It has been a fascinating week on twitter. There has been incidents of people feeling that their SLT is ‘out to get them or catch them out.’ There has also been the superb piece by Brian Walton (Old Primary Head), which if you haven’t read it, you can do so here.
While reflecting it occurs to me that as school leaders, we can only ever be as good as those around us. As the old adage states, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
The quandary is how we address this thorny issue. We must of course monitor school to identify areas for concern. This process needs to include ourselves. Everyone needs to be developed and I know that if there was something I needed to do, I would rather know.
There are a couple of routes schools can go down to address the weakest link.
a) Aggressive monitoring, Putting on the pressure to either hope that the staff member in question magically improves or makes their lives easier by leaving. This in my experience only leads to demotivated staff and a culture of fear. Staff who are not performing are funnelled towards capability procedures. While this should be a final option, this is often seen as a ‘quick fix’ for some underperforming staff. Just remember that while this may be a solution for the school, it can in effect be destroying someone’s career and life! It may set the tone for unhappy ethos within the school.
b) Nurturing and developing the staff member. This may take a lot longer than the previous method, but demonstrates to the staff member and the entire staff that you care about them as people. As teachers we don’t give up on those pupils who need a little extra support. We intervene with targeted support to help them. We scaffold and model to demonstrate how it should be done. We praise when progress is made. I accept that there are rare circumstances where the member of staff will not be able or willing to improve, even with support. However, in my experience when handled with compassion and support, staff members have addressed and improved their practice.
Whatever your personal preference it is important to address areas of weakness. Peer support and observation, can be a cost effective and way to share good practice. It does need to be backed up with other forms of monitoring, but be nice. No one likes to feel under undue pressure. Even the most executive of heads were once starry eyed NQTs. Sometimes we need to remember back to the days when we were first taking our first teetering steps into qualified teaching.
As leaders we also need to learn to trust those around us. The fear of failure and outside scrutiny instils in us a need to make everything the very best it can be. Of course this is exactly as it should be but no one person can make this happen on their own. No person is an island. We can only ever be as strong as those who surround us. The schools I have been in where the leadership team works as a cohesive whole are the ones that have been strongest. Recognising the skills of each team member and making the most of these can take the pressure from the Head and allow them to focus on the truly mammoth task of leading a school and the issues that come with it.
We need to empower staff to feel that they have a say in school improvement. Members of staff on the upper pay ranges need to be encouraged to have a more whole school focus, because they are the most experienced staff, with knowledge to share. There is a danger if we take this encouragement away people will do it begrudgingly because they are paid more, or even worse, not at all. This can be exceptionally damaging when you have younger members of staff who are seemingly doing more for less.
A good leader ensures that EVERYONE is pulling in the right direction. If this happens then the leaders job becomes easier. They are no longer taking the entire strain, but merely setting the direction of travel.
This is evident in the recent success of Parklands Primary school, where the ethos of ‘everyone pulling in the same direction’ is clearly evident, leading to excellent outcomes for pupils.
The ugly truth is that school improvement is down to you. It doesn’t matter if you are a leader, a teacher, a ta or member of the non teaching staff. You all have a role to play.
So play nice, support each other and remember (as my granny always used to say)…
“you catch a lot more flies with honey than you do with vinegar!”