Smooth move

5th December 2008 at 00:00
Victoria Furness finds out how to manage the move from classroom teacher to line manager

If you can hold a class spellbound with the musings of Hamlet on the last day of term or enthuse a recalcitrant teenager in factorising quadratic equations, surely managing a couple of teachers in your first management post should be a doddle? Not necessarily so.

Sure, you might possess skills in time management, communication and motivation thanks to your work as a classroom teacher, but being a manager - whether of a subject, year or area - brings with it a fresh batch of new challenges.

Richard Churches, a former music teacher, remembers all too well his experience of being promoted to head of Year 9 at Battersea Technology College (now known as Battersea Park School) in south London in the early days of his 14-year teaching career. He was responsible for four teachers and says: "I made the classic mistake anyone new to management makes. You get promoted because you're good at doing something your way, so you seek to persuade everyone else to do things in the way that you do them. But I learnt quickly that when you move into management you're not there to do it your way, but to find a way for everyone to do it as a team."

Richard is now principal consultant for national programmes for CfBT Education Trust, where he is responsible for creating support materials for the new secondary curriculum and the Fast Track teaching programme, which develops new teachers for senior leadership roles.

He is also co-author of the book NLP for Teachers, which provides information for teachers on developing communication skills through neuro- linguistic programming (NLP). "NLP has a lot of tools that can help teachers, whether it's paying attention to language or helping them adopt a questioning leadership style," he says.

For a teacher who's used to telling pupils what to do in the classroom, it can be hard not to fall into the trap of automatically telling your team what to do. But go down the dictatorial route and you'll not only be putting yourself under a phenomenal amount of stress, but preventing your team members from having the chance to shine too.

This was a trap Anita Warwick fell into when she took up her first headship in 1997 at Uplands Primary School in Sandhurst, a school that was then languishing at the bottom of the league tables but is now second from top in its local authority.

"I went to Uplands feeling I had to be autocratic as those were the types of heads I'd worked with in the past," she says. "When people came to me with a problem, I used to feel it was my job to sort it out. Now I know that by listening and asking them the right questions you can get the answer you need."

Anita followed the personal leadership programme run by Penny Ferguson Limited, a training company. She has since become a trainer, and is working with Penny to deliver the programme to other schools in the local authority.

"I've given every member of my staff - including the caretaker and lunchtime staff - personal leadership training for three days and I've also trained three-quarters of heads in Bracknell Forest," she says.

Penny Ferguson, CEO of the company, explains the difference in her approach to leadership: "You have to shift the way you communicate. It's no longer your role to give advice but to ask: `If I wasn't here, what decision would you take?' You need to do everything you can to get people to think for themselves."

This more questioning approach to leadership takes confidence, but Anita says have faith in your abilities and don't change your character to fit the role. "We think we need to hide behind a mask or image of how we should be, but you gain respect from staff just by being you."

By the same token, don't forget your existing strengths: as an experienced teacher, you have already picked up skills in planning lessons or accommodating different learning styles, which will come in handy as a manager.

Shaun Lincoln, associate director at the Learning and Skills Network, says: "It's easy to lose sight of the fact that what works in the classroom also works in the staffroom. So it's recognising those skills you have as a teacher, but seeing the link in a different context."

You may also need to draw on your own experience when advising junior members of the team on problems in the classroom.

Carl Fazackerley, head of history at City Academy in London and a teacher on the Fast Track programme, is convinced that you can't be a good manager without good classroom skills. "Our core role is helping people to learn and if I can't do that effectively with my own pupils, I have no basis on which to be leading my subject," he says.

Carl took up his post as head of history - his first management role - in September, but believes the lead he took on developing the history GCSE curriculum when he started at the new school two years ago stood him in good stead when the position became vacant.

"You've got to be seen as a good practitioner in your area to have the authority to lead," says Carl, who now manages a team of five teachers.

Being a leader can be tough - you may have to take unpopular decisions, manage difficult teachers or even colleagues who went for the same job - so you need to be resilient. Indeed, managing people you were on the same level with before can be one of the biggest challenges, particularly if you were also good friends.

Steve Miller, a management trainer, says: "The best thing you can do in this situation is be open and honest with your colleague, and sit down to agree how you're going to work together. The worst thing you can do is not to manage, because if they see you not doing it, it's like children to a parent, they'll know they can take advantage."

Never be too proud to ask for help either; too many new managers think they can't show any sign of weakness, but you will be a better role model if you're honest about your shortcomings than if you're permanently stressed, says Brian Carline, author of How to be a Successful Head of Year: A Practical Guide and a former secondary teacher in Essex who went on to become assistant head.

"We all need wise counsel in our early years of middle management. If you don't trust or have faith in your line manager then consult a fellow middle manager whom you do respect for the way they operate."

There are certainly more resources available today for new managers than there were when Brian started teaching 30 years ago. Many schools offer mentoring schemes, for example, through which senior colleagues advise and share their experience with junior members of staff.

Team coaching sessions among managers across departments or subjects can also be mutually beneficial in tackling common problems, such as behaviour management.

Outside school, support exists for teachers new to management from a range of organisations. The National College of School Leadership (NCSL) is perhaps best known for its National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) and Fast Track teaching programme (which finishes next August), but it also provides professional development to middle leaders through its Leaders from the Middle programme.

Teaching unions also offer the professional development new managers need: the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), for example, runs a two- day course that explains what's involved in management and leadership, and a one-day course to help interested teachers apply and get their first management post. Similarly, organisations such as the Chartered Management Institute or Learning and Skills Network have a wealth of material available on management good practice.

This growing body of professional development resources is perhaps testament to the important role middle managers play in implementing whole-school policies and transforming learning at a classroom level.

Making that first step on to the career ladder can often be the hardest, but ultimately teachers who successfully make the transition could be tomorrow's headteachers.


Listen to others

People value the opportunity to have their say. You're also more likely to make a better decision if you've canvassed the opinions of your team.

Delegate responsibility

People remember the leaders that let them take on extra responsibility, as it prepared them for being leaders themselves. It'll also lighten your workload.

Be clear and fair

Relationships are transactional in nature: make it clear what you expect of your team and what you'll provide in return. Never expect somebody to do something you wouldn't do yourself.

Accept it when you've made a bad decision

People respect honesty - even if you're telling them that you made a mistake. They're also more likely to support you next time if they know that you're prepared to admit when you're wrong.

Don't forget the small things

Praising and thanking your team for anything they do right, rather than focusing on what they do wrong, will encourage them to do more of what they're doing right and engender respect along the way.




Learning and Skills Network:

Chartered Management Institute:

Penny Ferguson Ltd: www.pennyferguson.comindex.php.

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