Rise and shine;Subject of the week;Career development

4th June 1999 at 01:00
What are the secrets of career success? Why do some teachers become headteachers and chief education officers while others never make it to head of department? Why are some people's dreams fulfilled while others become embittered in middle age?

These questions may have particular resonance if you have just lost out in the game of musical chairs that is played in schools each May. But they could be equally relevant for anyone who's got the promotion they applied for. How should they approach the bigger challenge that now awaits them? Kicking off our special section, Elaine Williams takes some expert advice on the fast-track to promotion

If you should ever find yourself being interviewed for a job by Eric Spear, here's one invaluable tip. Don't say you're looking for a position where you'll feel "comfortable".

Spear has been a headteacher for 25 years in three schools and gave evidence to the Commons Select Committee into the role of the headteacher. When seeking to appoint teachers into management posts he favours those with clear goals: "I want people who have ambitions to fulfil and who will fulfil them by working hard for me. I don't want people who seek to be comfortable."

Bill Acker, a corporate psychologist, gives similar advice, "People have to be positive, they have to see solutions, not insoluble problems," he says.

Acker has first-hand knowledge of those problems and solutions - he began his own working life as a teacher, spending three years at the American Community School in London while studying in the evenings for a second degree in psychology. He enjoyed teaching and was happy to devote some of his free time to extra activities for pupils - a judo club and trips to museums. If there were opportunities to enrich the curriculum and give pastoral support, he took them. Impressed by his commitment, ideas and energy, the head offered him a post as dean.

Acker turned the job down - a doctorate in psychology was the stronger pull. But he had learned some basic lessons in why some people quickly get ahead. Teachers who seek career progress, he says, must be willing to accept responsibility, able to see opportunities for improvement, and - he stresses again - be optimistic. "It's a question of looking at the glass as half full rather than half empty."

Jane Sturgess, research fellow in the department of organisational psychology at Birkbeck College, London University, says that people who are pro-active in managing their own careers, those who seek responsibility from the beginning, are giving themselves the chance to shine early on and move forward rapidly.

An excellent classroom teacher does not necessarily make a good subject co-ordinator, head of department, pastoral leader, deputy or headteacher. Eric Spear estimates that 90 per cent of his job is about dealing with other people, mostly members of staff.

The Government may have set out a structure for career promotion within classroom teaching, but most teachers have to step out into management roles to move on. This requires evidence that they have another set of skills in dealing with adults, and the self-knowledge that this is a move they want to make. Career success cannot be based on slavish devotion and working long hours. That way lies burn-out and cynicism. Acker, a partner of Acker Deboeck and Company, corporate psychologists to international companies, believes success entails:

* having self-esteem * faith in your own abilities * the strength to stand up for yourself - if you are not prepared to do that, he says, you shouldn't take on a management role * clear and persuasive communication * the ability to realise, as well as set, clear goals.

Having the ability to listen, influence, negotiate and solve problems is all part of what Dr Daniel Goleman, psychologist and New York Times correspondent, calls emotional intelligence in his bestselling book of the same name (Bloomsbury pound;7.99). EQ (emotional quotient) as well as IQ (intelligence quotient) is increasingly being looked for by companies in their managers.

It is this ability to understand oneself and others which is a notable trait in highly-successful headteachers, according to Frank Hartle, director of performance management for Hay Management Consultants, which conducted a study of effective heads for the Teacher Training Agency. Such an understanding leads to a necessary flexibility of approach. Hartle says effective heads have a "kit-bag" of styles, ruthless one minute, tender the next - and when they are ruthless it is out of "a sense of purpose and conscious choice" rather than ignorance.

More than in any other profession, education managers must also have vision, says Hartle. "Without exception, effective heads are driven by a passionate conviction about the role of education in society. This passion is not something you always find in captains of industry."

But successful heads also need the ability to convert that vision into something achievable in school, to set up the mechanisms for delivery and to get down to the nitty gritty of constantly monitoring. They also have to be good at net-working and getting people on their side. Hartle says: "They are always scanning the environment and looking outside of school for people who can help."

Eric Spear believes teachers who made a success of their careers are often those "who keep an eye on the bigger picture", are involved in the wider community and can bring a broader perspective into school. As a young teacher he became involved in organising arts and drama festivals and sat on local authority committees looking into sex education and personal and social education. He is also a member of the national executive of the National Association of Head Teachers. Such involvement, he says, can give teachers "a greater sense of being able to influence events".

One further quality he believes successful managers must have: a sense of humour. "You've got to be able to laugh at yourself."

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