When I arrived at my current school, I was treated to a newly decorated office twice the size of my old workspace. But, after a few days, it dawned on me that this particular area of school was quiet…a little too quiet.
In previous schools, my main place of work had been close to the hub of activity, where children worked or played, and where my colleagues were never far away. Part of the change in my current circumstances came as the result of a promotion to the senior leadership team; I needed a place where I could work uninterrupted if necessary.
However, I came to realise that it was entirely possible to arrive at school in the morning, squirrel myself away behind my desk, then leave at the end of the day without seeing a soul. This is clearly not conducive to good leadership and, as a result, I have become more aware of the necessity to be visible in my new role.
But why is visibility in leadership so important? All teachers work incredibly hard, even when in isolation: think about those late-night marking sessions at home that every single teacher has been through at one time or another.
However, as senior leaders, the fruits of your labour are often delivered more subtly, with change happening gradually. In contrast to teachers in a classroom, pupils do not always immediately feel the benefit of your hard work. But more important than that is the fact that you are fully accountable to the school’s stakeholders, all staff included.
As a leader, it is of vital importance that you are seen to lead – not from behind a parapet, not from afar, but as a fully-fledged member of the school community. Having an open door and positive body language, treating people with respect and teaching regular classes or clubs are all superb ways to be a visible leader, but when one has to reach a large audience, sometimes it is necessary to go further.
I’ve used my experiences to compile five ways to be a visible leader:
1 Manage change effectively
If management at your school has been static for a few years, new ideas are a good way to communicate what sort of a leader you are. At Maltman’s Green School in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, we are currently introducing “Maltman’s Mindset”, a scheme designed to prepare girls to be lifelong learners. It is a project that has been welcomed with open arms by the school community.
Although the idea came from the top, our staff have made all the key decisions about implementing the project; visible proof that we are working as a team. A word of warning, though: too much change can result in staff pulling against you, rather than with you.
2 Stand up and be counted
One role of any senior manager is to advise the headteacher and act as a conduit for any comments that the staff may have. One must always support the rest of the senior leadership team, but teachers must also always feel that their voices are heard. No matter how awkward it might be for you, make sure that any comments made by staff are brought forward at the relevant leadership meeting. Although some suggestions may not be practical (and you may not personally agree with all of them), staff will realise that they have been listened to and, as a result, they will feel empowered when change happens.
3 Dare to be different
Doing things differently is a good way to show what sort of a leader you are and to ensure that teachers know positive change is afoot from day one. At our school, staff benefit from their own dining room. However, I often eat my lunch with the children. I find that it’s a great way of keeping an eye on lunchtime behaviour in the dining room, reinforcing good table manners and finding out about a wide variety of issues quickly and efficiently – a fact that has not gone unnoticed by parents and teachers.
4 Keep calm and carry on
Whether it’s dealing with emergency cover or an injured child, staff need to feel reassured that the school’s leadership is there when it matters. Checking in with every class during a recent power cut proved popular at my school and volunteering for unplanned cover lessons is never bad PR. When fire destroyed half of my previous school a few years ago, we managed not to close for a single day thanks to the leadership of the headteacher. As part of that, I somehow managed to persuade the Natural History Museum to take in 170 children and all our staff with 48 hours’ notice.
By going that extra mile, the school gained credit with teachers and parents (although, admittedly, some of the pupils probably would have preferred a day off!).
5 Go wider with leadership
Senior leaders going in to classes to observe a lesson is nothing new. However, making a real effort to get more members of the school community involved in the day-to-day running of the school is a great way to strengthen links.
As part of our termly learning walk, teachers and governors are invited to tour the school and make informal observations on learning across all key stages.
By increasing contact between these groups, staff have become more aware of the people making the big decisions, and any perceived barriers between leaders and those on the chalk face have been broken down.
Chris Hammond is deputy headteacher at Maltman’s Green School in Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire