The six realms of school leadership

This is an edited extract from How to Lead: The second edition of Leadership for Learning by Matt Bromley, published by Spark Books UK and available in paperback and ebook.

A good school leader is synonymous with being:
• a good listener; able to care about and respond to people’s needs
• consistent, fair and honest; transparent and above reproach
• sensitive, able to show warmth and to empathise with people’s concerns and worries
• able to give quality time to people, be available and approachable
• able to show assertiveness, determination and strength of response, yet be kind and calm and courageous
• able to communicate – through a variety of means and in an appropriate manner – with enthusiasm, passion and drive.

A good school leader should not and must not be consumed by what other people think. It is important that they are guided by their school’s shared vision, and by their own determination and commitment to make a genuine and positive difference to young people’s lives.

Moreover, a school’s stakeholders – staff and governors, parents and students – will respond to a school leader who:
• is dynamic and forward thinking
• is sensitive to the needs of all and recognises hard work
• provides the necessary support others need
• trusts his/her staff and empowers them to make decisions and act on their own initiative
• does not place undue administrative burdens on his/her staff (i.e. keeps ‘paper work’ to a minimum and only calls meetings that serve a purpose)

There are many ways in which we could define and perhaps even measure the effectiveness of a school leader but I think it is reasonable and indeed practical to meld the myriad activities in which leaders are required to engage into six categories. These six realms of school leadership are as follows:

1. Setting a vision for the future
2. Being a lead teacher
3. Working with and developing others
4. Leading the organisation
5. Managing the team
6. Developing external links

Each school and each school leader will have a different interpretation of what the six realms mean to him or her in practice but here is my summary:

1. Setting a vision for the future

Setting a vision for the future is a key responsibility of any school leader because they need to have a vision for their school and need to articulate this clearly and with enthusiasm to stakeholders. School leaders need to know what sort of organisation they want their school to be and this should guide their decision-making. School leaders should take account of their school’s local and national context, not only in terms of their vision but also in their everyday actions. They should think strategically and involve their stakeholders in their decisions. They need to show conviction of purpose: they must be driven by their vision and not be distracted by setbacks or conflicts.

2. Being the lead teacher

Schools are seats of learning and so leading the teaching and learning agenda is a key role for senior leaders. Being the lead teacher is about having high expectations of all your teachers and about demanding the best for every student in your school. This means leading by example by continuing to be an excellent classroom practitioner who is able to engage and enthuse students, and by being up-to-date with the latest pedagogical thinking. This also means evaluating teaching and learning effectively – through a variety of means including lesson observations, learning walks, student voice, work sampling and the scrutiny of assessment records – and working with others to improve the quality of teaching and learning and to challenge underachievement (by working with data and investing in intervention and support).

3. Working with and developing others

School leaders need to foster a collaborative culture and provide learning opportunities for all their staff. They need to value the importance of continuing professional development through performance management and INSET. They should have high expectations of everyone in their school. School leaders should, again, lead by example and take their own professional development seriously. They should be well-informed and up-to-date with the latest educational thinking and research, as well as government policy (both central and local).

4. Leading the organisation

School leaders should share responsibility through effective delegation. They should demonstrate good judgment, be decisive but thoughtful, and should manage school resources effectively. They should manage their school’s finances (although the day-to-day management of school finances should be delegated to a finance manager, this is one aspect of school leadership for which a headteacher/principal should retain responsibility; a headteacher/principal should fully understand the school finances and be accountable for fiscal decisions) in order to ensure their school achieves value for money. It is a school leader’s duty to use public money wisely. This is achieved by being prudent, by planning ahead (including detailed costs in the school improvement plan) and by prioritising spending according to greatest need and according to the impact that spending will have on learning.

School leaders should also manage the site ensuring it complies with health and safety regulations and safeguarding. School leaders need to ensure that resources match the curriculum. Finally, senior leaders should manage the school’s most important – and costly – resource: staff. This means ensuring that supply meets demand (in practice, this might involve restructuring) and that all staff have the tools and skills they need in order to do their jobs well (this means appropriate training but also evaluating whether staff have the requisite capability and, if not, taking appropriate action).

Leading the organisation is often a part of the job that school leaders find most challenging and difficult because they have trained as teachers not managers, but it is also the most important part of the job if a school is to move forwards and achieve sustainable improvements.

5. Managing the team

School leaders should take responsibility for their decisions and for the performance of their school. They should ensure clear accountability at all levels through effective line management structures and by drawing clear links between the school improvement plan and what is happening in school. They should analyse performance regularly and robustly, and give clear feedback and performance reports to stakeholders.

School leaders have legal accountability for what happens in their school as well as moral accountability. They should do what they think is right and should take advice from others – including their local authority and trade unions – wherever possible. But above all they should do what is right for their school and take decisions that will stand up to tough scrutiny over the long-term.

6. Developing external links

School leaders should develop and encourage effective partnerships with other schools, agencies and the community. Community cohesion is often misunderstood – or at least underestimated – as only referring to a school offering its site to the local community. Enabling community use is certainly important – be that by leasing your fields to the local football team or by running adult education classes in the evenings – but community cohesion is also about respecting diversity and protecting vulnerable students. It is about understanding the local community and taking account of where students come from. It is about working with parents. It is about bringing the world into schools to raise students’ awareness of the world. It is about respecting diversity and inclusion of all types, ensuring a personalised learning programme in which every child has the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential irrespective of socio-economic or ethnic background.

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