Secret Teacher: is it possible to balance leadership with time in the classroom?

Middle leadership is one of the toughest jobs in a school. But this week’s secret teacher – a school leader in Greater Manchester – thinks senior leaders are too quick to forget the challenge of balancing people management with teaching. This is from the Guardian…

Often, the best teachers move into leadership positions because they get the job done, they have a good rapport with students and have produced good results; not necessarily because they have well-honed leadership and management skills. These skills, like good teaching, develop over time and come from reflecting on those moments that don’t go the way we planned.

Middle leadership is probably the most important position within a school. It can be the element of leadership that tips schools towards a rating of good. Often, I believe, if leadership and management ‘requires improvement’ it is more likely to be middle rather than senior leadership.

Even though it is the most important layer of leadership within a school, at times, middle leadership is the absolute worst place to be. While usually handsomely paid, there are so many facets to the job, it can sometimes feel like it’s an impossible one. Middle leaders have to be everything to everyone: critical friend, supportive colleague, subject expert and psychologist to name but a few. This is what makes the role so important.

I have long come to believe that middle leaders should teach less, but many schools view middle leaders as teachers first and leaders second and as such, give them a heavy timetable. The trouble is that teaching is a full-time job. And leadership is a full-time job. It is difficult to do both effectively. Middle leaders find themselves branded as whingers when we dare to mention work-life balance, or as difficult when asking for an extension to a three day deadline to proofread reports written by other professionals.

Middle leaders have to motivate colleagues when they feel down, step in when things go awry, and lead by example. They have to be innovative in the classroom, on top of developments nationally as well as being ‘on message’ with the vision of the senior leadership team.

As someone who sees both sides of the story (I am also an assistant head), I see the professional tension that gnaws away at middle leaders everyday. The question of where do your priorities lie? With the school’s leadership team or with the team you lead? The real answer is to the students within your care, but you also have a duty of care to the students that aren’t in your classroom but are affected by your team. It’s a difficult job and one that should be commended. The balancing act throws up a moral dilemma that requires energy and the ability to prioritise the immediate from the long term.

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