Moving up from the middle or my #TLT13 session that wasn’t

By October 21, 2013 4 Comments

Promotion… I guess it’s a bit like one of those things you see in football. You can try for years but really, until you can do something to ‘up your game’, you’re not going to be able or ready to move up into the next league. I don’t profess to be anything other than someone working hard, wanting to make a difference, still learning the ropes, making mistakes and making sure I’ve got a growth mindset, but hopefully these thoughts will help you too.

I was down to give a presentation on this topic at #TLT13 on the weekend but events conspired against me and so I wasn’t able to make it. Should I have made it, I’d have said something a little bit like this…


Let’s take it as a given that you know that you need to run an outstanding department or pastoral team already. The results should be great and your value added should be brilliant too. You should inspire, lead, manage and delegate/distribute responsibility to the colleagues in your teams. Teaching and learning should be engaging. Student voice should tell anyone who comes your way that your area of responsibility rocks. Your finances should be in order as should your planning and organisational skills. Feedback and assessment is top notch and you have credibility. Ok… so now you might think you’re ready to apply for an SLT job. But hang on… what singles you out from the crowd who already have all of those things? And whilst a successful middle leader role might be your stomping ground in your current setting, what else have you done or shown that demonstrates you are ready or indeed able to operate at a level higher than that of a middle leader? In the highly competitive SLT job market – what are you doing to raise your game above the precipice? It’s been said that good leaders create followers but great leaders create leaders. Are you ready to step up to the plate and make your mark? Hopefully these tips will help get you ready to move on up the so called ‘greasy pole’…

  1. Work hard – I know we all do work hard as teachers, but thing is – you’re going to have to do more. And don’t expect to get paid for it. It’s in our nature to do this as teachers any way but be prepared. You’re going to have to work hard. Rest assured though – the satisfaction of a job well done will be a significant boost to your morale. I always take a moment to stand back and look at the audience at the Teachmeets I organise and think about the impact the night is having. Reward doesn’t always have to be fiscal (see Herzberg’s ‘Two-factor theory”).
  2. Good relationships – work hard at the relationships you have with all of your colleagues. Developing your emotional intelligence is really important too. Even when you are really biting your tongue – bite it some more. You can moan to your partner in the evening. Keep yourself 100% professional at all times. Work with others too. No man is an island, or so they say. Delegated and distributed leadership makes for a great team. I always try and take on board the ideas of others before I make a decision. That’s the difference between consultation and decision making. Don’t be afraid to tell people when they’re wrong or need to improve either. Don’t shirk that kind of conversation. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know it all too.
  3. Do what you say you’re going to do – always hit your deadlines, clear out your pigeon hole every day. Don’t be afraid to say no to things too but be mindful of the opportunity you might be missing out on. Stepping up as a Staff Governor took four years commitment and a fair few late nights – what I got out of the experience though was invaluable in my journey to achieving an SLT role.
  4. Invest in yourself – I am so pleased I joined Twitter. Like every other teacher who joins Twitter and has learned so much, it’s just one of the many things you need to do in order to develop yourself. Find time to develop yourself in other ways too. You’ll know the areas in which you need to develop – work at them!
  5. Get out of your comfort zone – talking to groups of students hasn’t phased me since my first teaching practice way back on my BEd, but traditionally, talking to large groups of peers used to scare the pants off me. By first attending, speaking at and then running own Teachmeets I was able to face my demons and now I’m happy talking to groups of any size and age. Getting out of your comfort zone is one of the most important things in this list. It’ll be those things that need development and improvement the most and can make all the difference for you.
  6. Read – Yes, read. And read some more. Read a lot. Get in to your staff CPD library or if there isn’t one, start one asking the school to give you some budget (I’m sure there’ll be plenty) to get a library started. Classics (game changers for me) such as Mindset, An Ethic of Excellence, High Performers, How To Teach, Why Don’t Students Like School, Bounce, Getting The Buggers To Behave, Lazy Teacher’s Handbook, Perfect Ofsted Series, Bounce, Switch, Full On Learning and many more have helped me massively.
  7. Innovate – one of the things that will really help you when you go for your first SLT job is having that holy grail of ‘whole school responsibility’. There are lots of ways you can innovate. For me, one of my innovations was leading on a whole school iPad project looking at how learning could be enhanced and developed. Through your reading and developed understanding of how schools work, you should be able to start some action research based upon your thoughts and findings. Using some of the ideas from books that you will have read, you’ll be able to undertake a number of different activities which could end up having a massive impact on teaching and learning in your school. It could range from something simple like the use of ‘so that’ in learning outcomes (thanks Zoë Elder) to developing co-constructed schemes of learning and examining their impact (thanks Tom Sherrington) to looking at how you can develop deeper questioning and understanding using question formulation technique with students (thanks Tait Coles).data sheldon
  8. Learn Data – that doesn’t mean numbers, but simply get your head around whole school data. Data drives lots in schools and it’s always a good starting point for a conversation about learning. Familiarise yourself with different types of whole school data and how they interact such as RAISEonline, PANDA, FFT, CAT, ALIS, and ALPS. Few are the SLT interviews that won’t ask you to examine a sample RAISEonline document and write a report on it. Don’t be caught out.
  9. Make technology your friend – like it or not, believe it or not – it is not the case that technology is going to become less used in education. Quite the opposite. I’d obviously recommend my book (Perfect ICT Every Lesson) to help you with learning how to make the best use of technology in all kinds of subjects and settings, but every journey starts with a single step. Get on board. Technology, social media and being a connected educator is where teaching and learning is at and we owe it to our students to embrace it, however cautiously, but embrace it we should. Just ask Headteacher John Tomsett… In his post “This much I know about…the potential for Twitter and Blogging to engender an Education Spring”  (http://bit.ly/educationspring) he recognizes this when he says, “Blogging and Twitter have a lot to answer for. I began blogging on 16 June 2012; in a year my professional life has been transformed.”
  10. Know you’re ready – it may be likely that you feel like you could do a better job than a member of your existing SLT. Knowing in your head that you feel ready for that role is important but thinking and being are two completely different things. Work with your colleagues in your current school and get help and feedback from them on whether or not they think you’re ready.


Finally, have a strong moral compass. There will be times in your career when you will be tested. You will have felt many pressures in your career and this won’t be likely to change as you move up the ladder. Always. I repeat always. Keep your course straight. Do the right thing. One of my previous Headteacher’s guiding principles was about positive relationships and mutual respect. Keep that central to your mission and you won’t go too far wrong. Good luck!

I look forward to reflecting upon this post in a year’s time and seeing how much of this has been relevant a year on. I wonder….


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