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How to succeed as a middle leader

Head of English Rebecca Foster shares her advice on how to thrive during your first term as a middle leader

One head of English offers her survival guide for your first year as a middle leader

Head of English Rebecca Foster shares her advice on how to thrive during your first term as a middle leader

Becoming a middle leader means becoming a lever for change in your school. Suddenly, the decisions you make not only affect you and your students, but also your entire team and all of the students they teach.

As you embark on your first term as a middle leader, the weight of this new power can feel a bit daunting – but it’s also an exciting position to be in. So, how can you make a success of your first term?

Have a clear vision

As a middle leader, it’s important that you have a clear idea of where you and your team are headed. Leaders need to look beyond the immediate and most pressing matters of being a classroom teacher (of which there are many) to consider the bigger picture of where you are heading as a team or department.

If you’ve been promoted within your school, you may already have some ideas about this. But if you’re new in the role and in a new school, think about what your ideal department or year team would look like. What would you like to see at the end of your first year? What do you want the team to achieve in the next three to five years?

Remember that middle leadership is a marathon, not a sprint

Once you have a vision, you’ll need to think about the steps you will have to take to achieve it. While it’s important to be ambitious, you also need to be realistic about the pace for making it happen. Meaningful change takes time to embed and you can’t do everything right now. What are the most pressing needs? What needs to happen this term to set you up for where you want the team to be by the end of the year?

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Don’t sweep everything away that’s come before you in the name of having an impact. Not only is this exhausting (for you and your team), but remember that somebody before you likely brought those things in as new initiatives and your team will have invested time and effort into them. Instead, consider how existing things – such as schemes of learning, systems and procedures – can be refined to keep the best of what’s there and avoid everyone having to start all over again?

Make a good first impression

Your first term is about setting the tone for the rest of the year and how you’ll be viewed as a middle leader. You may be feeling like an imposter, but it’s important that your team see your confidence: articulate your vision, explain your thinking and be clear about how you’re going to work together to achieve it. If you’re not sure about something or you’re having some doubts, speak to your line manager or a more experienced middle leader for guidance.

Listen

If you’re going to be successful, you will need to listen to your team. Sometimes what they tell you may feel like criticism, especially if it’s about something you’ve spent a lot of time on, but don’t take it personally and don’t be defensive. Their insight is invaluable and if they know that you’re listening to them then they will trust you as a middle leader.

Rebecca Foster is head of English at St Edmund’s Girls’ School, Salisbury

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