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Opinion21st May 2018

From plugging holes to plain sailing: five ways to develop your team

Zack Morgan

Zack Morgan is the Head of Science at Ark Charter Academy in Portsmouth. He’s a current participant in Ambition School Leadership‘s 2017 Teaching Leaders cohort. Teaching Leaders is Ambition School Leadership’s development programme for high-potential middle leaders looking to improve pupil outcomes and increase their impact as a leader.

During my first year as Head of Science, we constantly referred to ourselves as the ‘Science Department Ship’ – so apologies in advance for all of the sailing analogies that feature in this blog.

After attending my first Teaching Leaders residential, it hit me that, although our affectionately named ‘science ship’ was still afloat, I needed to do more to get wind behind the sails. How could I dedicate the next year to developing my team, given I had spent the previous year plugging holes? This is how I went about it:

Create a water-tight vision

A vision should come from the heart. It should represent the core values you have for stepping into any leadership role.

We want all of our students to have the ability to decide where they want to go and be who they want to be. Every department meeting, every professional development session, both departmentally and on a whole school level, is brought back to this ideal.

While the vision itself can appear quite generic, the true power is enabling your team to observe that this is not a goal that can be achieved by keeping the status quo but, instead, by challenging and changing is what is needed to get there.

Navigate your way through murky waters

Staff now have a clear goal – but what happens when they try something and it doesn’t go to plan?

With mock exams on the horizon, I could sense anxiety around the work put in by the department on a new initiative called ’10 mark gains’. This involved staff diligently using their data to gather information on their student’s development areas and using their own bespoke intervention packages to address these gaps.

Encourage constructive debate between shipmates

For me, there is nothing worse than delivering a training session and asking for views on an idea and the staff simply embracing it without question.

This happened to me a few times and I felt like a captain shouting orders for staff to complete tasks. Staff now constructively challenge and critique each other on ways to improve, how they think this new idea will work with their classes, how this will look in the future and whether it will help us reach our vision.

Keep checking the map

No matter how informal I told staff conversations about data would be, I was conscious they would still see it as a dreaded performance management tool.

I knew that I needed staff to evaluate the impact of various strategies and get them to decide whether things needed to change. After a while, it felt like each conversation was less like a presentation or interview but more like two officers strategically planning ways to formulate an attack.

Keep your eyes on the horizon

In a school culture where year 11 tends to be the main focus – and at certain parts of the year the only focus – it is important to ensure that staff keep the bigger picture in mind.

Getting my team to see this and think about what to do next to transform the lives of our students was key – whether that is a school trip or a member of staff bringing in a small petting zoo (true story) to help deliver a lesson on adaptations – these all contribute to educating the whole child and help us to achieve our vision.

So those are my five tips for keeping your team in ship shape…I’ll stop now.

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This blog is part of Ambition:Feed’s developing others challenge. Find more tips and discussion on the Ambition:Feed homepage.

A version of this blogpost originally appeared on the Ambition School Leadership website.