Tips for a Middle Management role

Jill Berry

Following a 30 year career in education, during which she taught English and assumed different leadership roles across six schools, Jill finished as a full-time head in 2010. Since then, she has divided her time between studying for a Professional Doctorate in Education, working as an educational consultant and serving as an Associate within the International Division of the National College for Teaching and Leadership. She lives in the Midlands.

Follow @jillberry102

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Think about what brought you into teaching in the first place. The opportunity to continue to work with / learn more about your specialist subject, and to communicate their enthusiasm for this subject to others, may be high up on the list of reasons. For those in the primary sector, the chance to teach a range of subjects, and to spend time in the company of younger children, may feature strongly. We may want to build relationships, to make a difference to people’s lives – something which doesn’t really feature in a number of professions. We may see schools as places where we will continue to learn and to stretch ourselves; there will be variety and the opportunity for a wide range of experiences within and beyond the classroom.

"We have to be careful that the most positive role models don’t actually deter us: “I couldn’t do that job because I couldn’t be like him/her…"

Sometimes, the extra-curricular life of the school enables us to indulge our hobbies, and to develop new interests. Teaching is demanding, and there are pressures, but there are also rewards, and you may be exhausted, but it isn’t often you’re bored.

The life of a classroom teacher may suit you, and you may decide this is where you want to remain. But some, perhaps after a few years in this role, start to consider new challenges. As a classroom teacher, your sphere of influence is the pupils in your class, or classes. You may decide you want to go beyond that, and extend that influence, either to ALL the learners in your subject area, in all classes, as head of department or a primary subject co-ordinator, or to a wider group of pupils by assuming additional responsibility on the pastoral or extra-curricular side of school life.

As a Middle Leader you will still have a significant teaching commitment, and will move into the position of being both a teacher and a leader. Your responsibilities, and your reach, will extend into other classrooms and affect the work of other professionals. If you see this as appealing (though it can be daunting at the same time! The two aren’t mutually exclusive!) then you may want to prepare yourself to apply for Middle Leader positions in your own or another school.

Learning from others

Consider the following:

  1. Think of the best Middle Leader you have ever known. What particular strengths and skills made them successful, and what impact did they have on the team they led?

  2. Now think of a Middle Leader you have known who, you would say, didn’t get it right. What particular mistakes did they make? What did they fail to do, which they should have done? What did they do which, if you were a Middle Leader, you would avoid?

I would suggest that we learn from positive and negative role models throughout our lives (and this learning starts during our own school days and extends into our personal, as well as our professional, lives). We have to be careful that the most positive role models don’t actually deter us (“I couldn’t do that job because I couldn’t be like him/her…”). You have to be yourself and do any job in a way that’s true to you, but you will pick up a good deal from those who you admire. Sometimes a negative model inspires us even more (“I think I could do that, and I think in some ways I’d make a better job of it…”) When classroom teachers are frustrated by poor leaders, what schools need is for those teachers to go on and be better Middle and Senior Leaders themselves, not give up and leave. (If they do that, who will make a difference then?)

The opportunities and challenges of Middle Leadership

In terms of opportunities, your subject area and your teaching are still the main areas of focus. You aren’t sacrificing that for leadership responsibility. You will continue to do all you can to teach successfully and to give those in your classes the most positive experience you can. However, you will now also be working more closely with colleagues, supporting them to do the same. This will be a new, energising challenge. How can we work through other adults to reach more children?

You will have the opportunity to develop other professionals – to help them to build their confidence and their competence and, when you see evidence of their growth, that can be incredibly satisfying. If you encourage and inspire others in your team to go on to take on leadership responsibility themselves, that is very rewarding. And even though this may mean you lose good colleagues, you then have the opportunity to appoint others, to spot and nurture potential. This relates both to subject teachers and to pastoral staff.

If you have strong ideas about how your subject or your area should develop, being a Middle Leader gives you the capacity to work on that, and to move the teaching of your subject, or the progress of your pastoral area, in the direction you think is right. Through working with other Middle Leaders, for example in head of departments’ forums, you should also have a voice to make a contribution to the wider life of the school. You will represent your area – you are the specialist with the expertise the Senior Leaders need and rely on. However, you will also increasingly develop your awareness and appreciation of how your area fits into the school as a whole, and how you can work alongside others for the benefit of the learners across the school.

"Occasionally it may require you to manage difficult conversations; you shouldn’t shrink from these, although it’s unlikely that you will ever enjoy them."

There are challenges too, of course. You do not have complete autonomy and there may be times when this causes you frustration; what you think is right for your area, and what you want to do, is thwarted by others who don’t see things as you do. When this happens, you do need to be able to present your case positively, constructively, persuasively and professionally, and often behind closed doors. Try not to moan to your team about your frustrations. You have to know what you can influence and what you have to accept and rise above. Once you’ve presented your case, know when to move on – don’t waste your energies on battles you clearly can’t win. Never give up on doing all you can to make your particular domain effective, though. If you are an example of excellence (both your area, and your leadership) this does give you power and you are often able to lead bottom-up change from this position.

Inevitably, some of those you lead may be more receptive and responsive, and more capable, than others. You do need to support, but not just to protect. You need to challenge your team, too, and hold them to account – and this can be tougher. Occasionally it may require you to manage difficult conversations. You shouldn’t shrink from them, although it’s unlikely that you will ever enjoy them. It is possible to manage such a conversation so that a win/win outcome is achieved for both parties. This will take skill – but, again, can be extremely rewarding when you achieve success.

And you will work harder and longer hours than you did as a classroom teacher. Be prepared for that and ensure you can manage it and achieve a workable balance in your professional and personal life.

So is it for you?

Having read this, reflect on your response. Does this appeal? Even if not now, can you envisage a time when it might? If it does, how can you prepare?

  • There are professional development opportunities for aspiring Middle Leaders, so talk to your immediate manager about this. It may not be a case of going on an external course; it may involve working in your own school but extending your knowledge and experience to prepare you for Middle Leadership applications in the future.

  • Talk to your current Middle Leader about whether there are opportunities for you to lead an initiative within your area which will give your experience and enable you to contribute to the success of the team beyond your own teaching.

  • Can you develop your expertise in your own area either within school (by representing the area within another forum) or beyond it (for example, as an examiner) which will help you to develop your skills and your confidence and show your commitment?

Middle Leaders have impact; they make a great contribution to the experience of the pupils in the classroom and so influence the quality of teaching and learning directly. They also affect the morale of the staff in their teams; there is evidence that the greatest influence on staff’s willingness to expend ‘discretionary effort’ comes from the attitude of their immediate line manager – in a school context this will be the Middle Leader. This is a privilege and a responsibility. If you feel you’re up for the challenge, go for it – and good luck.

Are you in a middle-leadership position? Share your thoughts below.

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"