I have always been interested in leadership, probably even before I started teaching. I’ve always been an organiser, and I’ve enjoyed getting people involved in a project and seeing it through to realisation. As a teacher, I was quick to take on extra: I took on my first responsibility after two years; I was second in English after three; I was Head of English after five. I truth, that last jump was probably two years too soon, but I learned an awful lot from my mistakes in those two years!
I started this blog in December 2012 to share my experiences of senior leadership as a Deputy Head. I called it Teaching: Leading Learning without hesitation. The name of the blog stems from the long held belief that teaching is itself a leadership role, and that if you teach well you already have the skillset of an effective leader. In my session at #TLT16 I set out to explore how my experience as a teacher has prepared me for Headship, and the lessons my experience as a new Headteacher has for teachers.
Leadership behaviours in teaching
Going through the now defunct Leading From the Middle, several home-grown leadership development courses and, more recently, NPQH, I’ve read a lot about different leadership styles and behaviours. It’s interesting to look beyond education and think about business models of leadership, and whether they have relevance to us in the public sector. Hence my plundering of Zenger Folkman’s generous free-to-access resource library, where I found the “Top 9 Leadership Behaviours That Drive Employee Commitment.” They are:
- Inspire and motivate others
- Drive for results
- Strategic perspective
- Walk the talk
- Develops and supports others
- Building relationships
These are qualities that have relevance to educational leadership but also, clearly, to classroom teaching.
Inspire and motivate others
This is clearly the role of the leader: to bring people with you on the journey. And it is the role of the classroom teacher too. To spark the interest of your learners, to get the best out of them, and to do your best to make sure that they want to do their best too.
Drive for results
We’re in an outcomes business, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. Results bring choice, raise aspiration and open doors. It’s the role of the school leader to evaluate every initiative, intervention and idea in terms of its impact on results, stopping the things that don’t help and doing the things that do. It’s the same for the classroom teacher. We must ask ourselves: what can I do that will make the biggest difference to the students’ outcomes?
Strategic perspectiveThe leader’s role is to hold and share the vision, based on core values, and align everything in the organisation towards achieving that vision. The teacher’s role is the same: to know how this activity fits into this lesson, which fits into this week, which fits into this scheme of learning, which fits into the long term plan, which contributes to this young person’s experience of this subject across their schooling, which shapes the adult they will become. Where does what you are doing today fit into the bigger picture? Think about how this ten-minute activity contributes to the cathedral that you are building.
CollaborationA leader doesn’t fly solo. The leader is part of a team. We achieve what we achieve together. And we recognise that we can’t know and do it all, so we call in help, advice and support when we need it. The teacher is no different. The class must work together – the culture must be right. And, when it’s needed, it is a sign of strength in the teacher to seek help, advice and support.
Walk the talk
We all know of inauthentic leaders who don’t walk the talk. Words are hollow and empty when leaders are dishonest or do not act with integrity. Classrooms work the same way. When you say you’ll read their work, you have to read it. The students’ faith in you comes from you modelling the behaviours that you expect.
This comes from walking the talk. Trust is built over time by leaders who look, listen and learn, leading to an understanding of the issues facing those you lead. Then, it comes from actions rooted in integrity, with a clear and transparent rationale consistent with the vision and values you espouse. The same with the classroom teacher. If you say something is going to happen, it happens. You don’t let your students down. You are consistent, constant, reliable. You win their trust.
Develop and support others
The National standards of excellence for headteachers, Domain Two, standard 5, says that excellent headteachers will:
Identify emerging talents, coaching current and aspiring leaders in a climate where excellence is the standard, leading to clear succession planning.
This is a vital part of any leader’s role, but the process of developing and supporting others is what a teacher does. It is the job.
Relationships lead to trust. This is how things get done – not by ordering people around, but by building relationships with colleagues which bring about commitment to the shared enterprise. Am I talking about leadership? Or teaching? Or both?
Joanna Postlethwaite put me on to this quotation in her “Head in Heels” session at #WomenEd. It’s a different take on the “do the hard things first” I’ve used before, and it’s about not shying away from the most difficult tasks. If challenging situations aren’t grasped and resolved, they will fester. If you don’t eat that frog now, it’ll grow – and then you’ll never be able to stomach it. The same in your classroom – whatever you tolerate, that’s where your expectations sit. If there’s a problem, tackle it. Don’t let things go, or you’ll struggle to get them back.
Spheres of influence
In leadership, and in teaching, it pays to focus your attention where you will have the most influence. In both cases, this is the inner two circles in the diagram above: the areas where you have complete control, and the area where you have direct influence. You can’t control everything. But what you will find is that, if you are outward facing and focused on outcomes, the energy you are expending on the inner two circles will have an influence on the third. And the third, on the fourth. What you’re doing with your students in your classroom matters. What you’re doing with your team in your department matters. What I’m doing with my school matters. We all influence one another. We all matter.