It is probably true that Middle Leadership is the key role in an Academy for driving improvement. At its best it inspires children and staff to bring new light to what might be, improves quality of teaching, champions an enabling curriculum, drives up outcomes to deliver improved life chances for all (including the team members).
It is also probably true that Middle Leadership is most effective when those concerned can be considered to be true experts in their field, when they lead by example with an ethic of excellence, and when they act in concert with their senior colleagues, supporting whole school improvement through highly effective day to day management…owning their curriculum, championing knowledge and learning, actively improving teaching and being clinical about improving outcomes.
Which begs the question: what are the key elements of middle leadership that makes the difference? The following What ifs… are inspired by the strong middle leadership that exist across the Federation.
What if middle leaders consistently created a culture within their team where risks could be taken and individual talents recognised, without losing the ability to challenge, to support, to direct and to critique? …a culture that creates the conditions where team members inspire and are inspired by their colleagues.
What if middle leaders were respected and trusted in equal measure, so that their team members knew beyond all doubt that they would be receiving the best possible coaching and support to achieve outstanding outcomes through effective lessons? …where middle leaders are the champion of their team and subject/area.
What if middle leaders were the first people in the organisation to offer feedback to their staff members, and the first to offer coaching to ensure the craft of teaching was honed and nurtured for each individual in their team? They are the agents of change who shift the quality of teaching.
What if middle leaders fully understood the crucial nature of their role in an Ofsted inspection, where the question on the Inspector’s lips might be ‘how is teaching more effective because of what this leader knows about achievement in this school?’
What if middle leaders championed the one chance that children have. Understanding the deep moral purpose that exists and generating urgency so that all children fulfil and reach their potential…taking seriously the need to reverse accumulated disadvantage for our disadvantaged children.
What if Middle Leaders understood that the key strategy for accelerating a child’s progress and enhancing life chances was the consistent delivery of quality first teaching every lesson, every day.
What if middle leaders secured delivery of key elements of the signature pedagogy; where a depth of knowledge, an ethos of excellence, along with teaching that stretches and challenges, that questions to unlock understanding and delivers effective feedback, accelerates learning?
What if Middle Leaders were champions of their curriculum; understanding the need to develop a layered/spiralled curriculum that explores and revisits areas to depth and assesses knowledge, skills and understanding against age related expectations?
What if Middle Leaders were champions of their subject and pedagogy? Understanding the need to ensure a depth of knowledge inspires, understands the key concepts and mis-concepts and how pedagogy can be applied to accelerate knowledge, skills and understanding?
What if middle leaders knew about the performance of different student groups not only over the course of the year, but building on previous years in the same school, charting their progress and matching it to departmental interventions and foci over time? …targeting those children that fall behind and accelerating progress to close gaps in attainment.
What if middle leaders walked the line between the ‘statesman-like’ approach of the senior leader and that of a supportive family member to those in their team? …supporting and challenging improvements in performance overtime, both deliberately and compassionately.
What if middle leaders prepared each meeting as they might a lesson, taking into account the learning experience for their colleagues, their diverse needs, the best way to structure the experience, to have seamless transitions, and a judicious mix of action, discussion, reflection, and imparting of information?
What if middle leaders had the confidence and competence to highlight areas of strength and weakness within the course of a school year or term, without waiting for external validation but seeking to collaborate with others to improve at an accelerated rate?
What if middle leaders sought to achieve a discernible difference in areas that they identify for improvement?
What if middle leaders were at once confident enough to deal with emerging issues, and humble enough to ask for perspective, support, even validation from their senior colleagues?
What if middle leaders understood that they start to become organisationally blind after six weeks? What if because of this understanding middle leaders connected and collaborated deeply within and beyond their own Academy?
What if middle leaders were able to ask for feedback not only from their line managers but from their own team and from their peers, knowing that feedback enables growth?
Maybe then individual subjects would develop at a fast pace, with outcomes for all students exceeding national expectations, and reducing achievement gaps between groups.
Maybe then teaching, our core business, would be consistently outstanding within each department and across each school. Set within an owned and inspiring curriculum.
Maybe then a generation of leaders would emerge that would have impact and influence well beyond their role.
…and Maybe then we would have the deepest job satisfaction, knowing we have performed unusually well and that our students are the real winners.
Sally Apps and Dan Nicholls