Making the team

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Putting an action plan into practice needs skilled, focused and effective staff, says Philip Schofield

Your school's action plan is in place. It is clear, concise and focused on those actions that will make the greatest difference to the children. But how do you translate the plan into practice? If used well, it can not only bring about improvement in the school, but also improve the quality of life for those working there.

The key is an effective leadership team equipped with the knowledge, skills and understanding to set a strategic direction for the school and put that into practice. It has to be a team that can harness the skills and talents of everyone in the school community to ensure success.

Many senior management teams work very effectively on school routines but rarely innovate. A leadership team can set goals and inspire people at all levels to contribute to their achievement. It can focus on things that really matter and make the connections that transform children's learning.

If you decide on a leadership team, then the members should be team leaders.

Start by focusing on the actions that will make the greatest difference to children's learning and then structure the leadership team around this. A core team of four can deal effectively with most aspects of school business. Each team member should have specific responsibility for one aspect of school life.

As headteacher, I always kept the raising of standards and the monitoring of the quality of provision as my preserve. Other team members took on the development of the curriculum, including teaching programmes and assessment, the support and development of staff and the support and development of pupils. Governors joined the team as necessary, to maintain a close link with the governing body and to oversee aspects such as liaison with parents and the community and capital programmes.

Now you have the basic structure - an action plan to manage the school's priorities and a team to put it into action. It is a simple step to allocate tasks and time limits to team members.

Stop! Many teams fail because members are assumed have the skills needed to manage their allocated tasks. Do they know how to run effective meetings, or write effective implementation plans? Do they have the interpersonal skills needed to harness the talents and energy of their task group members? Do they understand the complexities of monitoring and evaluating? Can they write informative and helpful reports? Time spent in developing these skills can transform the effectiveness of individuals as team leaders.

Take a case study. After extensive consultation and research, the school has decided to upgrade the computer facilities. There are clearly training and resource needs at different levels. The curriculum team leader is designated as the overall manager of the project. She in turn commissions several task groups.

One is to look into the resource implications of networking the school and upgrading internet access. Another is to put together a programme of training for teachers and a third is to consider the implications and training needs for the school's administration.

The curriculum leader admits she is an IT novice, so she appoints a new teacher with extensive experience and interest in computers as manager of the task group, explaining that his team will have to produce a fully-costed proposal for the governors. He co-opts a parent, the school's IT technician and a governor who works in the IT business to carry out the task. They work with possible providers and create a professional proposal.

Meanwhile, the school secretary and finance officer work with a consultant to identify ways in which they can benefit from new technology.

Finally, the curriculum leader works with the professional development leader to create a realistic and achievable programme of professional development for staff to take advantage of the new technology.

The curriculum leader facilitates these groups and keeps them on track. She liaises between the groups, leadership team and governing body to ensure a smooth and efficient process. Oh yes, and she negotiates the payment of a management allowance for the manager of the task group for its duration!

The concept of a leadership team working in this way is exciting and empowering. It enables people to work to the best of their abilities and for the school to achieve realistic goals in a well-managed way. Above all, it maintains the focus of the school on those things that will make the greatest difference to the children.

Philip Schofield is an educational consultant who has worked in the UK and abroad helping schools and teachers to improve their practice. You can contact Philip at director@worldclass.me.uk

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