Aspiring To Senior Leadership: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

So many of those in middle leadership, will at some point aspire to be on Senior Leadership; it’s the natural progression and order of a school route. You see Senior Leadership in your own school, you hear about it in staff briefings and meetings and to a certain degree, already do some of the work and feed into whole school projects. But what’s the reality of being on ‘the team’? That, until we achieve it is something most are not able to find out, by which point, we may not know if it was the right route to take.

Me, fitting this category and wanting to progress, saw the JTMAT ‘Aspiring to Senior Leadership’ course on offer, instantly requested it hoping it would answer those questions of the reality of the job.

The Course

What was given in the outline lived up perfectly to what was offered. I wanted to know what the roles included and how to get there.

Day 1 – Introduction: explore various Assistant Head roles, job descriptions and letters of application (we know the hardest part is getting through to interview, so great place to start)

Two Day Secondment – opportunity to spend two days in a Senior Leadership Team where you partake in: Learning walks, SLT meetings, Line Management, Duties, Bespoke shadowing activities.

Day 2 – Final sessions reflecting on the secondment, Interview Tasks and feedback.

Day 1 was really useful as it offered the time to actually explore the variances of Assistant Head roles. What happens in your school, you find is just one version of the role and some are extremely varied. We know we want to be on the Leadership Team, but it did get us thinking about which area specifically. I know my strengths are in Teaching and Learning and through my role on the Extended Leadership Team as Head of Marketing and Publicity, I know my community focus also works for my advantage. But of course, this doesn’t fill a role on SLT. After reviewing several examples, I realised a general role where all the Assistant Heads share responsibility of all areas, wasn’t for me. I enjoy having my own area of responsibility and being able to build and develop my own ideas, implement them and promote impact, so I decided to explore a Teaching and Learning focused role. This led us into the Two Day Secondment where the timetable was built around my needs to offer me a bespoke experience.
Teacher Training
I attended John Taylor High School, and I can honestly say the experience was incredibly useful. What I craved was an honest experience of the reality of the job and the opportunity to ask SLT the questions you can never get answers to; how did you find the transition into SLT, how you manage the increased workload, how did it affect your relationship with other staff?

As with any job, there are perks and drawbacks. The good, the perks: JTHS had an amazing team of staff, who I could tell set the ambiance of the school and created a positive working atmosphere. Definitely a perk! Let’s be honest, people make the job. SLT all worked closely together and communication was key to every person’s role keeping everyone in the loop and ultimately making everyone’s job that little bit easier. The staff I met answered my questions honestly and gave a thorough overview of their position helping me to see the reality of a job, and not just what I imagine it to be on paper. I had the opportunity to explore all different roles, 6th form, pastoral, data, SEN and Teaching and Learning, which allowed me to see if my first thoughts about the area I wanted to explore was actually right. And of course I was given reflection time – as a teacher and middle leader we know information is only useful if we have the opportunity to do something with it.

The drawbacks. From my own experience, on reflection, as I was unsure of the direction I wanted to take, I wish I’d had another day there where I could shadow the SLT with the role I had chosen to actually see the entire day from their perspective. I wouldn’t change the course I experienced as it enabled me to decide that actually my first thoughts wasn’t actually what I wanted. Id decided that a route into 6th form (where I would take ownership of all areas – not what I expected) was more the route for me. But after realising this, to shadow the head of 6th form for the day would have been useful and I will be pursuing opportunities to shadow and collaborate with the Head of 6th form in my own school to enhance my further career opportunities.

Teacher Training
And now for the ugly. The course was based of offering reality and guidance. And that’s what we got. We did the duties, the busy schedule the late meetings. But this is ultimately a big part of the role and actually doing these allowed me see the rush of the role, the speed of sessions and juggling of priorities. Yes, this is probably the part that I wouldn’t enjoy as much, as if I’m doing all of those things, when would I actually do my job? But that is the job and ugly as it may be, I still enjoyed it. I know that I’d be willing to accept that part of the job as I would have the opportunity to do and achieve so much with the other areas.
It was during day 2 that we were able to discuss with others on the course our experiences and what it led us to now consider. Emma Thom, who delivered the course was always very open and gave her own experiences showing us that all go through this same process. One key question she asked was ‘Has it changed your mind about leadership?’ Good question. The reality of it could be the opposite of what was anticipated. Thankfully, all in the room answered a firm ‘no’, with myself included. The rest of day sped past as we approached interview based questions, scenarios and tasks, all of which would be expected in an Assistant Head interview. We first began (as we would with a class of our own) working individually applying our own knowledge and experience, then shared our answers to develop them further, finishing with answers from Emma, highlighting not only her model answer but also what she might expect to hear if she were on the interview panel. This was most useful as knowing the answers and presenting them can be two different things. We learnt how to answer concisely – you will be asked questions on the spot with little time to prepare, how to include what they’re looking for – using information directly form the school SIP, all focused on prior research and giving examples to support points and techniques on preparing responses to likely tasks – 20 minutes to read, plan and deliver is not a long time so visual presentations can work well to aid speed and content.

Overall my experience form attending this course has insightful, inspiring and informative. I feel I truly explored the reality of the role and also the steps to getting there. It gave me the confidence to know that this is the direction for me and that I can successfully achieve it. It also highlighted my own development needs, what I would need to fill the gaps. I now have an action plan which I’ve already began working on and implementing whole school. A marking review based on sub groups to identify and inform our marking for those requiring intervention, a course I’m due to attend regarding the implementation of T Levels to link to my goal of 6th Form and lastly writing educational blogs (this being my first) to share my experiences and become a wider part of leadership across the country.

What I would recommend – if you want a real experience and honest answers and are considering Senior Leadership, this course would benefit you.

Hayley Harper

Subject Leader Media Studies and ICT and Manager of Marketing and Publicity

Kingsmead School

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