Holding others to account is one of the hardest elements of middle leadership as leaders are frequently on the front line with team members.
This blog is about holding to account, one of our middle leadership competencies. Get a quick insight into our competency framework with our Leadership Diagnostic.
At our schools, it is vital that middle leaders consistently demand high performance from others, holding them to account when standards fall below what is acceptable.
This can be one of the hardest elements of leadership for a middle leader to master as they often have very close bonds with their team members and are frequently ‘on the front line’ with them.
In order for middle leaders to successfully hold others to account, they must have both a clear understanding of how to monitor performance and be well-versed in how to plan and execute a ‘challenging conversation’.
As Vice Principal at Oasis Academy South Bank, I set up a system to both empower Heads of Faculty with monitoring of their teams and give a cross-section of teacher performance.
In the first week of each half term, Heads of Faculty feed into a centralised spreadsheet a fine grade for each teacher in their team under the following categories:
1) Student progress
2) Book monitoring
3) Formal lesson observation
5) Overall grade
This gives an overall typicality grade, a triangulation of multiple aspects of teacher performance, which is then shared with their line manager and Senior Leadership Team (SLT). Heads of Faculty subsequently work in conjunction with their line managers to provide support for individual teachers where necessary.
Heads of Faculty have commented that this has really helped them to analyse performance in their teams and given them a strong feeling of ownership over the monitoring process. They can also make judgements which are then supported by the SLT. However, in order for this to be successful, clear parameters for each grade (and fine grade) must be defined.
There are some potential threats: for some categories (for example pupil progress), it is possible for a teacher to have two classes where 90% of pupils are hitting their targets but one class where pupils are significantly below their target. It is a best fit process, but should you make teachers aware of this monitoring? If so, how do you make them aware?
This system has enabled middle leaders to have a very clear grasp over where the strengths and areas for development in their team lie. They have a clear sense of ownership over the monitoring process and feedback has been as follows: “It has given me the structure I needed to clearly monitor the quality of teaching in my area.”
Another middle leader commented that, “the system has given me real ownership over the interventions that are put in place to help support teachers in my team and there is a feeling that we are all working together to improve teacher performance and directly impact student performance.”
In a similar vein, it has given senior leaders the power to talk cohesively about the school’s strengths and areas for development in teaching and learning. This has been evident both in leadership team meetings and when external visitors have come in either to share best practice or to monitor our progress as we expand each year.
"In order for middle leaders to successfully hold others to account, they must have both a clear understanding of how to monitor performance and be well versed in how to plan and execute a challenging conversation."
Holding to account
The second stage of this process is to hold teachers to account for their performance.
We have given training to our middle leaders in holding to account and having ‘challenging conversations’. The training consists of a series of workshops building up in the following stages:
1) Focusing on the rationale. What resolution do you want to come from the conversation?
2) Identifying and prioritising the most important areas. What is the key issue?
3) Linking to accountability, moral purpose and de-personalising
4) Planning the conversation in advance using the Susan Scott model (focusing on the first 60 seconds)
5) Practice, practice, practice
For the final section, we have created a number of scenarios that reflect everyday middle leadership conversations.
In small groups, middle leaders and those with line management responsibility planned the first 60 seconds and practised having the actual conversation. It is this practice that has proven invaluable in improving the skill-set of our team.
Middle leaders commented that the training “helped us to really evaluate what was most important and how to get to the root of the problem.” Another commented: “Those first moments when you approach the person are just so awkward and this really helped me to de-personalise the situation”.
In terms of impact, the head of a core faculty stated, “This has helped me to have a far greater impact when holding teachers in my team to account. The progress of students in certain classes has risen significantly, as I am no longer avoiding what needed to be said!”
For someone looking to develop themselves in this competency, I would highly recommend practising multiple times in a ‘safe’ environment with peers.
Generating scenarios (the more outlandish the better) which can then be planned for makes a huge difference, not only to increase confidence but also in terms of end result.
If the first 60 seconds of any challenging conversation can be controlled and powerfully implemented, the chances of successfully holding that person to account are extremely high.
This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.