Building bridges

This is based on a presentation I gave at #SLTcamp in 2014 – a brilliant weekend event organised by Helena Marsh, Amy Harvey and Dawn Cox (@HelenaMarsh81, @ms_jamdangory and @MissDCox).

I hope this might be of use to Middle and Senior Leaders and heads who lead diverse teams of staff, some of whom might be easier to get the best from than others. As Tom Sherrington (@teacherhead) says in this excellent blog, good schools need challengers as well as champions, and we need to be careful not just to dismiss those we find negative or unreceptive. We may simply need to work harder to try to win hearts and minds.

  1. The first step, I think, to getting the best from all staff is to make sure you know individual members of your teams really well – what makes them tick, what motivates or demotivates them.  A head I knew once said, ‘Everyone has a handle.’  Some people’s handles are well-hidden, but if you work hard to get through to them, and make a connection, you have a far better chance of building a positive and constructive relationship.

This includes knowing what people are good at, ensuring they know that you know it, value it, and make the most of it – not only for their self-esteem but for the good of the team as a whole.

  1. In my experience, fear of failure often underpins negativity, cynicism – even at times a show of arrogant over-confidence.   Sometimes staff who are resistant and unresponsive may actually lack confidence in their ability to do what they believe you are demanding of them.

Everyone needs the right balance of support and challenge.  If you have leadership responsibility, holding others to account should be a key part of this – don’t just try to protect/cushion them from external pressures.  But you can challenge/hold to account in a supportive way.  Be aware that different individuals will need a different balance of support and challenge, and, at times, depending on what else may be going on in their lives, this balance may need to be readjusted.

  1. Often what causes the greatest stress is i) feeling that your workload is unmanageable, and ii) feeling out of control of this, and other elements of your professional life.  If it’s possible to give staff some choices (for example in professional development, as many schools already are doing) this can help.

Certainly SLT need to keep an eye on workload and streamline where possible.

  1. Communication and relationships are key, so do all you can to make these effective and positive. This includes managing challenging conversations whenever you need to (don’t put off eating the frog…) and working to achieve a win/win outcome.
  2. Remember no one comes into teaching to do it badly.  Most staff are committed to doing the best job they can.  Often focussing on what works for the pupils is the best way in.  Just as we wouldn’t give up on a pupil who was testing us, we shouldn’t give up on staff, either….

I know it’s tougher than it sounds.  I wish you luck.

Photo credit: John Berry

This post was first published on @staffrm in 2014

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