Good to see some research into attitudes and feelings of middle leaders in schools https://www.teachwire.net/news/3-things-weve-learnt-about-middle-leaders The work was conducted by TeacherTapp http://teachertapp.co.uk/ the excellent web site created by a formidable trio of education authorities with a range of different backgrounds. To discover more about them, visit the TeacherTapp web site and sign up.
Middle leaders were the first area I researched, way back in 1979, now forty years ago! I wrote an article asking whether they were dictators or democrats. Then, as now, they were very much in the middle, not really seen as leadership by some, but no longer just classroom teachers.
Of course their roles differ, from leading a large and complex science or design and technology department with heads of subject and often a head technician as part of the team to the middle leader in music where the leader might be the sole specialist supporting a team of part-time teachers and peripatetic instrument teachers.
Middle leadership is often, at least for many secondary school teachers, their first encounter with responsibility for other adults. Phase and Key Stage leaders in primary schools will often have had responsibility for classroom support staff from the start of their careers. Increasingly, secondary teachers may have encountered support staff for pupils with SEND, but may not have had any responsibility for them as staff.
Facing both ways at the same time is always a challenge. Telling the head that you need more resources for the department, while telling the staff in the department that they cannot have any more resources, requires both skill and tact and can be very wearing. There is still the teaching and marking to do, as well as the planning and administration of the department, phase or other responsibility and usually being a form tutor as well.
In 1979, the heads of department I surveyed leant towards the democratic end of a continuum, whereas more senior leaders, and especially deputy heads, were more inclined to take an authoritarian line on issues presented to them. It is, therefore, interesting to see in the TeacherTapp findings that middle leaders sought to avoid conformations, at least when asked how they would behave on holiday.
One thing that hasn’t changed since 1979 is the general lack of preparedness for middle leader roles. Teachers are expected to step up from the classroom to this new additional role with, in many cases, little or no preparation. I suspect that many middle leaders are keen supporters of their subject or other professional associations as a means of support and training. Teaching Schools also have a role to play in the career development of this vital group of school leaders.
My first head of department role came after just two terms in teaching when the existing head of department was appointed to a deputy headship on the 31st May. Not even secure in my teaching, it was a steep learning curve. Those of you that are middle leaders have my highest regard for the work you undertake in our schools.