I want to be a leader

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
Are you a teacher with management responsibilities suddenly thrust upon you? How good are you at delegating to your colleagues, or motivating members of your team to do a better job? Can you handle change, and conflict? Are you comfortable carrying out appraisals of members of staff, including those older than yourself?

Increasing numbers of teachers, as they rise to more senior posts - as heads of department, heads of year, deputy heads - are finding themselves in the uncharted waters of management, with little or no training to prepare them for their new roles. Managing children is one thing, but managing other members of staff, they quickly find, is quite another. Three years ago, when Northumberland Education Business Partnership surveyed high school teachers to see what they wanted to be trained in, the resounding message was: management and leadership.

"Teachers' roles have changed, and schools are now run very much as businesses - but by non-business people," says Katie Hutchinson, a former teacher and manager of the partnership in Northumberland. "Because of the pressure to deliver results, skills like managing and leading a successful team tend to go by the wayside."

Ms Hutchinson approached a training consultancy and asked it to write a course, along business lines, to suit teachers. Kevin Meaney, manager of Develop Longhirst, had never worked with teachers before, but sat down for a day with a group of ten to find out what their problems were.

"Most of them had been promoted because of how good they were, technically, at being teachers - but I was very surprised at their lack of management training," he says.

He came up with Enabling Leadership, an essentially practical course, of three days spread over three weeks, for around 12 teachers. It includes plenty of discussion and group work, plus assignments to be done at home.

The course looks at aspects of leadership style, and arms teachers with strategies, derived from the business world, to cope with problems such as managing change or conflict, and motivating others.

Derek Gott, now in his second year as deputy head at Thomas Walling primary school, Newcastle upon Tyne, took part in the initial discussions, and later did the course himself: "I remember saying I would like to see teachers walking normally - not scurrying around, carrying piles of paper."

As an acting deputy, motivating others was one of the things he struggled with: "Teachers have huge workloads, and it can be very difficult to motivate them in a new direction when they are so taken up with the status quo."

The course also helped him to prioritise - he now has a fool-proof system of three in-trays - and prompted him to reflect on the different management styles needed to handle different members of staff:

"With very independent people, the role of the manager is more consultative, whereas with a new teaching assistant, you need to be more directive. But you don't tend to organise your thoughts like that, you act intuitively - and it may be you get it right, maybe you get it wrong."

Debbie Wheeldon, now in her second year as a team leader at Brambles primary school, Middlesbrough, took the Enabling Leadership course last summer. "I wanted to be a better leader, to be more organised and approach people in a more professional way, giving motivation and guidance," she says. "Also I was quite nervous about doing appraisals - ensuring that you are dealing with someone on a professional basis, when you've got that friendly relationship ."

The course, she says, gave her "new ideas and inspiration", including ways of being assertive (when handling an aggressive parent, for instance), and underlining for her the value of delegating to others.

"It showed me that delegating work to someone can be a positive way of developing them - whereas before I might have thought, it looks as if I'm not capable if I delegate it."

Enabling Leadership also has its lighter side. As Derek Gott recalls: "The nicest day was when we came back from lunch and they had turned the room into a little cinema - with popcorn and handkerchiefs on all the chairs."

The group spent the afternoon happily watching a Hollywood weepie about the changing fortunes of a university football team. The downside? Having to identify the different leadership styles of the film's protagonists.

More information from Develop, 01670 794400. www.develop-solutions.co.uk

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