Schools are successful when the passion, expertise and commitment of their staff is focused on common goals. Great leadership – and great senior leadership teams (SLTs) – play a crucial role in creating the right conditions for this to happen. School improvement cannot happen without a really effective leadership team. But how do you, as a leader, create a leadership team that will help foster and drive that success?
Colin McLean asks primary and secondary leaders to draw on their years of experience and share their advice on creating the perfect SLT. This is what they have to say.
Create a team of all the talents
‘Before you appoint, think very carefully about the skills that will complement your team. Are you looking for a complete finisher, an innovator, someone with deep and relevant experience? It is rare that all of these will fit one person, so I also look for potential. All members of the SLT need to be hard working, committed and passionate about their role. All should want to make a difference to young people, but as a headteacher you need to think carefully about what you need.’
Helen Salmon, Principal, Tavistock College, Devon
‘Recognise individual skills and talents in your team and play to these strengths. An outstanding leadership team is built on the strengths of individual leaders who both complement and support each other.'
Kylie Spark, headteacher of Tyntesfield Primary School, Cheshire
Let them grow
‘Manage talent for good succession planning, with leadership development through distributed leadership. Leadership opportunities need to be fully devolved, with a more experienced colleague acting in a coaching capacity only. This ensures that talented individuals have the opportunity to start and see through to the end whole-school projects which they have taken ownership of.’
Paul Cowley, headteacher, Bishop Rawstone Church of England Academy, Leyland
‘Support opportunities for professional development, particularly the kind that develops leadership skills and understanding. My team have benefitted from specialist leaders in education (SLE) training, aspirant leaders courses and national professional qualification for headship (NPQH), but you can also facilitate professional development by giving people opportunities such as leading key programmes in school or working with the community.’
‘Succession plan. If you don’t delegate responsibilities to your middle leaders, how are they going to make the mistakes that will enable them to become the leaders of tomorrow? Find talent, and use it. Don’t do everything yourself and then fall into the trap of quality assuring your own work.’
Gary Wilkie, headteacher of Sheringham Primary Academy and Chief Executive of the Learning in Harmony Trust, Newham, London
Trust and relationships really matter
‘Trust is key. Confidentiality is key. Build relationships with your team and let them know that you can offer both to each of them as individuals as well as to the team. Building ‘social friendships’ can be an advantage, if not always possible.’
‘Show staff what qualities you want them to have by your behaviour towards them. Showing humility can make you a “leader” rather than a “boss”. Don’t ask people to do what you wouldn’t be prepared to do. Staff want to see their headteacher pitch-in.’
Brian Duffy, headteacher, Tottington High School, Bury
Stick to a vision – and never let go
‘It is important that everyone is clear about the “big picture” and the role they have in ensuring its success. This is achieved through linking school development plan targets to individual performance management targets, which ensures that the key focus is on the area that really matters.’
‘There are times when leading any organisation is like crafting a good story. Whether it is considering the characters, creating the context, developing the plot or deciding on the moral of the story, the life of any school can be understood in terms of narrative.’
Andy Hodgkinson, executive headteacher of the First Church Schools Federation, Macclesfield, Cheshire
‘Stop doing some things. Think about those things that are most important to you and concentrate on those. Your leadership team can only be effective if they have a sense of realistic purpose. You only have so much energy, so make sure that it is focused where you really need to make an impact.’
‘Have an unrelenting focus on teaching and learning. On-going professional dialogue and CPD opportunities should be promoted to deepen leaders’ understanding of teaching and learning. Outstanding school leadership focuses on what matters and invests time to ensure that standards are high and consistent across the school.’
Give them freedom to lead – and make mistakes
‘Give everyone the chance to chair, minute take, present and debate in meetings. Allow people to feel comfortable with lively debate and discussion, but also insist that agreed decisions are communicated positively by everyone. People should be able to argue passionately and disagree with each other as long as there is mutual respect and trust.’
‘We live in a risk-averse culture. This is having profound effects on our ability as a society to reach our potential. An Ofsted inspector once told me he had never seen an outstanding lesson where the teacher had not taken a risk for the sake of their pupils. Whether this is true or not, developing a growth mindset as a school leader is crucial for ensuring that your children are given the best life chances.’
More advice on this key leadership area and others can be found in a new guide to assembling the best senior leadership team published by Best Practice Network, available as a free download at http://teacherleadershiptraining.com./.
About the author
Colin McLean is chief executive of Best Practice Network, a national provider of training and professional development that works in partnership with teaching school alliances and academy trusts across the country to deliver nationally recognised leadership development programmes and qualifications. Further information is available at www.bestpracticenet.co.uk.