Middle leaders: What is the ideal balance between teaching and leadership?

Tes Editorial



Finding the right balance between the classroom and a leadership role is a difficult task, especially for new middle leaders. Workload can quickly pile up and it can be tricky to ensure you are doing everything as well as you could be. 

It is harder for some than others: while there is nos et ratio for teaching-to-leadership time, some middle leaders only have very limited windows in which to carry out leadership duties. 

James Bowen, director at NAHT Edge, the union for middle leaders, says getting the right balance between teaching and leadership is one of biggest challenges new middle leaders face.

“I don’t think there is an exact figure [on how many hours you should spend on leadership or in the classroom]. Of course, middle leaders need some dedicated time to do their role. I don’t think you could possibly do it if you were teaching five days a week, full-time."

However many hours you get for each, there are ways to lighten the load and ensure you are as effective as possible. 

Learn to be a bit quicker

"(Middle leaders) are used to being in the classroom all the time, and all of a sudden they’ve got this additional responsibility, in terms of the leadership," explains Bowen. That can be a steep learning curve but they can manage it if they learn to streamline what they are doing to even greater lengths than they were when they were a full-time classroom teacher. 

“I think what middle leaders learn is they have to be a bit quicker. In terms of the teaching side of things, they don’t have as long to plan and prepare.”

Tes has lots of advice in this regard, including how to avoid workload hell this term and four top tips for managing your time.

Redressing the balance

If, as a new middle leader, you’re in a situation where you’re spending too much time in the classroom, what can you do about it? Bowen says that the first thing you have to ask yourself is, "Am I getting dedicated leadership time?"

“As I said, I don’t think you can do it if you’re working full-time, five days a week in the classroom. If you are at that stage you should probably sit down with your line manager or headteacher and have a frank conversation. Say that you need some dedicated leadership time and find out what they expect from you in that time that you have available.”

Alternatively, there are other ways to improve the situation, such as making your leadership time more efficient.

Bowen recommends: “I think then, beyond that, what you need to focus in on is what things you can do that have the most impact. So focus on the high-impact, low-effort tasks. Don’t spend your time doing an awful lot of things that don’t make a lot of difference. Really pick out the two or three things that you know are going to have an impact in terms of outcomes for pupils in your school.”

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