how it would be done. I had to trust in their abilities to do this, even if they decided to do it differently to how I would approach things myself. 

4.       Invest time and resources

Thorough research is a key part of any decision-making process, and is a great way for staff to develop. During our project we asked the team to conduct their own research, providing them with time out of class to pool our ideas. This resulted in a clear, well thought-out approach before we begun, with the added benefit that the team felt invested in and valued, meaning their buy-in to the project was strong. 

5.       Be a coach

Coaching is a great way to keep a team motivated, but also tackles any weaknesses without undermining their hard work. It turned out that when asked an open and challenging question, most staff are more than capable of reflecting honestly, identifying weaknesses and finding solutions. Adopting this style has enabled team to work far more effectively.

Developing others is often a case of going outside of  your comfort zone – but if you trust in the capabilities of others and follow these five steps, you’ll see success. For me, it has been an invaluable learning experience that will stay with me as I move into headship next term. 


Do you have strategies to develop new middle leaders to share? Get involved in the discussion over at Ambition:Feed - tweet us using #ambitionfeed or join our Facebook group. 

Vicki is a current participant on our 2017 Future Leaders cohort. Future Leaders is a two-year intensive leadership development programme for senior leaders who aim to become headteachers of schools in challenging contexts within three years.

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