Effective School Leaders

Educational research seems to be confirming what I suspect most of us have known for some time, that the secondary school curriculum is inadequate for the needs of learners in this new millennium. A quick look at some of the subject and course titles is enough to tell you that. However, it will take skilful leadership and brave decision-making to shift the emphasis in the way we learn and the way we teach. Managing the “Thinking Skills Curriculum” could be the ultimate challenge.

Every good teacher is a good manager, although the converse is not necessarily true. The word “management” has come to be surrounded by negative connotations, most of them related to industry, where poor management has often meant the exploitation of the weak by the strong. In the weakest of our schools today, some senior managers are still regarded (and in the very worst of cases regard themselves) as a privileged elite who have to a great extent escaped the rigours of classroom teaching.

For this reason, if for no other, our senior managers, including and especially the headteacher, must continue to have a sizeable teaching commitment, and must be seen to lead by example; otherwise we should more accurately call them head administrators.

In recent times, it has been too easy to confuse management with administration, so that we have been able to delude ourselves into thinking that if we can only make our systems of administration better we will improve the quality of our schools, raising the status of administration to a level it hardly deserves. If management is to be about managing people and the curriculum, we must make sure that learning and teaching issues are returned to centre stage.

How many have attended a departmental meeting, whole-staff meeting or management meeting this session where the methodology of learning and teaching, that complex business which takes place within the four walls of the classroom, made it on to the agenda – even under “any other business”? If you didn’t, what are you doing about it?

In addition, the kind of informal discussions that once took place in staffrooms during non-teaching time have become virtually non-existent as the demands on teachers increased. For this reason, every promoted member of staff should have as part of their remit a role in mentoring less experienced teachers, something widely envisaged in the creation of senior teacher posts, but which somehow became lost in translation; the most badly managed examples have resulted in trained professionals spending huge amounts of time on routine administrative tasks.

As a profession, we must also encourage and promote to senior positions those who have proven themselves to have the personal and management skills to be effective classroom teachers, not in order that they can spend more time in administration, but so that others are able to learn from their expertise. In doing so we would reaffirm to ourselves and the rest of the community the importance of enthusiastic, talented and committed teachers as the single most important resource in the school.

In every school there is a deep reservoir of talent, experience and expertise. We must make sure the opportunities are there for teachers to share ideas and to continue to improve their skills by learning from each other, and we must make sure that the administrative systems are there to support teachers, not to add to their workload.

In how many other professions is the ratio of professionals to administrative support staff anything between 10:1 and 20:1? Just think for a moment of your last visit to your doctor, dentist or solicitor.

The demands on support staff become greater and more complex with every passing week. So as managers we have a responsibility to involve them in the process, make it clear what is expected of them and provide the training to allow them to operate in a fast-changing environment. If we don’t, the consequence is that we, the professionals, will continue to spend too much time on tasks for which we are overtrained and overpaid.

The post-McCrone settlement is an opportunity to re-establish the importance of the teacher by, among other things, transferring non-teaching tasks to non-teaching staff. For everyone’s sake, we must make sure we manage it.


This article was first published in TES on 26 October 2001.

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