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Can leadership at all levels be developed whilst maintaining staff retention?

Written by: Ben Wilcox
Photo by Agnieszka Ziomek on Unsplash
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4 min read

School leadership teams must somehow balance developing teachers whilst accepting that this may equip and inspire them for promotion elsewhere, with potentially keeping teachers just ‘ticking over’ to have a greater chance of ensuring staff retention. As a middle and now senior leader, I have always felt that there is in fact no distinction between these two approaches. My article provides a case study suggesting that staff development in its fullest sense, given that it is surely a moral obligation for all in a school community, can also retain staff if they are in fact developed in this way.

Imagine a school where no teacher ever leaves. This is not the opening line of a particularly niche horror film, but instead the approach to professional development in some schools. Through the understandable fear of losing hero teachers, some schools limit the opportunities available and restrict access to them. Tighter budgets are an additional problem that can make planning for meaningful professional learning merely wishful thinking. This is all a significant challenge for schools, one that affects the morale of colleagues in an environment of narrow staff development and, in turn, the outcomes for our students. In this article, I will share the theoretical basis for my school’s approach to professional development, along with how it has been implemented to enrich the practice of our whole staff team.

I was fortunate enough to encounter Liz Wiseman’s work on ‘multipliers’ shortly after becoming a middle leader, and it has been transformational in my practice ever since. Wiseman’s ideas give a theoretical backing to a potentially braver style of leadership, where everyone is supported and coached by a ‘multiplier’ to become leaders at all levels. A teacher’s effectiveness therefore is multiplied through a developmental style of management. Such a leader, whether a class teacher or middle/senior leader, would believe in the potential of all and consciously seek to harness this through deliberate actions. ‘Multipliers… make everyone smarter and more capable’ by truly focusing on developing the full potential of those around them (Wiseman, 2017, p. 10). For middle and senior leaders, this would lead to an increase in the discretionary effort that people are willing to give (from a highly utilitarian point of view), and those that are being led in such a way ‘search for more valuable ways to contribute’ (Wiseman, 2017, p. 11). The impact therefore of embracing this philosophy in schools is tremendous, not just for leaders but for all colleagues.

Wiseman’s advice can be practically embraced by school leaders who are bold enough to accept that some colleagues seeking promotion elsewhere is inevitable, and that diminishing them and their potential through mediocre CPD is ironically more likely to motivate them to seek employment at another school anyway.

Embracing this philosophy in our school, together with the support of the Teacher Development Trust (TDT), we have tried to inspire all colleagues to excel, not just in their role but in ways as individual as their teaching style.

  • Implementation began by strategically providing professional challenge for everyone and giving ownership to all in a position of responsibility. For example, rather than a ‘Mocksted’ approach to quality assurance, our heads of subject self-assess their own curriculum area and look for examples to justify their strengths and areas to develop to their line manager.
  • Our Teaching and Learning Policy hopes to give all teachers a springboard to deliver truly exceptional practice around agreed pedagogical principles, as identified in Allison and Tharby’s work (2015). Although we do not grade individual lessons, qualitative evidence shows that this has improved teaching and learning overall in the three years since its introduction. Our staff team place great value on the trust that this approach shows, something regularly praised in external quality assurance. Crucially, this has also made a strong contribution to the fantastic achievements of our students each year.
  • CPD time is protected for heads of subject to lead their teams through areas of development that they have identified, supported by other key colleagues as needed. This ‘Faculty Development Time’ was introduced last year and it has been hugely popular at all levels of our school. Subject-specific knowledge and pedagogy are at the heart of these sessions, drawing upon the best practice identified for professional learning by the TDT. Every lesson benefits greatly from the shared wisdom harnessed through this approach, and workload is reduced in turn through collaborative planning. I would suggest that faculty or department meetings could be reformatted to draw upon this experience.
  • Systems such as these are supported by Learning Coaches – colleagues who were inspired to undertake additional training open to our whole staff team. Professional challenge and opportunities such as this are there for all colleagues at all stages of their career, not just those aspiring to leadership positions. Every teacher can seek coaching, and the personalised support that the model provides helps their teaching in a wide range of ways.
  • As a school, we reflect carefully on every opportunity to consider who else could benefit from it. For me personally, this meant helping to represent our school at senior partnership meetings with four other schools when I was still a head of faculty rather than a senior leader. I cannot express how crucial this experience was when I was promoted to a more senior position. Similarly, our head of maths, a wonderfully experienced teacher and highly successful middle leader helps to lead training for prospective middle leaders across this partnership. Such a mindset is not about wild delegation. When I wanted to introduce bespoke training for recently qualified teachers (RQTs), I worked carefully with one of our Professional Coaches to create a foundation for the year’s training programme before inviting them to take full ownership. In this instance, collaboration and trust led to a wonderful programme for our beginning teachers rather than simply delegating the task. Approaching leadership at all levels and CPD planning in this way means a more professionally enriching experience for all colleagues, whether they then choose to seek promotion or not.

Our school has had low staff turnover for several years now, and I hope that creating a vibrant working environment like this motivates colleagues to stay, thanks to the professional challenges and development that this approach brings. Our students in turn benefit greatly from teaching that is supported to be its very best, delivered by a well-established and highly effective team.

References

Wiseman L (2017) Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. New York: Harper Business.

Allison S and Tharby A (2015) Making Every Lesson Count. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing.

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