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Interactive teaching and learning blog

Middle, Senior Leadership and preparing for the role of SLE

November 4th 2013

What do you see as your main priorities as a middle leader?

The first point to make is that a leader makes no difference without a supportive team. The team is far more important to me than who leads it, as the team is the most powerful force to influence change in a school environment.

Some of the main priorities as a middle leader for me are to ultimately improve the enjoyment and engagement of the subject that I teach which is Geography. If students are enjoying lessons and are engaged in the content that we are covering then a lot of ‘the other stuff’ such as behaviour management, intervention and tracking will somewhat look after itself. Happy students tend to produce their best work, which tends to make intervention only necessary for a few students that require some extra support.

            The main priority of the middle leader is also to drive the department in a direction that meets the teaching and learning target set by the SLT in the school development plan. This is a part of the role that I really enjoy, specifically getting to observe lessons, not only in Geography but across the school on learning walks. I enjoy the dialogue with that I get to have with teachers on a daily basis discussing the learning that goes in the classroom. Collaboration for me is the key to a successful school. I have learnt more from viewing lessons that any INSET ran outside of school.

What have been the principles that have underpinned your leadership of a curriculum area team/ department?

The key principle for me is to to build a collaborative department. The department’s results have risen by 18% in three years up to 92% A* - C and this is purely down to having a department that enjoys sharing and working together and putting the students first. If the department are able to work well as part of a team then it makes coming to work much more exciting. Students pick up on the interaction between the staff in departments and are very clever when it comes to body language. Therefore the key for me was to get a team that were all ‘singing off the same hymn sheet’.

            As a department we meet on most days after school to discuss the lessons and how they went. This enables discussions that are relevant and in the present, rather than waiting for a department meeting in two weeks time. We discuss students and the interventions that are required, differentiation strategies and we also share what learning activities worked well and the activities that need altering for next time. As we do this on most days it means that we are constantly communicating and this enables the quality of the learning in lessons to be very high. Notice I don’t like to use the word ‘Outstanding’ as I don’t think that we should be in teaching to be judged, but more importantly do the best that we can for the children that we teach. If the teachers in my department taught lessons that consistently engage students and use innovative new learning strategies then as a leader of the team I would very happy and more importantly so would the students.  

            Department meetings are very informal and from this year will have a specific year group focus to ensure that all students are being monitored and tracked as well as we can. Rather than the inevitable ‘students causing concern’ discussion, we will look at the assessment data of all students in one year group and discuss where praise and support is required, rather than having a conversation with a negative starting point.

            Lastly, we have an open door policy so that each of us can walk in and observe any lessons to feedback to each other. This is non-judgemental and the observations are not formalised but they do help to create dialogue and discussion within the department to improve learning for the students that we teach.

In what ways has preparing for the role of SLE developed you as a leader?

Preparing for the SLE role has been invaluable. It has made me really investigate and challenge the way that I lead and specifically focus on the fine details of leadership that ultimately decide whether you will be a success of a failure in a leadership role.

            The key change was moving from the role as a mentor to a role as a facilitator, trying to stop asking/telling people what to do, but asking open questions to get the member of staff to identify for themselves what was required moving forward. I have specifically learnt how to refine several skills which I already possessed but wasn’t using to their full capability.

These key skills are:

  • Questioning
  • Challenging
  • Listening
  • Giving Feedback

Being given the chance to take part in the coaching of middle leaders at Weydon School, as part of the ‘Aspiring SLE course’, has enabled me as a potential SLE to feel what it may be like in the actual role. Through observing three, twenty minute lessons and looking through KS4 data we had to make an initial assessment on where the potential strengths and weaknesses were in one department. Together with another potential SLE we then had a thirty minute coaching session with the curriculum leader to try and help them to identify the strengths and weaknesses that their department had. This was incredibly stressful but was the best CPD I have ever had. I was able to think about what my answers would be if the roles were reversed and has made me look in depth at where our department can still improve further.

            I now think of specific questions that I want to ask when giving feedback and use the GROW model to coach colleagues effectively. I have even gained enough confidence to speak about this at the TeachMeet in Epsom at Glyn School on the 25th November.

In what ways have you found your senior leadership role different to that of middle leadership?

Starting as a senior teacher this academic year along with the role of being Head of Geography at FHES has been challenging. Senior leadership is exciting, I look forward to SLT meetings, to discussions that will improve learning and especially learning more about the role of a senior leader from those that have the experience and therefore improving my own leadership skills. Senior leadership is where I see my career developing in the future and the chance to experience it at such an early point in my career has been truly enlightening.

            I have thoroughly enjoyed being involved in the discussions that take place that ultimately aim to drive the school forward. Along with the headteacher I am involved with department reviews to monitor and track the quality of the teaching across all departments at the school. I am also working with one assistant headteacher on tracking academic progress in Year 11 through a ‘period 6’ process. This analyses performance of students every six weeks and then allows for six weeks of personalised intervention for students that are not reaching their Minimum Expected Grade (MEG) in each subject.

            The most challenging part of the role is having a more senior responsibility in the same school whilst maintaining the relationships with members of staff that I had when a middle a leader. I don’t want to be seen as any different just because I am now a member of SLT. I am still a teacher that wants to do the best possible job for the students that I teach and I believe I have always tried to do this since I came in to the profession five years ago, something that colleagues respect me for I hope.

I have realised quite quickly that it is even more imperative to be able to prioritise and also look after yourself. It is vitally important to have a to-do list and prioritise what needs doing immediately and what can wait. I use the ‘Memos’ on my phone to write down things that I think of so that I don’t forget them and this helps this process. I also have realised that it is important to have some time to enjoy doing something that isn’t related to education, such as running, swimming or taking time to watch your favourite TV programme. This gives me time off to relax my mind and allows me to reduce stress levels.        

How will you use your new coaching skills?

The main focus for me is to use coaching as a pivotal part of my leadership style. The conversations that we have in schools can say a lot about our viewpoint on teaching, learning, students and education as a whole.

            Coaching allows me to really get an in depth, non-judgemental viewpoint on what colleagues are finding challenging, whether inside or outside the classroom. It also then allows me to question and hopefully allows the colleague to interpret their own obstacles that they need to work on and strategies that they can attempt to improve that aspect of their teaching.

            I hope to use the GROW strategy when giving feedback to curriculum leaders and teachers throughout the department review process asking open questions to help my colleagues to interpret their own obstacles. I also hope to use it with students that require a little more intervention than others, across the school and within my department. The GROW model is just one coaching strategy and focuses on a conversation that looks at:

  • Goals (personal/class goals/teaching goals)
  • Reality (Where are we in relation to the goals)
  • Obstacles/Opportunities
  • Where next?

I really hope that I now get to use the opportunity to coach and improve my questioning, listening, challenging and giving feedback skills in the role of a SLE in the future. If you get the chance (or are recommended) to apply for the role of a SLE I thoroughly recommend finding a programme that helps you develop these skills. I know that it has not only made me a better leader, but more importantly a better teacher. 

Blog post by Jack Marsh @GeogMarsh Farnham Heath End School

Filed under: Professional , Leadership Posted at 07:08

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