Masterclass: Experienced colleagues - Does older mean wiser?

27th February 2009 at 00:00
Taking charge of people who are more experienced need not spell trouble. With the right approach you'll all benefit

There may come a time in your school career when you find yourself leading a team in which there are people who are older or more experienced than yourself - and this presents challenges. It's possible that you will be asked about this at interviews for promoted posts, so it's as well to have marshalled thoughts beforehand.

The first thing to acknowledge is that, by taking such a post, you recognise the experience and expertise you're inheriting and that you're prepared to see this as an advantage rather than an obstruction. It's also important to remember that experienced people will not inevitably be resistant to change or innovation and that that they may well be looking for a new lead when it comes to pushing things forward. That's not to say that there might not be some old curmudgeon who will fail to be impressed by anything that involves change.

Don't start off in your new post as if there had been nothing happening prior to your arrival. Take time to acquaint yourself with current practices and procedures - good and bad - and try to make sensible judgments about what to include and what to reject. If you can pull off the trick of getting people to believe that it was all their idea in the first place, you'll save yourself aggravation.

More than anything else, it is essential for you to understand that you and your professional practice will be under intense scrutiny from the first minute and it's through this that you will enhance your credibility. You need to show - not tell - experienced people that your way of doing something is better. It's also a good idea to give the message that what you are doing will make life easier for people.

Be wary about espousing the latest initiative from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, local authority, Ofsted, QCA or whoever, without having given it some thought beforehand. Although it will almost certainly be part of your job to keep abreast of such matters, don't use these directives as an unthinking way of altering what your team does. If your senior people have been around for 10 years, they will possibly have seen something similar beforehand: if they've been around for 20 years, then they definitely will have. Consult them before you leap into wholesale changes that may turn out to be unnecessary or where a prudent modification will do the job.

There is no escaping the fact that you'll come across people who are obstructive or who act awkwardly out of professional jealousy. If this becomes a difficulty, then it's best to confront it via a conversation possibly mediated through a line manager, although it's often better to give things a while to settle down before you pursue this route. You will also need to recognise that where there are senior people in your team, their part in your area of responsibility may not be a priority for them.

Jon Berry is senior lecturer in curriculum research and development in the school of education at the University of Hertfordshire. Next week: Effective meetings.

MAKE THE MOST OF THE VOICE OF EXPERIENCE

- There will almost certainly have been plenty of good practice prior to your arrival.

- You'll need to show - not tell.

- Convincing people that life will be easier and jobs will be done more quickly is a great way of getting them on board.

- Other people in your team will have responsibilities too.

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