For the last couple of years I’ve been working with quite a few people who are new to role – whether that be new to the profession, new to middle leadership or new to senior leadership – and I’ve noticed there are a number of things which no one ever tells us when we step into these roles and it makes our jobs so much easier when you work it out. I’ve read leadership books and I’ve had coaching over the years but I firmly believe I became much more effective as a teacher and a leader when these things clicked – and that was before I read them in a book 🙂
…line management isn’t a one size fits all
I was trying to count how many people I’ve line managed over the years – there’s at least 14 Heads of Department over the last 10 years in the mix! In the same way I have already talked about how levels of autonomy and approaches to managing up and down vary between people (and schools), so can the structure of line management. I have worked in and with schools where all line management meetings had the same agenda. I have worked in and with schools where line management meetings had no notes or agenda. I have worked with individuals who write down everything you say and will come back to you a year later with the precise date and comment to make a point. I have worked with individuals who never write anything down. What I’ve come to realise is line management isn’t a one size fits all – I can’t line manage each of the Heads of Department I currently work with, or have worked with in the past, in the same way and get the outcomes we need. I also can’t treat every meeting with the same person in the same way.
Effective line management meetings are about the people in them and being an effective line manager means recognizing how you need to work to get the best out of the working relationship. Now this isn’t to say there is no consistency at all – but what that looks like in practice doesn’t have to be carbon copies in every meeting. For example, I have 3 standard agenda items for every line management meeting I have – Year 11, staffing and student issues, teaching and learning – and then it’s whatever is needed that week/fortnight. This means there is consistency across all the departments I’ve worked with but what that looks like if you were to observe the meetings is, however, very different.
I’ve had one person who likes to talk things through and gets put off when someone is taking notes – so we talked and discussed and one of us summarised the key points and actions at the end of the meeting. I’ve had one person who likes to write everything down – so we paused and they wrote it all down and then sent it to me (there is no point in doubling workload with note taking and this way I also checked that they’ve not missed anything we discussed because they were busy writing. I’ve one person who I had a fixed agenda with (sent a couple of days beforehand with other items also listed) and we stuck to it rigidly with timings because that’s how they worked best.
What was important in all of these meetings was that we were on the same page and understood our priorities and each other and the result was an improvement in teaching and learning and outcomes. If I’d used the wrong approach with the wrong person the meeting and working relationship would not be anywhere near as effective. The whole school priorities were always the focus and everyone knew exactly where we were at and where we were going. I wish I’d had more confidence earlier on to recognize how consistency in line management doesn’t mean a one size fits all approach.