This year my role developed at the British School of Wilanow, Poland, and I became phase leader, alongside teaching Reception, part time. Would it turn out to be the best of both worlds, or the worst?
I discovered that middle leadership following this model – managing a class and leading a team – has positives and challenges, and it is vital for senior leaders to be fully aware of them.
In this article, I outline ways of working in this situation, which I hope will be useful to readers.
- As a phase leader, I am confident that this class had a very good foundation, as I led the planning, assessment, reporting, interactions with parents, and routines.
- Teaching in the classroom for full days enabled me to remember the challenges teachers face in terms of the intensity and issues within a busy classroom. This allowed me to have realistic expectations of my team.
- I was able to develop a class teacher’s in-depth understanding of my students as individuals. So when I inducted a new member of staff to take over the role I could support this transition thoroughly through team teaching and coaching.
- From an improvement perspective, being in the class with the students allowed me to see training I may need to lead and other improvements in terms of staff, resourcing, and scheduling.
- My team could see I was still teaching and this is key. When I spoke to them about developments they knew these ideas were not coming from someone who was sitting in an office without demands of a teaching role or regular interactions with the students.
- I felt being a middle leader made me a “middle” in both roles initially. I struggled with giving my usual 110 per cent, to both positions. Being responsible for a class and being a middle leader simultaneously, as well as leading a team, at times culminated in stress and worry. However, I always put my class first and I found both yoga and meditation helped me through this sticky patch.
- Establishing a strong collaborative team was my goal in leadership. Whilst I feel I accomplished this, I could not offer the degree of support I may have wished, due to my classroom responsibilities at times. I was always transparent with my team regards my other commitments and what I was able to do when classroom based. If staff wanted me to support a trip, for example, I clarified the days I was available.
- Needing to be in two places at one time was ultimately challenging. For example, when I led events for the phase, but also needed to be responsible for my class, the situation felt more stressful than it needed to be. Fortunately, I found a way to solve this problem. I received support from my colleagues and upper-primary student volunteers.
- Being new to middle management in this school, I was conscious that I may make mistakes, or make decisions that others may not like. In this aspect, I helped myself by seeking mentors, both in-school and wider afield, and am beginning middle-leadership training.
Now I no longer have responsibility for a specific class and instead teach most days covering leave and PPA time across the phase. I am free to schedule my time more flexibly which is a bonus, but I see it as vital that I remain within the classes.
I need to remember how it feels to be a teacher, be part of the teaching and learning, and retain the relationships I have developed with the children. This leadership model is a step towards senior leadership, as such roles usually come without class responsibility. But it is imperative as a leader, at any level, to continue to be present in classrooms.
However, it is so important to understand the challenges within the classroom to address them. In addition, the ability to be within a class, informally observing, will allow me to give feedback on the strengths of particular teachers, for initiatives such as peer-to-peer observations.
My position continues to grow, with aspects of admissions and facilities management. We are together developing a new campus, and I am excited to be stepping beyond my expertise as a teacher and learning more about the effective running of schools.
I am fortunate to be working closely with the International Schools Partnership which is keen on developing teaching and learning. I see this as a real blessing and one in which I can both disrupt and change my environment to make it a better one for all: the students, staff, and parents.