The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Lisa Griffin

Get more from the core: developing middle leaders

Middle leaders provide the vital link between leadership and the classroom but how can they best be supported?
'The role of middle managers is crucial to the steady and sustained improvement of schools. The headteachers and senior managers provide the vision but middle managers effect the long-term changes, which will raise standards and improve the quality of education.' (Ofsted)
Put simply, middle leadership is about leading a high-performing team to improve the quality of teaching and learning and raise standards and achievement in your school. So how is it actually done and what makes an outstanding middle leader?

Download the 'Growing your own' toolkit to get expert advice and training on developing essential middle leadership skills

Schools need middle leaders to be expert subject leaders, demonstrate outstanding practice and help others to be able to achieve it too.
To really drive improvement across the whole school, middle leaders need to collaborate with leaders in other subject areas to ensure consistency between departments.

Leading teaching and learning

The best middle leaders develop and improve teaching in their subject area through:
  • having a clear vision and team buy-in 
  • communication and feedback
  • lesson observations
  • data analysis to identify pupil underperformance
  • holding staff to account 
  • mentoring and developing staff. 
To sustain high-quality teaching within a team, middle leaders need to identify strategies to help close gaps in attainment. Middle leaders have a big role to play in closing the achievement gap, not only across schools but firstly in their own school. 
The quality of teaching and learning is vital: variation in teaching and pupil performance may exist not only within a department but also between departments in a school. Working with middle leaders in other departments in the school, challenging each other and sharing best practice and successful teaching strategies, helps ensure standards of teaching are consistently high across the school.
Middle leaders implement whole-school strategy at a department level on a daily basis. They’re closer to teacher practice than the SLT and provide the crucial link between the classroom and leadership.

Managing processes

As a middle leader you are both a leader and a manager. You need to be able to identify leadership strategies to influence and improve the quality of teaching, while also implementing whole-school policies with your team as their manager. 
At a management level, it’s your job to ensure the effective running of systems such as data and financial management, and procedures such as teacher performance and capability.

A balancing act

A good leader needs to be able to apply their own and others’ management skills to achieve their vision. The journey set out by a leader needs a manager who can help break it down into day-to-day tasks which they oversee. Middle leaders break down the vision of the school into a vision for their department and guide their staff to ensure they are constantly working towards it.
To be a successful middle leader you need to be able to manage the responsibilities of both teaching and leading. A middle leader will excel at demonstrating excellent teaching in their subject area, but they may have never lead or managed a team. This is the area which needs developing.
Identifying, nurturing and developing potential leadership is an important part of staff retention. Strong investment in middle leadership would encourage teachers to see it as a clear step in career progression and once which they would want to take. 
The role middle leaders play in reducing within-school variation is a process which happens over time. By making this an attractive prospect for staff, offering support and opportunities for development, you are providing them with a strong reason to stay, progress in their career and become outstanding leaders.

Developing middle leadership

How can middle leaders juggle these ever-growing responsibilities and cope with the various pressures to ensure outstanding leadership? If you’re looking to upskill your middle leaders, our new conference, From Teacher to Leader: Middle Leadership Essentials, will help you to:

  • learn how to develop a collaborative team vision, share ownership of your goals and empower your colleagues,
  • maintain a healthy work-life balance with effective prioritisation and delegation to reduce workloads and increase productivity,
  • successfully demonstrate impact to your senior leadership team and explore methods to measure the effectiveness of changes.

This is a great chance to network, air your concerns and share best practice with your peers. The conference will take place in London on Tuesday 22nd November 2016. 

Register your place here

What next?

Similar Posts

John Dabell

Is your school safe and happy?

Schools need to be a safe space for staff and students to thrive. John Dabell discusses the positive outcomes of good collaboration, safety and trust . Leaders must safeguard their school population, but discussions are typically geared towards students and their wellbeing. But what about the...
Sara Alston

Don't use your TA friendships for the wrong things

Do you depend on personal friendships with TAs to get things done? Sara Alston discusses how to utilise working relationships with TAs effectively. In any school, there are close friendships between some teachers and the teaching assistants (TAs) they work with. The realities of school mean that...
John Dabell

Swiss cheese leadership

What does it mean to think like Swiss cheese? John Dabell discusses how the Swiss cheese model can be used within schools to help eliminate error and risk. Leaders must be brutally honest with themselves and acknowledge what they know, what they don't know and what they partly know. This involves...