Leading a Winning Team

There are many really difficult jobs in a secondary school – but leading a subject area, especially a large subject area, has to be one of the most difficult.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some inspiring Curriculum Leaders in recent years – who do an amazing job.  They grow and nurture a great team, who then achieve fantastic outcomes for the students they teach.  I thought I would try to make a list of some of the qualities that these fantastic leaders that I have worked with demonstrate….it’s quite long and in no particular order!

  • Role models – they are always, first and foremost, great teachers.
  • Articulate greatness – they understand what makes great teaching within the context of their subject, and can articulate this clearly with their team.
  • Set the standard – they clearly identify the standards they expect to see on a day to day basis – and live and breathe these themselves.  This creates a shared clarity of purpose.
  • Moral purpose – they have an unswerving commitment to getting the best deal possible for the students who pass through their subject.  They understand that a good education can transform life chances.
  • Expect excellence – they strongly believe that all students can get better and be successful.
  • Pride in their fiefdom – they patrol their subject area and make it clear to the students that they are in charge – and that the students will meet their expectations!
  • Parental contact – they won’t hesitate to call home – and will support their team with doing the same.
  • Know how you are doing – they use data sensibly to make it their business to know how all of the classes in their subject are doing.  Where are the successes and where are the areas of concern?
  • Precise – through a forensic analysis of performance, they know exactly what needs to be done to improve e.g. analysis of past papers to identify weak curriculum topics.  They then plan meticulously how the team can address this.
  • Candour – they will also have honest and frank discussions with people who are not meeting the standard, but then support them to get better.  They understand the importance of both monitoring and support.
  • Love the ones you’re with – they have a strong belief that with the right support, if people are willing, they can get better.
  • Pride in that badge – they ensure that members of the team feel proud to be in the team.  Success breeds success.
  • Getting better never stops – they exemplify the growth mindset, by always discussing how and challenging the team to get that little bit better – and supporting them to do so. Alongside this, they are always responsive to feedback about how they could improve.
  • Understand change – they know how their team is performing and when they might be plateauing or when something is not working – and how at this point, change might be required in order to get that next bit of improvement – but they don’t just change things for the sake of it.
  • Keep the main thing, the main thing – they understand that the key to a successful team, is developing great teaching.  So they talk about great teaching a lot!
  • Subject Knowledge – they encourage people to be passionate about their subject and to keep developing their own knowledge of the subject.
  • Evidence informed – they wary of gimmicky approaches and base what they do, and what they ask their teachers to do, on wisdom and research evidence.
  • Bottom up – they encourage a ‘bottom up’ approach to CPD, where people identify their own improvement areas, discuss it openly and are then proactive about working on it.  Members of the team are excited about their teaching!
  • The more senior you get, the more people you serve – an old Sea Captain once said this!  They care for their team and look after them.  They make sure they are able to use their time wisely and question if their team are being asked to do things that don’t fit the core purpose of the team.
  • Steer the ship with confidence – they make decisions with confidence and conviction – as a result, the team has confidence in them.
  • Hands up – they have the confidence to admit when they get something wrong – and learn from it.
  • Sense the mood – they know their team and know when to push them and when to ease off a bit, when things are getting tough.
  • Ruthless simplicity – they know what to focus on in order to make a difference and are willing to ditch the things that aren’t making a difference.
  • Atmosphere of trust and support – they nurture their team and encourage them to try things out, offering support and guidance on the way.
  • Ownership – they will always discuss issues openly and honestly.  So there is always a sense of ownership of the way forward.
  • Celebrate strengths – they will find out what people are good at, and find ways to share this with the team – making opportunities for members of the team to lead the CPD of their peers.
  • Collective responsibility – they make their team feel that everyone is working together and that they will be supported e.g. at the end of the day they will initiate a discussion about any problem students anyone has had, and how they can support them, with supporting those students.
  • Hard yards – they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty e.g. they will come with you at the end of the day to pick up that tricky customer and make sure they come to detention!
  • Clarity of role and responsibility – they ensure that everyone is working towards the same objective i.e. to be world class in that subject, and that everyone knows their role in it – including other leaders within the team.
  • Think ahead – they think ahead and plan ahead – and help the team to do the same, and so make them feel secure.  This involves looking ahead to where the crunch times are and supporting the team through this.
  • Celebrate the mini-victories – they ensure that the successes, even the small ones, are not overlooked – they are celebrated.
  • Everything beats the deadline – they ensure that the team understands that missing a deadline adds pressure to somebody else in the organisation.  So this is a non-negotiable.
  • Outward looking – they act as a filter to the outside, keeping the team briefed on relevant new national developments and best practice elsewhere – that could be incorporated into what then team already does.
  • Talent spotting – they make sure that they find opportunities to recruit the best people to the team e.g. engage with ITT and support/ develop potential future leaders.
  • Caring – they encourage a caring and compassionate culture – when people in the team are struggling (and we all do from time to time) they look after them.
  • Thank you – they use this phrase a great deal.
  • Happiness – they understand that a happy team, is more likely to work hard and be successful.

It’s a long list!  That’s why it’s such a tough job and why the people who do it well should be applauded – they are the heroes of our schools!

If I’ve missed anything, please leave a comment below….

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10 Responses to Leading a Winning Team

  1. Marooney, Sue says:

    Great piece s S

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Jane Hedger says:

    The Curriculum I work with certainly has all of those qualities!

  3. Dave Bowman says:

    Super list of qualities. i would add
    Know when to say No – to team members yes but in particular to requests from above/outside.. Act as a filter/buffer allowing through only that which impacts the MainThing

  4. Garry Bannister says:

    What a wonderfully high standard to aim for and live up to… I bow my head with a deep sense of having fallen far short of such excellence.

  5. jillberry102 says:

    This is an excellent post, Shaun – and it relates to leadership at all levels, I think. I would say Middle Leadership, Senior Leadership and Headship don’t differ substantially in terms of the skills/qualities they require – leadership is always about seeing the best in and getting the best from those you lead – it’s just the scale that changes. What makes you a good leader of a clearly defined domain, such as a department or a section of the school, will make you a good leader with whole-school responsibility, and a good head one day. And with each move you actually have the capacity to make a difference to the lives and students on an even broader scale, which is a challenge, and a privilege!

    Thanks for writing this. Would love to use it in my leadership training work if you’re happy for me to cite you.

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