It is the season for job interviews ready for the new academic year. It might be that you’ve just landed your first senior leadership or middle leadership role and it can be a daunting task. One thing new leaders often worry about is whether or not they are going to be able to work with the team that they are going to be leading. Building a team can be a difficult thing to do.
There are two main ways that you will have achieved that position. You’re either going to have got yourself a new job or you’re going to have been promoted within role. Most schools will require an interview for a new position, even if you’ve managed to gain it as a promotion. Getting a job in a new school gives you the chance to start afresh however promotion within a department or school to a leadership position can sometimes be more difficult given your existing relationships with colleagues.
Either way though, once you’ve landed that elusive leadership role, how do you go about building your team? One of the first things you’ll want to do is to find out about your team. Your line-manager will most likely have been in the school prior to you joining and so should be able to give you some information about your team members. You will be able to look at their previous performance management documents and you can have conversations with them to discuss their strengths and what they perceive to be their areas of development. What key factors you need to take on board to develop your team and how will you bring them together to make them a high performing team under your leadership is something you will have to work on. If they are already a high-performing team you might find yourself in a position where they expect you to fit straight into their previous head of department’s mould too so how might you go about managing expectations around leading that team?
All of these things will depend upon the role you take on and so this post cannot really answer those questions for you. Those things need to be dealt with, understood and be thought about on a case by case basis. That said, there are some things you can do to try to ensure that your team work with you rather than for or against you.
Show that you care
One of the first things I do when taking on a new role is to make sure I know everyone’s names. It sounds a simple thing but when taking on a large team it can be a difficult thing to do. Try and find out more too. When are their birthdays? Do they have spouses or partners? What are their names? Do they have children? How old are they? When are their birthdays? Recognising these things. Making note of them. Celebrating them when they occur. These are great facets of any leader’s toolkit and ensuring you mention them when catching up after a holiday or in corridor conversations are a great (and relatively) easy way to show that you care.
You can demonstrate you care in other ways too. For example, when you are mapping out assessments over the course of the year, be mindful of other pressures and stresses upon your colleagues. Don’t overload them. Workload accounts for one of the single largest pressures that a teacher can face. By being mindful of these pressures you can help to make lives easier. Thinking about how you can get your team to work smarter too such as through using collaborative tools can also help to reduce workload too.
Demonstrate respect and manage workload
You can show respect to your colleagues in lots of ways too. It might be the case that on occasion in your role as leader that you have to have difficult conversations around deadlines, meeting standards, timely marking, dress code, emotional responses to things you are doing as a leader. You can show huge amounts of respect to your colleagues in simple ways. Don’t mirror their anger for example, lead by example and offer support to help them achieve the standards that you set or being asked to uphold. Make a point too of celebrating when those who maintain a healthy work / home balance still manage to meet their job requirements. All too often we celebrate the success of those who work hard but do so to the detriment of their personal lives working far beyond the realms of what is acceptable. Show what is acceptable by facilitating the celebration of those who work smart to achieve their outcomes. This can help others too so that they work smarter. Perhaps look to ask those who can do it what their tips are to help those who sometimes struggle and ask them if they could share this in an in-house or in-department professional development session. We can always learn new things.
Another thing to consider is how you interact with colleagues. Definitely praise in public and criticise in private. Celebrating success in an open way is a fantastic way to bring colleagues together. Admonishing a colleague in public is bullying, horrible and well, just plain mean. Show you respect your colleagues. If something is worth saying, say it right and don’t embarrass your colleague in an open way. A passing comment about a missed register in the corridor that is overheard by other colleagues or by the children in the school undermines your professionalism and theirs. Don’t do it.
Sweat the details
When organising things that will have an effect on your team, take time to carefully plan things, thinking about all potential aspects. If it is a critical project you are undertaking, seek support from your colleagues to double check the details. If you’re doing the timetable for example, don’t just come up with it and then deliver it. Run through it with your colleagues to ensure coverage. Once the horse has bolted and it is in place it’s a little late to make big changes if they are required and that will definitely not reflect very well on you! By doing everything you can to ensure success, you reduce the chance that problems will occur. Nobody is perfect and certainly it isn’t good for your health to think that you can do everything perfectly.
Keep things simple
If you have a lot of new initiatives you’re looking to embed within your team, try not to overload your team with too many things to think about at once. Alternatively, look at how you can encapsulate all of those things into a more simple process or procedure. For example, if you’re looking to improve teaching and learning, don’t sweat minutiae or every little thing teachers in your teams might need to do to improve. Rather than do that, highlight the key things in a process that are the hallmarks of a great lesson that you look for in a great teaching and learning session or focus on one thing at a time. The well established idea of marginal gains means that as you work through each thing and allow your teachers to engage in their deliberate practice to improve that one thing, once they have that bit nailed they can move onto the next development. It might mean the overall process might take time but your colleagues won’t face as much pressure and you’ll be much more likely to succeed overall. Better all improvements be successful than none because colleagues are overloaded with too many things to work on.
Involve your team in the development of the work across your school or department. Don’t just announce new initiatives on a whim. Tools such as Google Suite for Education mean that using collaborative tools such as Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, so forth and so on, mean that you can be far more productive together. That sense of satisfaction when successfully completing a project that everyone has been involved in can bring teams closer together too. It’s not about you as a leader doing everything yourself but ensuring that your team feel that their work, expertise and professionalism are valued so much you are able to develop things together rather than being dictated to.
I have worked with colleagues in the past who just delegate everything down. Rather than do the work that is their responsibility to complete, they pass everything downwards. This is not a great way to develop a team and doesn’t help with a positive work environment either. That is not to say that delegation isn’t important. You cannot do everything yourself. It is true to say too that many of your team will relish the opportunity to help out and to develop their expertise. Don’t underestimate what colleagues are happy or prepared to do for the team. Delegation is a tricky topic and difficult to balance well. There are some key things you can do though. In order for successful delegation you need to ensure that whomever you are delegating to has the authority to complete the task (offer support if they need it in this aspect), has the responsibility to complete the task and that they can be held accountable for the completion of the task too. If they are unable to do these three things then think carefully about whether or not you delegate that task to them.
I don’t really need to write much more here on that front. Keep your promises. If you think you might not be able to keep a promise, then don’t. Once you lose the trust of someone it is very difficult if not impossible to get it back. Keep your promises.
Respond to emails in a timely fashion. No-one likes waiting for a response to an email. Even if it means replying quickly to acknowledge receipt to give you time to consider the contents of the email, do that. That is better than just ignoring the email and not responding.
By the same token have very clear expectations around emails. Mirror this yourself. Even if you have something critical to email and are working outside of office hours, why not just write the email and then save it to drafts having it ready to send when it is a more reasonable time for your colleagues to receive it. Also, if you’re burning the midnight oil as we all can do from time to time, it doesn’t do anything to promote your position if you’re sending colleagues work emails at midnight. Save it and send it later.
There’s so much more I could share on this topic but I’ll stop for now. Hopefully you’ll get some ideas from this post that can help you in your role as someone taking on a new leadership role. Finally though can I be among the first to congratulate you on your new role!