Teachers’ promotion pitfalls (and how to sidestep them)

Climbing the career ladder at your current school can be lonely and frustrating – but Simon Creasey has some expert tips to help you to navigate the political minefield that can mar an internal move
6th December 2019, 12:05am
Promotion Pitfalls & How To Sidestep Them

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Teachers’ promotion pitfalls (and how to sidestep them)

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/teachers-promotion-pitfalls-and-how-sidestep-them

One minute you are going to the pub with the gang after school, sharing jokes on the WhatsApp group and being invited to birthday meals; the next, you are being treated like a stranger: no invites, social media silence, and definitely no drinks in the local.

What’s happened? Usually, the catalyst for such a change in social circumstances is getting a promotion.

When you are promoted internally, the politics can be a minefield. Your existing relationships - good and bad - come under the microscope and can undermine or strengthen your leadership. Adjusting to your new role, forming new boundaries and knowing how to “pitch” your leadership are all challenges that have to be overcome.

So, if you do get an internal promotion - or you are considering taking one - what do you need to know?

1. No imitations

It is tempting to try to become the boss that you all wanted when you were back in the ranks of your colleagues. But attempting to become an ideal will only end badly. Instead, you need to find a way of leading that suits your personality and plays to your strengths, according to Grace Marshall, a personal coach and author of How to be Really Productive. “Work out what’s authentic and comfortable for you,” she advises.

2. Ask for advice

Did any of the senior team make a similar journey up the ranks internally? If so, it may be worth asking them to act as an informal mentor to help you navigate the politics of such a move. They’ve been there, done it and have probably encountered all the situations you are about to encounter - it would be sensible to have someone to act as a guide through the process.

3. Be honest about weakness

You’re new to the job, and this means that there will always be areas of your leadership that need improvement. “You have to identify where you’re lacking in terms of your current skill set,” says business coach and mentor Stuart Allan. Common areas that you may need to improve or develop include emotional intelligence, self-awareness, self-management, self-motivation, empathy and social skills, he says.

There are also loads of self-help books out there that promise to make people better managers but, at the end of the day, leadership coach Antoinette Oglethorpe says, a lot of this advice is just common sense.

“You read it and you go ‘yeah’,” says Oglethorpe. “The tricky bit is putting it into practice. As one manager I once worked with said, ‘It’s all fine when everything is going well - it’s when you get a difficult employee that things get sticky’.”

With an internal promotion, those tricky issues tend to be even trickier - so address any skills gaps early.

4. Don’t slip into being a ‘doer’

Whenever you go from being a frontline worker to a manager, you have to recognise that you’re essentially switching from “doing to leading”, says Marshall. That’s tough if you are in the same department, with the same people - old habits can be hard to break.

“It is a mindset shift in terms of ‘what’s my role and contribution, and what does good work and success look like?’” says Marshall. “You may have been good at doing, delivering and teaching, but there is a whole different skill set involved in leading people. Your job is no longer just to deliver - it’s to build capacity to enable your team to deliver.”

This entails lots of reflection and strategic thinking. “You have to think, ‘what are we trying to achieve, what is the impact of that and how do I enable people to achieve that together?’, rather than ‘how do I get that thing done?’” adds Marshall.

You also have to be clear on expectations. Staff can get frustrated if everyone has a different idea of what success looks like.

“Your role as a leader is to provide clarity,” says Marshall. “Giving that clarity up front is helpful but you also have to provide clarity along the way as well.”

Trying to do everything yourself also curtails development opportunities for other staff, shows a lack of trust in their abilities and increases your workload.

5. Communicate regularly

You need to constantly talk with your team about the best way to work together, the expectations you have of them as team members and the expectations they have of you as a leader. Initially, it may be awkward with you stepping up, but putting concerns in the open should ease the transition.

“Also, give candid and kind feedback - don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive,” says Marshall. “You have to cultivate a relationship that allows you to do that. The more you allow people to be candid with you, the more it creates space for you to give feedback.”

Those promoted internally can be the very best leaders - they know the school, they know the politics, and can bring consistency and hope for similar promotions to other team members.

There are some pitfalls to be mindful of but, hopefully, the above will help you avoid most of them.

Simon Creasey is a freelance writer

This article originally appeared in the 6 December 2019 issue under the headline “Promotion pitfalls (and how to sidestep them)”

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