Podcast: 'Don’t leave new leaders to suffer in silence'

There’s a tendency to assume newly promoted staff are on top of everything, says Claire Stoneman – but they need support

Leadership: Newly promoted members of school staff are often left to sink or swim - they need more support, says Rebecca Foster

Too often, assumptions are made about the knowledge that new senior leaders are likely to have, according to Claire Stoneman, a deputy head and English teacher.

Speaking on the latest episode of the Tes Leadership Podcast, she explains how experienced leaders can support new colleagues on the senior leadership team, including how they can apply concepts that we are probably more familiar with in relation to classroom practice.

Assumptions about leadership

Novice senior leaders won’t know everything, Stoneman says, but it’s often easy to assume that they do. 

Stoneman recalls her time as a newly appointed assistant headteacher, when she felt that she should “know everything” but quickly discovered a lot of gaps in her understanding of procedures and practices.

“When I was on duty in the canteen, I didn’t know where to stand,” she says. “I didn’t know how the children should line up, I didn’t know what was acceptable and what wasn’t acceptable in terms of how the children conducted themselves in the canteen. 

“I didn’t know when starting an assembly where the best place was to stand. Where should I look? What should I do if a child interrupts?”

Stoneman says this granular level of detail is important for novice senior leaders.

“It would have been really helpful for me for a line manager to talk through some of those things and then for me to practise, to watch – see it modelled really well – and watch again.” 

Instead, she says, she had to learn on the job. "Leaders shouldn’t have to do that.”

Elaborative interrogation

Stoneman says elaborative interrogation – asking how and why things work – can be an effective approach in managing such situations.

“With novice senior leaders, it’s very useful to enable them to question and reflect,” she says. “They know what’s in place, but it’s to get them to consider why. How does assembly entry work? Why do we do it like that?”

Stoneman advises that these questions need to be led by an expert senior leader to be effective and to enable new senior leaders to make connections.

She highlights the issue that the language used in schools is often vague, specific to the school or MAT in question, and open to interpretation. 

“Novices, in particular, need explicit examples. I like to know what does that look like here, within the context of this school. Then I’m clear and I’d like to practise. 

“Novices often only remember surface features and sometimes they overlook the underlying structures of things. So an expert senior leader, you have to talk through it with them and provide multiple examples.”

Also in the podcast, Stoneman discusses how leadership knowledge should be revisited over time, how schools can create opportunities for that to happen, and how new leaders make a success of their first term as SLT.

 You can listen on the player above or by typing 'Tes - the education podcast' into your podcast player (including Spotify) 

Rebecca Foster is head of English and specialist leader of education at Wyvern St Edmund’s Learning Campus in Wiltshire

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