Leadership handbooks

One of the strands of our strategic plan is about developing leaders and the vision we intend to realise in the next few years is as follows:

We have a well designed curriculum for children in order to support their conceptual development over key stages so it makes sense that if we need leaders to develop their understanding of important concepts, we do the same thing. The leadership handbooks capture those concepts.

Specifying the domain knowledge

In this excellent book, Matthew Evans describes the need to avoid genericism in school leadership and this work from Ambition Institute champions the idea that successful leadership involves having detailed conceptual understanding of persistent problems and their possible solutions.

Leadership handbooks aim to specify exactly which knowledge is required in order to lead on strategic priorities, make the vision a reality and ultimately achieve our aim. There is undoubtedly a lot of common ground between schools – persistent problems are universal – but each school has a different context. The content of our leadership handbooks is relevant to our school at this stage and other schools may need to set out more / less / different domain knowledge to support leaders’ development.

One area of domain knowledge that I believe to be vital across the spectrum of schools is understanding impact. Too often, actions and impact can be blurred which can easily result in inaccurate self evaluation. For example:

Q. What difference have we made with our curriculum development this year?

A. Well, I attended a course about it.

Here is the model that we use for supporting leaders to understand impact:

Reading right to left, the ultimate difference that we can make is improvements to children’s outcomes and that is entwined with the climate that we create (for both children and staff). If children do not feel safety and belonging and if they’re not happy at school, then the outcomes will not be optimal.

Leaders cannot directly affect outcomes for children though because children are taught by multiple colleagues. Therefore a significant difference that we can make is the establishment of systems and processes. Getting all adults to do certain things consistently and regularly is no mean feat and so the step before this is to influence individual adults’ behaviours. Of course, we cannot reliably affect someone’s behaviour without first developing their knowledge.

When we’re planning on what difference we want to make, we read this model from right to left. However, when we’re carrying out our leadership activities, we need to influence the school from left to right, hence the arrows leading us to the end goal of outcomes for children.

Crystal clear expectations of leaders’ behaviours

The way that leaders behave makes or breaks a school and their role in determining the culture and climate needs to be laid out clearly. It’s too important to leave to chance. For a high performing culture, colleagues need to feel safe. Good leaders also share vulnerability and make purpose explicit. One particularly exciting part of the handbook is naming the desired behaviours leaders should exhibit and exemplifying them:

If you have not yet read Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code, I highly recommend it.

Visual representations of key systems

An effective school runs on well designed and maintained systems. The challenge for leaders is to make those systems visible. An important use of the leadership handbooks is to do exactly that. For example, having a curriculum review process is vital for quality assuring the enacted and the learned curriculum in comparison to what was initially planned and so in the senior leader handbook, there’s a model for it. It also acts a prompt for remembering key domain knowledge for curriculum leadership – scope, sequencing, coherence and rigour:

Middle leaders’ role in quality assurance needs specifying too. It is important for them to get the balance of support and challenge right and in their handbook, the process is set out clearly:

Guidance for regular activities

There are certain predictable leadership activities that happen on an almost daily basis such as chairing meetings, presenting to staff or giving feedback on performance. The handbooks are intended to support leaders in doing these things really well by providing reminders about what is important.

Additional uses for the handbooks

More ways that these handbooks are intended to be used are as follows:

  • Use as slides for leadership training
  • A reference point for coaching conversations
  • Influence appraisal targets for leaders
  • Prompt wider reading

Download the handbooks

I’m making these freely available because they may be useful to support leadership development in schools and the more schools with great leadership, the more children benefit.

Download the senior leadership handbook here.

Download the middle leadership handbook here.

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