In my early years of teaching, I often heard people talk about having the “right amount” of experience to become a senior leader, or about how you couldn’t progress until you were “mature enough”.
I don’t believe it is as simple as that. What matters is that you do your role well, in terms of strategically improving teaching and learning. If you’re capable of stepping back and taking whole-school priorities into account, I think you’re ready to move up to senior management.
The question then becomes: what type of senior role should you seek out? As a middle leader, you will have thrived in certain areas, which could be anything from developing teaching and learning to leading on inclusion. When looking for your first senior leadership role, it is advisable to play to your strengths. For example, I enjoyed teaching maths and have recently begun taking more ownership of whole-school data.
Once you know the type of role that will suit you, start scanning the job pages, even if you are not quite ready to apply. Look carefully at person specifications and job descriptions in advance to identify your strengths and areas for development.
That said, try not to be intimidated. I remember looking at person specifications and thinking, “I can’t do any of this”. But if you strip each criterion down and compare it with what you have already done in your current role, this will make things clearer.
Learn from others
If you have senior leadership ambitions, it is important to seek out training while you are still a middle leader to help you get to the next level. Knowing the type of leader you want to become is crucial, as this will enable you to choose the right courses to fill gaps in your knowledge.
Network with other aspiring school leaders, too, as you will be able to learn from each other. Once in a senior post, you will be taking a more strategic approach and making decisions within a smaller group. Being able to work collaboratively with other leaders, who might have different leadership styles, is essential, and it is never too early to start practising.
Once promoted, never forget how you got there. Senior leadership is rewarding but challenging: you won’t be able to do your job without the help of those you manage.
Finally, know that the demands on your time will be endless. Smile, and have a hobby. Make time for your family and encourage others to do the same. Senior leaders must lead by example, so embody the work-life balance you wish to promote.
Damith Bandara is an assistant head at Temple Grove Academy in Tunbridge Wells