5 steps to build a development plan as a middle leader

As a middle leader, you’re caught between two worlds – here David Preece offers his guide to finding the right balance
18th October 2019, 12:03am
Building A Development Plan Can Be Tricky For Middle Leaders. Here David Preece Offers Some Advice

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5 steps to build a development plan as a middle leader

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/5-steps-build-development-plan-middle-leader

You’ve seen Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, and you’ve found your “why” (bit.ly/SinekTT). You know what to expect in The First 90 Days (Watkins, 2003), and you’ve thought about How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie, 2006). Now you’re ready to implement your vision and communicate, lead and inspire to achieve success, right?

If you’re a middle leader in a school, chances are that the answer is “No” because, in that leadership role, you are caught between worlds.

On the one hand, you have some leadership of your department, team and subject area. But on the other, you have to work within the wider ethos, development agenda and approach of your institution and context, all of which are set by those above you.

Balancing these two things is hard, and it is made harder still when you are asked to produce a development plan each year to identify how you intend to lead your area forward. To make this process as easy and effective as possible, work through the following five stages.

1. What is our destination?

As a team, identify the ingredients of success for your department, and what you ultimately want the teaching and learning to look, feel and be like.

If you have a stable team, this is about reinforcing the progress and discussions you’ve had before. If anyone is new, this is a proper blank-page conversation.

The process has to be about “realistic dreams” - how do you form aspirational statements about who you want to be without it becoming fantasy or straying too far from the context of your school?

I have found it helpful to split my vision into strands: the subject; the teaching; the learning; how to support; how to engage; how to inspire; and what CPD will look like.

Whatever you call it - whether it’s a mission statement, a vision or a strategic overview - this is the roadmap you’ll want to come back to again and again.

2. Where are we now?

As a middle leader, it would be easy to see this step only through the filter of results. Granted, data analysis should be part of the process but you also need a deeper understanding of the team. I’ve found that informal conversations work really well in this regard. How does it feel to work in your team? How high-performing do your colleagues think your department is? How is your subject regarded within the school? What things are in line with the vision and where are the biggest issues?

Honest discussions, analysis and reflection on your team’s strengths and weaknesses are essential to being able to move forward.

3. Break up the journey

No matter where you are starting from, achieving your vision will inevitably be too much to tackle in one year. You owe it to your staff, your students and your own physical and mental health to split up your ambition and ideas into manageable chunks. Having too many priorities means that none is ever really the priority - you need to be strategic in deciding what needs to be done first.

The way I have worked through this is to create a three- to five-year plan. I use my vision statement for each strand as the end goal and then build in the measures that need to be taken to achieve that (specification or staff changes, for example) for each year.

We then discuss this as a group. It helps us to keep our focus on strategic rather than reactive thinking - we have a collective long-term vision, and an understanding of how we want to get there.

It also helps us to identify when particular development or financial pinch points might occur - and to budget time, planning or resource allocation appropriately. Having the evidence of when you’ll need to replace all your textbooks for a specification change, for example, helps to minimise unpleasant surprises for your headteacher, making it more likely that your budget request will be accepted. Spending time on establishing this mid-term planning is crucial.

4. Are we on the right path?

Sense-check your plan. Getting an idea of what’s going on in your subject area is valuable, whether it’s through subject associations, professional meetings or Twitter. This provides evidence and ideas to build into your plan, and supports that dialogue.

Consulting with your senior leadership team, or trusted colleagues at middle leadership level, is a great barometer for how your development plan fits within the wider and collective ethos of your institution. In an ideal world, they will love your first draft, but you need to be prepared for them to suggest some tweaking. For example, senior leaders may want you to be more ambitious - to do more or aim higher.

You may decide that suggested adjustments are realistic, or you may feel they would impact too much on workload or have wider implications. If so, having a longer-term view - and being able to explain your developmental thinking - will contribute to a positive and productive dialogue.

Alternatively, you may have tried to do something far too ambitious or out of the comfort zone of your school. In this instance, you might need to justify your approach with reference to your subject reading and consultation, and get your plans sense-checked by a colleague.

I’ve often found it valuable to show the educational research behind ideas and to explore trial approaches.

5. How do we know?

A development plan is only a meaningful document if it is alive - if it is regularly referred to and used to inform your tactical and operational decision-making.

Review it regularly. Some aspects of your development plan won’t have borne fruit yet. That’s fine. Discuss the elements that you can explore. Are you making progress? Is it working? Is it feeling positive and manageable? What, if anything, might you want to share with your leadership team about the progress of that plan?

At the end of the year, you’ll be able to refer back to your strategic plan and have an understanding of what you’ve achieved - and how far along you are in terms of your big vision - but, critically, by doing the hard graft now, you’ll have only a very small amount of work to do for next year’s development plan cycle.

David Preece is head of geography at St Dunstan’s College, Catford. He tweets @DoctorPreece

This article originally appeared in the 18 October 2019 issue under the headline “How to build a development plan as a middle leader”

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