Teaching, managing and radical thinking

Like many of us engaged in edutwitter I’ve been on the end of the odd rasping comment from Andrew Old.  However, that doesn’t mean he’s always wrong.  Indeed, I might even go so far as to say that I sometimes agree with him and that, therefore, he is sometimes right.

Most recently, I found myself agreeing with much of what Andrew wrote in this blog about what he terms “managerialism.”  I hope I summarise it correctly if I say that in his view there are too many managers doing too much management, which itself is too often seen as the only career path for teachers – none of which furthers the cause of education.  

I was particularly taken by this phrase: “Good management is management that enables teachers to do their job. It is about creating a culture in which the most important work, the teaching, can be done.”

That’s dead on.  And it made me want to try to take things one step further, and outline what might happen if we thought more about what makes a manager.

Being good at something does not make you a good manager of that thing. We’ve probably all seen or experienced that, if not in teaching then elsewhere: football’s a clear example where good players can make terrible managers.

This isn’t really surprising when you think about the different things the roles require.  Here’s a table, related to schools rather than football.

A good teacher may well: A good HoD may well:
  • Teach outstanding lessons
  • Model good practice for colleagues
  • Think about developing his/her own practice: be the departmental pedagogical powerhouse
  • Provide leadership and oversight of the department
  • Assist with colleagues’ professional development
  • Deal with departmental administration

 The lists could go on.  The point though is that most of the items in the teacher list do not make good preparation for the items in the second.  A teacher who is brilliant at conveying theoretical physics to Y12 will not necessarily be  good at keeping colleagues up to date with the latest changes to the exam spec.  Similarly, the reflective practitioner who always seeks to hone her own lessons will not always be the one who can take the holistic, strategic view required of more senior colleagues.

So far, so unsurprising.  It’s odd, then, that the most usual path to HoD-ship is being recognised as a good teacher.  Odd because the skills aren’t the same, and also because by becoming a HoD there is less time for actually teaching.  And should that HoD be further promoted, say to the dizzy heights of SLT, time in the classroom drops even more and the skills required for success become even further removed from those which first caused the teacher to stand out.  

We all know all of this.  So why is it still the case?  I think because changing it requires a culture shift (hard) on several fronts (even harder):

  • Schools need to find ways to persuade the best teachers (once they have found a reliable way to identify them, which is another matter altogether) to stay in the classroom.  
  • These expert teachers need to feel that they are as important to the success of the school as their more “senior” colleagues (the word “senior” starts to be difficult here as well).  This might mean SLT-level roles.
  • All teachers will eed to accept that other colleagues, who may not be as good with Y9 on a Friday afternoon, are nonetheless exactly right for the job of, for example, writing the strategic development plan – and that for now they will end up higher on the greasy pole.

That last one refers to an even broader point.  As Andrew says, the most important work in a school is the teaching.  Yet the most senior, and probably best remunerated, members of staff don’t do much of it and probably don’t even need to be all that good at it.  

I’m sure there’s a radical solution to that.  I’m just not sure I’ve thought it through enough to put pen to paper.  Someone braver than me might want to dive in though.  Someone not frightened to deploy the heavy artillery.  Someone who doesn’t mind rubbing people up the wrong way. Any ideas who that might be?


One thought on “Teaching, managing and radical thinking

  1. The estimable @kevbartle took the time to send me several tweets on this post, so I’ve collated them below. Please note that they are totally unedited (apart from running one or two together) and genuinely were tweets, so go easy on the prose style.

    • Radical solution is no teachers as managers, but limits aspirations of those who want to. Most football managers, whilst not great players still played professionally at a higher level, so that negates your argument slightly.
    • Import managers from other domains is something the gvmnt has tried and perhaps will try again. Another radical idea perhaps.
    • Engaging more support staff in prof learning and open up pathways to them is our ‘radical’ solution tho not that radical at all. Helps widen the pool but keeps it amongst school based professionals, which is key.
    • Also not sure that teaching is the full life of a school (esp Academy). Also needs HR, legal, accounting, risk, resource awareness too. School has to survive as a business if it’s to thrive as a place of education. Not about making money but def not about losing it.


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