Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

In it together

Footprint in the sand

Finding the next generation of school and college leaders is too important to leave to the DfES and the whims of legislation. ASCL members can and should play a role.

Faced with a lack of high calibre candidates for senior leadership positions, some schools and colleges are developing a more 'organic' approach to filling the posts - they are cultivating their own.

The aim is to find the aspiring leaders who may already be in - or about to join - the staffroom, nurturing and encouraging them to take on new roles and responsibilities while providing them with the support they need to move up the career ladder.

To help sow the seed, here are nine strategies recommended for growing new leaders.

1. Starting the search

Start at the recruitment and selection stage by emphasising specific leadership criteria, such as the ability to learn and share. Highlight the opportunities to learn within the organisation.

Check applications for evidence of prior leadership - sports teams, organisation of charity events, for example - in order to recognise people who have shown interest in guiding others. Don't overlook the students on placement; some of them may show potential for the future.

2. Know what you are looking for

Dartford Grammar School in Kent, through work with businesses, the Hay Group and NCSL, compiled a list of the characteristics of high leadership potential. It uses this in the interview process to identify early leadership ability by assessing if a candidate:

  • seeks opportunities to learn

  • acts with integrity

  • adapts to cultural differences

  • is committed to making a difference

  • seeks broad business knowledge

  • brings out the best in people

  • is insightful - sees things from new angles

  • has the courage to take risks

  • seeks and uses feedback

  • learns from mistakes

  • is open to criticism

3. Identifying potential

When observing staff at work, assess how they work with others and respond to different situations. Provide opportunities for teachers to try out leadership in the context of, for example, a specific project or task and track participation in leading extra-curricular and voluntary activities, but also carry out less formal career chats and observe their contributions at meetings. Some secondary schools have assigned senior leaders to departments to 'talent spot'.

4. Let them lead

Offer opportunities for aspiring and developing leaders to take a lead and/or step up and to learn from this through reflection and feedback.

Provide would-be leaders with the time to try things out and to learn from their efforts. Offer guidance but encourage independence and ensure young leaders have 'room to breathe'. They need to feel trusted, free to act on their judgment and not constrained by the fear of being 'blamed'.

It can be difficult to let go sometimes; a head or principal may worry that being accountable to Ofsted and governors prevents him or her from relinquishing management and leadership responsibilities.

It is useful to be reminded of the benefits of delegation and distributed leadership at this point: staff develop and learn, fresh perspectives are brought to aspects of the day-to-day running of the school and the head is freed up to focus on strategic or - increasingly - external responsibilities.

5. Give support

Provide 'in-house' support systems such as buddying, mentoring, coaching, shadowing or team-based working to support professional growth. Also, consider supporting/funding external professional development opportunities, such as MA(Ed) programmes, outreach work, international visits and middle management development programmes.

6. Define the path to leadership

Provide a pathway of senior leadership opportunities in collaboration with other schools or external bodies. At Notre Dame High School, Sheffield, a graduate of its in-house senior leadership programme has taken up a senior role in another school in the area. The schools now offer jointly two programmes which staff in both schools can access and she is a co-leader.

7. Leadership philosophy

Promote an ethos that makes a clear statement about the value the school or college places on investing in the individual. Think about how the school's or college's procedures reflect its focus on leadership.

8. Encourage growth

Develop structures internally which promote the leadership development of teams and individuals. It could be through middle management programmes, training plans for teachers and lecturers produced in discussion with line managers or in-house leadership courses for aspiring middle or senior leadership. Ravens Wood School at Bromley in Kent runs an 'outstanding teacher' programme as part of its efforts to develop leadership in subject areas. Teachers attend evening sessions run mainly by a staff which take place on and off the school site, including abroad.

Other ideas include:

  • allocating leadership responsibilities to newer staff to give them the chance to show and develop leadership skills

  • formal opportunities for discussions focused on leadership

  • opportunities to do research

The ad hoc leadership opportunity might be converted to a more formal one, such as a chance for a talented middle leader to act up as assistant/deputy. This could even go so far as bespoke posts to match specific areas of leadership potential shown by individuals. However, the TLR consultation procedure would need to be followed.

9. Leadership beyond

Look beyond the school or college for local, national and international opportunities for leadership development - accessing it and disseminating it. In order for a school or college to share its knowledge and best practice, some or all of the following factors are needed:

  • an understanding of its own context and state of readiness

  • a head or principal with a vision for leadership development

  • a critical mass of those within the community committed to the development of such practices

Leadership opportunities with other schools/colleges - placements or exchanges - or other branches of children's services, as well as the chance to participate in working parties alongside other organisations and stakeholders, are a good way to give staff the chance to experience different ways of running an organisation and different leadership styles.

This information is based on NCSL's Greenhouse Schools publication. See www.ncsl.org.uk/tomorrowsleaderstoday

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