5 ways new middle leaders can prepare ahead of autumn

For teachers starting a new leadership role in September, an experienced middle leader has some advice on how to get prepared during the summer months

James Walding

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Being a new head of department or head of year is exciting, rewarding and a great step up the leadership ladder. 

It can also be overwhelming, daunting and challenging – and those preparing to step up to a new middle leader role in September will no doubt already be wondering how they will manage the change. 

But with the right preparation and planning, there are definitely ways in which tackling a new role can be made easier.

So for those of you gearing up for this challenge in September and wanting to start preparing over the summer, here are five fundamentals worth knowing about the role, learned from experience. 

1. Organisation is essential

Middle leaders have to juggle their leadership responsibilities with a busy teaching timetable – and make no mistake, this isn’t easy.

Whereas a head of department can look ahead at what is coming up in the diary or on the school calendar and plan in advance, a head of year position tends to be reactive in their day-to-day role, as unexpected challenges and incidents arise, while also working towards many deadlines in the calendar.

Given this, if you don’t do this already, then get into the habit of writing a to-do list each day, week, month and term so that you know exactly what you need to be doing, when and where.   

Furthermore, school academic diaries are key to staying on top of things in school and at home. I have an academic year wall planner in my office, too, which helps me to look ahead and keeps me organised. 

I also advise printing out the school calendar and filling in as much as possible to help with class planning and departmental planning.

2. Prepare to delegate

As much as you have to get good at managing your own workload, it is also a good idea to get used to delegating, but only doing so when the time is right.

Delegation can help you organise your time and show your team that you trust them with responsibility. But you must be mindful of the impact this may have on their workload.  

And remember, a confident leader isn’t afraid to ask others for their help and guidance. 

3. Know you don’t always have to lead from the front

Following on from this, it’s also worth remembering that an effective and wise leader knows when to lead, when to manage and when to step back and follow others. 

Letting your team explore and implement their ideas and strategies will build trust and help them to develop skills and confidence, not only in themselves but in you as well. 

This can be tough when you have just stepped up and want to prove yourself by doing everything, but your role as a middle leader is ultimately about helping and supporting others to reach their full potential.

Of course, when others are given initiatives, the middle leader can still be there to support, and offer guidance and advice while shining the spotlight on someone else. 

4. Focus on how to create a team culture

As the famous saying goes, there is no “I” in team. As such, begin with sharing your vision and plans to move forward but also ask others for their feedback and input.

In addition to focusing on success for your students, consider what success for your pastoral or departmental team looks like and how you can get there. How will you build your team culture? 

This can be achieved by being open and honest about what you are looking to achieve and build upon. 

Take time to know and understand your school values and goals, as well as the students and staff – what might work in one school won’t necessarily work in another; context is crucial. 

Reflect on what you want to achieve in the short, mid and long term. 

Be reflective as a leader but also as a team. Remember to work to people’s strengths and support them in their weaknesses with encouragement. And always thank them and show gratitude for their hard work. 

5. Prepare to play the long game

A common mistake in a new leadership role is to implement fast and immediate change but this is based on a misconception about how change works. 

Even with the best and most honourable intentions, things never happen like this. 

Success and change take time, patience, compromise and lots of energy against the backdrop of busy school life. 

Celebrate small wins and little steps along the way. Gradually, things will change and you and your team will see the positive benefits and reap the rewards for your students. 

James Walding is head of languages at a secondary school on Canvey Island in Essex. He has previously worked as a head of year. He tweets @MrWaldingMFL

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