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Middle Leadership in Primary Schools – How do I Find my Feet and Make the Role Work for Me?

Teachwire agony aunt Nicole Ponsford helps you excel in middle management

  • Middle Leadership in Primary Schools – How do I Find my Feet and Make the Role Work for Me?

Being elevated to the next level in schools is both exciting and nerve-racking. Either as an acknowledgement of your talents, a tick-box exercise by SLT or being given a ‘dead mouse’, becoming a middle leader is your first rung up the ladder.

Many teachers I meet have been doing the ‘role’ before they were credited with it. This means you will have already given it some of your ‘style’ already – and may be winging it working it on a daily basis.

If you have inherited it, you may need a different approach. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Outcomes first

Ensure you know what the role is, and on what you are being measured/evaluated/assessed.

Are you trying to get the whole school reading? Are you to ensure that a whole-school approach to computing is key? Are you working across your MAT or a number of schools/ years?

This will help you work backwards and have a long term strategy.

2. Coach

You need someone to help you onto, and be with you on the rollercoaster. It doesn’t have to be your line manager (although that helps). As an Achievement Coach for Achievement for All, I know that having someone to reflect on your practice with is both empowering and inspirational.

Many people now refer to a Personal Learning Network (PLN) which could be via your social media platforms (a Twitter # or livechatgroup), a national exam board, a local TeachMeet group or a group of your peers at school.

If you do not have the latter, and want it, don’t be afraid of establishing your own network. I did. I did this for my love of tech (eTeachers), rebel Middle Leaders (DareDevils), and in role (regional AST network).

The key is to talk – reach out – and learn.

3. Identity

When I was made HOD (NQT+1 – yes), I brought my marketing background to promote the subject with my A Level students.

I made a proposal for funds to the head (research based – from national research and visits to other schools), asked to paint the rooms, spoke with local businesses for resources, and ensured I had access to industry.

It was hard, but worthwhile. Consider what you want your responsibility to ‘look like’ from the outside. What does the school need? What do students want? What do you think should happen over a year?

Plan for this – create your ‘brand’ – then make it happen.

You might want to include expert speakers from the local museum to Skype with students to promote STEM. You may wish to create a ‘teacher hub’ and invite local peers to a half-termly TeachMeet at your school to discuss ‘Behaviour’ or ‘Literacy’.

You might want to create a website page or a Twitter account to ‘showcase’ your department and its resources to students and parents.

Consider what you are representing and then present it.

4. Aim High

Want to do a school trip – go for it! But go big! I took my students to Los Angeles. It took a year and a half of car-washing and part-time work, but we did it.

Want to learn more – find out how this works at international levels. Look at PISA and OECD. Look at how universities and world experts are making an impact.

We have so much information at our finger tips – why wouldn’t you?

5. Make mistakes

You are bound to make mistakes. Going to the wrong room for the first Academic Board Meeting (done that), deleting the spreadsheet that’s due tomorrow (yes, again) and not knowing the answers for that arms-crossed, grumpy colleague (yes, yes, yes) are never really the end of the world.

Also, you will learn from errors – growth mindset works for middle leaders too, y’know!

6. Shadow

If you are still unsure, observe.

Ask to observe SLT meetings. Ask to shadow a senior teacher. Find out how they manage and what they do – ask questions and listen.

You will learn so much from seeing how others work at leadership level – and then decide if that will work for you. Or not.

Nicole Ponsford is an educational writer, editor, speaker and coach. She is the the co-author of TechnoTeaching: Taking Practice to The Next Level in the Digital Age, founder of The Gender Equality Charter (GEC), co-founder of TechnoTeachers and a leader of WomenEdTech. Follow her on Twitter at @nicoleponsford.

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