Essential Question: How can senior leadership in school’s develop the capacity and instil confidence in the Middle Leaders of our schools (Teacher Leaders, Department Heads and Coordinators) to lead transformative change? Below is the summary of a focus event where participants shared specific issues observed in their schools and identified new issues not being addressed.
Participants engaged in substantive discussions that produced a collective stream of thought:
Schools need to provide resources and structure that guide middle leaders towards an outcome in which they can be more effective at aligning their team with the needs of the school. But, those participating in this process need to take ownership in identifying and securing the support and resources they need.
Additionally, all participants felt senior leadership in schools could improve at developing trust with middle leaders and instilling in them confidence through coaching and active listening.
Executive Summary: The purpose for convening this meeting was due to the growing interest from ACAMIS members related to training middle managers. The interest has grown due to various challenges schools face: retention, recruitment fostering collaboration and encouraging leaders throughout the school to accept more responsibility that contributes to the success of the school. Those participating in this roundtable discussion were at various stages of planning, delivering and evaluating professional development initiatives for middle leaders.
Teacher Leaders, Coordinators and Departments Heads are often asked to take on roles without a clear understanding of what is expected of them, as well as seldom given the tools to effectively lead their peers. As they are often on the frontline themselves, they may not feel empowered as leaders and also do not want to strain relationships with colleagues. Operating in this environment can be very stressful, senior leadership will be called upon to resolve conflict amongst team members and teams may not realize their full potential. The objective for developing the leadership skills of middle leaders should be to:
- Free Senior Leadership to focus on strategic objectives;
- Empower middle leaders to independently pursue team objectives aligned with the school; and
- Instil trust and confidence that regardless of the outcome their work still contributes to the success of the school.
Participants formed into pairs and were given a series of questions to reflect on and share their beliefs. The questions were:
- During your time as a ‘Middle Manager’ were you prepared for the role and expectations others had for you, both from team members and leadership? What contributed to or impeded your success?
- What do you believe about the relationship between middle management and student learning? What led you to these beliefs?
- How do these beliefs play out in your practice? What, if anything, would need to change at your school to have a closer match between what you believe and what the school does?
Responses from each pair were shared and the following topics dominated the various discussions:
- Middle leaders need to work in an environment of Trust, Confidence and Good Listening. In order to have effective middle leadership we as senior leaders need to establish greater trust between ourselves, instil in them confidence and assure them their job is secure, provided we establish a similar structure to that which we ask of our students in Guided Discovery.
- Middle leaders are important in indirectly influencing outcomes. We need to coach them to ensure an outcome without providing it.
- There needs to be greater awareness about the different styles of leadership and understanding of how to adapt to the needs of your team. Communicating leadership preferences and the metaphors we use to describe these styles, can also have a significant impact; i.e. do not refer to teams as silos, but as camps or castles.
- Several middle leaders in our schools are disconnected from the school, they are islands unto themselves, These leaders are our librarians, counselors, various coordinators and non-academic managers that don’t necessarily have teams to collaborate with and their work may not necessarily be transparent to others.
- Job descriptions should be seen as living documents, in which they are actively interpreted instead of passively followed. School’s can be quite dynamic, and the role of the middle leader is to help schools be responsive to the changing needs and objectives of the community.
Different pair groups were asked to further reflect on the five topics above and discuss practical actions that can be taken to either address or overcome them:
- In response to the need to build awareness about different leadership styles, it was recommended that senior leadership play a larger role in coaching middle leaders. Simple actions that could begin addressing this would be sharing of experience and identifying what is and isn’t good leadership practices. Ultimately more time needs to be allotted for these types of discussions and senior leaders need to reflect on their own style and be able to identify the benefits and consequences for the style(s) they have developed.
- The Island Dilemma, which is how to address middle leaders that don’t have teams or are in very specialized positions. Recommendations included involving these middle leaders into more cross-functional teamwork, where their voice can be heard and perspective regarding the state of the school shared. They may also find it valuable to sit in with different teams, that they choose, based on the work they are doing at that time or the relationships they have already formed.
- Building a culture of trust, confidence and listening. Firstly, everyone, even senior leadership, needs to demonstrate that they are learners. Applying teaching pedagogy to leadership, especially in regards to learning from mistakes and being comfortable in addressing performance issues.