The route to leadership in education for many can be a bit like working your way through a maze. I’m sure that like me, you’ve had many people in your establishments who, from your perspective, beggar belief in how they ever managed to land that job. I’ve definitely found it useful to me in my journey to think that I could do the job of leadership and management better than some of the line managers I have had. It definitely signalled to me that I was ready for that move up.
Early in my career, I did not have any leadership aspirations. Like many teachers, I got into teaching to make a difference and for me at the start of my career being able to work with the children in my classes, making a difference right there was just perfect for me. It wasn’t until I started maturing into my role I realised that as a middle or senior leader I could actually make a bigger difference to young people’s lives, and so my journey into leadership began.
For much of my 20+ years working in schools as a teacher, middle and then senior leadership, I strived to reach the hallowed grail of being on an SLT. I spoke about this at some length in my keynote at Lead Learn Lancs in July of 2016. I’ve included the slides below for reference.
What took me a long time to realise was that in order to gain the experience that would make me worthy of becoming a leader within a school I would have to ‘lead without a title’. Every man and his dog has something to say about leadership it seems as this simple Google Search shows:
It was my colleague and member of the leadership team, Teresa Tickoo who first talked to me about this idea of leading without a title. Coined first by Robin Sharma in his book, “The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life” he says:
It has become clear to me that if we are to make a difference in education, we all need to be leaders of education. Ironically, the term pedagogy and pedagogue come from the Greek paidos “boy, child” plus agogos “leader.” As educators who are ongoing students of the science of education, we are all leaders in our roles.
A significant part of my role as both teacher and subsequently middle leader saw me take on lots of different activities which were not directly within my remit. It is these things that stood out in my interviews when applying for roles as a middle and senior leader.It is key to remember that leadership doesn’t mean doing more, it means doing things right.
What does this look like?
As an example, this could mean changing how you interact with colleagues or students. We all know that relationships are absolutely key when it comes to your success and the success of the people you work with. If you aren’t mindful of this, it can cause problems. It’s about how you act and how you are, everywhere, all of the time; in the corridor, in the classroom, in the staffroom, in the car on the way to work… all of the time. Leadership is doing the right thing when nobody is looking.
Here is a quick example… ask yourself – is there much gossip in your school? Do you know of things that perhaps you shouldn’t in your role in your school? You’ve learned about a colleague who hasn’t done something quite right and that’s come via the middle / senior leader?
Firstly, gossip in an organisation isn’t a great thing in itself, it undermines cohesion, vision, ethos – it can be toxic. Praise in public, discuss problems in private. That’s how it should be. Sure, the teacher who was having a problem might have shared it with some colleagues but what if it was the person in leadership? I’m sure we’ve all come across a leader who has shared something they shouldn’t. Leadership comes in all aspects of your professional life and beyond too. So, do you share this information further with others or do you keep it to yourself? Leading without a title is something which we should all be mindful of. Our words and actions reflect our personal moral compass. Even when confronted with convincing and forthright colleagues, even if their words seem right – if it doesn’t sit right with your compass, keep it to yourself.
Whilst leading without a title doesn’t mean doing more there are plenty of things you can do within your role to lead in your school even if you don’t have a TLR or other leadership responsibility. Some things that I’ve done have really helped me prepare for subsequent roles even though I haven’t realised it at the time. Here are a few things I’ve done without any responsibility to or pressure to do from colleagues:
- Organising and attending Teachmeets
- Blogging and reflecting on my practice
- Networking with teachers outside of my school
- Reading education books for pleasure
- Writing ICT / edtech newsletters
- Organising extra-curricular groups
- Helping organise staff socials
- Setting up national digital leader network with Sheli Blackburn
- Offering to run training sessions for colleagues
- Among many others…
I’ve heard Dr Jill Berry use the ‘Why should anyone want to be led by you‘ idea from Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones idea a number of times in presentations she’s given. She’s really good at what she does and I always love her presentations. Her book is well worth a read too. When it comes to leading without a title, why not ask yourself these questions too:
- Why should anyone want to work with you?
- Why should anyone want to be taught by you?
- Why should anyone want their child to be taught by you?
- Why should anyone want to give you a job?
- Why should anyone want to promote you?
Going back to Robin Sharma’s quote above, it is our behaviours that are key to our leadership, not our title. I know of and talk with many teachers who are keen to climb the leadership pole. My best advice is to focus on you and your interactions with all that you deal with. Smile. Be friendly. Help others. Build positive relationships. Network. Put yourself outside your comfort zone not for your benefit but for that of your colleagues, pupils and school. Learn how to use tools such as Excel to help you work with and know data better, even if using technology doesn’t come easily to you…
I know schools want their pound of flesh for everything you have to do as part of your core professional standards. Just try to do it well so that you can answer positively to all five of those questions above. I didn’t always succeed in everything that I did, but I tried. I always tried and I know it helped me.
I hope you’ve found this post useful. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Over and out.