Leaders need to keep learning, and great headteachers will enable that learning to build capacity in school in order to secure the best outcomes for children.
A surplus model of improvement involves building on known strengths, while a deficit model involves honing in on areas of weakness and addressing them.
Whether headteachers aim to build the capacity of their SLT with a surplus or deficit model, these three strategies can help identify what to work on:
Don’t just delegate tasks
Great headteachers distribute leadership among their team. They can’t be directly involved in all aspects of school improvement work, so will instead rely on and trust others to lead various projects. Some headteachers, however, will only delegate tasks, perhaps perceiving this to be safer in that they retain control – but doing so can actually stunt professional growth and signal mistrust.
If we instead delegate leadership, by establishing a set of principles for the SLT to stick to and keeping a keen eye on what happens, we can gain a clearer picture of our SLT’s strengths and areas for improvement, since they’ll be exercising a wider range of leadership knowledge and behaviours.
This is incredibly useful information and can have a transformative impact on leadership learning for senior leaders, as it allows us to provide incisive feedback for improvement across the full breadth of leadership. We can delegate leadership whilst retaining strategic oversight by ensuring that we’re crystal clear on how a project contributes to the overall school improvement plan.
Clarify intended outcomes
If we’re unclear about what we expect the outcomes of leaders’ work to be, we can’t be surprised if those outcomes are then found to be lacking. By stating from the outset what a project’s expected outcomes are, how they fit into the broader school development plan and co-constructing the process of leading change, we can ensure that energies are directed appropriately.
If areas for improvement then arise from a leader’s work, we can rule out ‘not knowing’ as a cause and thus intervene with appropriate guidance. Headteachers can work with leaders on planning for change using the Education Endowment Foundation’s guide to implementation, which can help identify gaps in an SLT’s knowledge before the project commences.
Question and test
Just like great teachers in a classroom, headteachers can gauge what their leaders know and can do effectively by engineering low stakes testing of particular leadership behaviours. The first check should focus on leaders’ understanding of leading a change process. Have they understood the intended outcomes? Have they understood the model of leading change and the time frames involved?
Ensuring that projects are understood from the outset will establish a firm base and set leaders up for success. Want to see how a leader feeds back after some monitoring? Give them regular opportunities to show this.
Want to see how a leader responds to proving questions about the impact that they’ve had? Build quizzing time into your leadership meetings.
Want to see how well leaders know the quality of teaching in their area? Ask them to show you around the school and back up their judgements.
Nick Hart is a junior school headteacher and a provider of consultancy and staff training services for primary schools.