What I wish I’d known as a new middle leader

9th February 2018 at 00:00
A head of English has a few nuggets of advice to help you manage your first team

Since I became a head of English, I have learnt a lot about leadership. And while I have loved the journey so far, there are a few things I wish someone had told me before I took on the role.


1. You can unwittingly add to the workload problem

When I took up my post, I had a clear vision and a strategy for how to implement it. This was my chance to bring to fruition the ideas I’d had in my head for a decade.

The members of my team were ready to throw themselves behind everything I asked them to do. However, my plans included such frequent assessments that, by the end of the spring term, the team had almost reached burnout.

Everyone was so committed and had placed s uch trust in my ideas that they were working themselves into the ground to meet the expectations I had set. It was only at a subject team meeting, when we were discussing what to stop, start and carry on doing, that I fully appreciated the workload I’d created for them. It made me realise how important it is to gather feedback about what is and isn’t working.


2. Your words have weight

As a middle leader, what you say matters. A casual “Can I speak to you later?” can easily be misinterpreted by a member of your team. I once asked to see someone in my department at the end of school because I wanted to check they were OK.

However, I later learned that they had been worrying all day about what I was going to say to them. I hadn’t appreciated how weighty my words had become and how important it was to be mindful of what I said.

Fortunately, my positive feedback has also gained a few pounds, so I take opportunities to tell my team how fantastic they are and how lucky I am to work with them.


3. It’s all about relationships

As a middle leader, there’s a balance to strike between challenging your team members and supporting them.

Building solid relationships is central to achieving this balance. The better you understand the people you work with, the better you can anticipate potential problems, such as when someone in your team might miss a deadline.

Never underestimate the value of checking in with your teachers and asking them how their day has been – you will get a good sense from these conversations about whether you’re striking the right balance, and will be more likely to notice right away when someone is struggling.


Rebecca Foster is head of English at St Edmund’s Girls’ School in Salisbury



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