Why middle leadership development is crucial

Nov. 26, 2018
Lisa Fathers

Lisa Fathers

Director of Teaching School and Partnerships at the Alliance for Learning

Middle leaders are the engine room of the school, you sit at the heart of school improvement.

They lead teams of teachers and turn senior leadership strategy into outstanding classroom practice on a daily basis.

They are a bit ‘closer to the action’ than senior leaders. High-performing middle leaders drive consistent teacher quality in their areas of responsibility through curriculum leadership, data analysis to identify pupil underperformance, lesson observations, holding staff to account, and developing staff.

As school leaders, we occasionally forget that the role of a middle leader is a challenging one. This is why access to middle leadership CPD is essential. Whether it’s NPQML or Teaching Leaders, these courses will expose you to leadership thinking and theory. They will challenge your perceptions, and also ensure you network with middle leaders from other schools and colleges, which is absolutely crucial.

At my Teaching School Alliance, The Alliance for Learning, we have been seeing the impact of middle leadership, and genuinely feel it has transformed many of our middle leaders.

Many middle leaders and aspirant senior leaders in our partner schools and trust schools attend these courses as part of their entitlement to ongoing professional development, and the feedback is always excellent.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from putting my middle leaders through training programmes:

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Impact

Some leaders are almost so future-focused, that they don’t ‘nail’ the job-in-hand first.

Whether it’s a department or a pastoral role, ensure your middle leaders understand every bit of the role, lead others well, and are able to have difficult conversations.

Be fiercely loyal to your team, and champion them, but always put the pupils first. Don’t accept mediocrity even if you are in a challenging school: you create your own weather.

Coaching

Professional development programmes are a great way for middle leaders to learn how to become a good coach. The best way for them to develop themselves and their team is to coach them.

How you talk to yourself is as important as how you talk to others.

I truly believe that coaching gets the best out of people. I’d even consider having a coach yourself – to give yourself time to reflect and refine your ongoing leadership journey.

I’d also recommend reading books that encourage positive voices in your own head, then recommending them to your middle leaders. The Chimp Paradox is a great place to start.

Ambition

Encourage your middle leaders to show that they are ambitious (sometimes this is harder for women!), because being ambitious is a really positive thing.

Why shouldn’t you want to get on and get up? They should be vocal about where they want to be, but be humble about the support they might need to get there.

Direct them towards stretch projects, such as supporting whole-school initiatives which will expose them to a different world, possibly external stakeholders, and help them start to build new skills.

Always nurture ambition in others too!

Finally, I read some great advice from the CEO of Coca Cola who said, “ Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. They are work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball.  If you drop it, it will bounce back.  But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass.  If you drop one of these they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. So, make sure you prioritise the important stuff and achieve a balance” 


If you're considering developing your middle leaders, Teaching Leaders is our flagship development programme and recruitment for the 2019 cohort is now open. 

To find out more click here.

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