Is it time to let them spread their wings?

30th October 2015 at 00:00
A good leader knows when talented staff must fly away to pastures new

When was the last time you suggested to a member of staff that they should look for employment elsewhere? If it’s been more than 12 months, then perhaps you are not doing your job as well as you could be.

Before you start writing that letter, let me be clear that this article is not about redundancies or the like. It is about the very opposite: the positive push.

Successful school leaders are adept at spotting potential in teachers and predicting their future capacity for leadership – sometimes even before the teachers recognise it themselves. That puts a lot of responsibility on leaders to ensure that people fulfil their potential. The best way leaders can do that, in my view, is often by pushing talented staff to leave.

This may seem counter-intuitive to leaders who are committed to doing all in their power to secure their own school’s success, but sometimes good people do need to move on.

In need of a fresh challenge

Internal promotion and being offered the chance to take on new challenges within a school are important opportunities for growth, helping teachers to build a range of skills and to demonstrate versatility.

But if a teacher is to develop the breadth of experience and a healthy overview of the educational landscape – the wider perspective that ensures they appreciate the big picture and do not become entrenched in the context of one particular school – they need to teach in different educational settings. There are different ways of doing things, and sometimes it takes a change of scene to make us fully appreciate this.

If you are a middle leader, senior leader or headteacher, ask yourself who the most talented staff are within your current team (teaching and support). How might further responsibility help these people to find greater professional fulfilment?

It may be that opportunities for them to take on middle or senior roles are simply not going to materialise at the right time in your school. But, as I said, it is often a better option for that experience to be gained elsewhere, regardless.

Obviously it is not a simple conversation. Teachers no doubt love working with you and within your school, so you need to make clear the benefits of a move and also your reasoning for targeting them for this intervention. And support is crucial: if individuals are in need of a fresh challenge, can you encourage, support and prepare them to look for such a challenge beyond your school, sorry though you may be to lose them?

In addition to this conversation about future professional potential, it’s important to give practical advice and support about how they might prepare themselves for such a move. You might offer to read and comment on draft letters of application, discuss interview techniques and even arrange for the teacher to have a practice interview. Staff considering moving on may also need guidance on finding the right post in the right school at the right time.

Investing in staff potential

It may feel strange trying to show your best staff the door, but consider the following:

l Being known as a school that is committed to the personal and professional development of all staff, enabling them to achieve even greater things elsewhere in due course, demonstrates your wider commitment to education and can actually support future staff recruitment. Other teachers may be keen to apply for roles at a school that is known for successfully growing leaders.

l All educators have a conviction that every child deserves the best educational opportunities, whichever school they attend. Helping to secure a supply of good school leaders in the future, by investing in staff potential at all levels, is part of our wider responsibility.

l Teachers capable of undertaking such challenges are likely to feel even more highly valued by the demonstration of your confidence in their capacity to do so. Having such conversations about future career development can be a positive way of ensuring buoyant staff morale.

l School leaders looking back at their own careers may recognise how they were themselves supported and encouraged by role models and mentors. This may have helped you to make the right move at the right time. If you have benefited from the “positive push” yourself, this may be the most powerful demonstration of why this is a service we should now be prepared to offer to others.

Jill Berry is a former headteacher with experience in the state and independent sectors. She is now an education consultant and researcher

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