Taking the fear out of a leap into leadership

3rd November 2017 at 00:00
Stepping up from the classroom to management is often daunting, but it needn’t be – as long as you do your research, plan carefully and don’t get dragged into taking last-minute lesson cover, FE managers tell Sarah Simons

Many of those who hold senior positions within the further education sector began their careers as teachers. This isn’t surprising. Teachers use management skills in their role every day: managing delivery of the curriculum, learning, behaviour. But taking that very first step out of the classroom and into an official managerial role can, for some, be the most daunting transition of their working lives.

When discussing the elements that constitute excellent management, there’s often a focus on the aspirational personal qualities required for the top jobs, such as dynamism, innovation, resilience and integrity. Honing such attributes is clearly beneficial to anyone in any position of responsibility; however, the conversation seems to veer directly from the exclusively operational to the exclusively strategic without much dialogue about the journey itself or the tools required to make that shift.

Below, colleagues spanning a range of roles in leadership and management explore their own career path and pass on their best advice.

David Russell, chief executive, Education and Training Foundation

Promoted posts are not harder. No job I have done was harder than being a teacher; management jobs just require different skills and dispositions. Work out what the role requires and ask yourself how you develop those particular skills. Also ask yourself, are you willing to trade making a big difference to a small number of people for making a smaller difference to a much bigger number of people?

Be aware that success in your role may be harder to identify and may not feel as immediate or personally rewarding as it is in teaching. Work through what sort of a leader you are – expectations on you will be high from your staff, and your primary responsibility will be to help them do their jobs brilliantly.

Rachel Irving, head of teaching and learning, Oldham College

Make connections – across your college and outside of it, face to face and online, especially on Twitter. There are lots of passionate educators who will support, and more importantly, challenge your thinking.

I didn’t aspire to management, as I couldn’t see a role that would enable me to focus on teaching and coaching. However, others saw my passion for development, and over time a job role formed around me. I have had amazing managers who have offered opportunities, but you have to grab them with both hands, and keep going until you have delivered.

Colin Seabrook, head of department for construction and building services, Havering College of Further and Higher Education

For teachers, a first role in management often means retaining a number of contact hours and essentially juggling two roles. Reduced contact means you seemingly have more “free” time, so it’s easy to take last-minute cover. This will very quickly put you behind with your management responsibilities. You will spend weekends and evenings trying to catch up, but all you and your own manager will see for that extra work will be missed deadlines. Make a cover rota and stick to it.

Hannah Tyreman, learning improvement and development manager, GCSE English teacher, The Sheffield College

I saw a gap in the organisation; a role that didn’t yet exist. So I pitched my ideas to my manager, ensuring that I aligned the role closely with the areas in which the college was developing. Being a leader, you’ll be expected to be fluent in all things impact, but you can do things now to prepare for it.

Engage in lesson study, action research or professional learning communities where students will be the subject of your focus. You can begin to trace the golden thread from your actions to them. Be open to any opportunities in your current role that will allow you to develop your leadership skills in other ways.

Diana Keyzor, curriculum programme manager, GEM School – GCSEs, English and maths, City College Norwich

Gain as much experience in the wider college as possible. Don’t just stick within your own curriculum area; get involved with cross-college projects as much as possible, as many FE managers are responsible for areas outside of their own subject specialism.

Also, keep up to date with ever-changing education policies; it is unlikely you would have an interview now without questions involving T levels, English and maths, or apprenticeships. In addition, embarking on a Master’s degree, a management qualification or shadowing managers to get experience are useful learning routes.

David Patterson, principal and chief executive, Moray College UHI

Great leadership, just like great teaching, is about having a very clear idea of where you need to get to – the direction of travel – and then engaging with, inspiring and then getting out of the way of the people who will get you there.

The people I’ve seen move up in organisations have tended to be those who did their job with an expansiveness of heart and focused on doing what needed to be done. They saw needs and opportunities, and met them full-on. By the time the organisation caught up with the gaps they were filling, they were already doing a job that demanded promotion.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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