The Via Negativa of SLT: what they are not

HeadmasterI’ve read quite a few tweets and blogs that, I think, might make the heart sink of anyone who has ever been part of an SLT. There seems to be quite a lot written about things that SLTs are getting wrong, often written by people observing those roles from outside. In response I wanted to write a description of the work of members of a Senior Leadership Team by describing what they are not.Headmaster-Office-Door-si-007

Being a member of SLT is not:

  • About leaving your humanity behind. It’s all too easy to describe a decision as made by ‘management’ or ‘SLT’ because it dehumanises teachers into a thing, an object, that is making life difficult, rather than talking about people
  • Easier than being a teacher with a full timetable, it is different, a different job with different challenges. Each role is of value and essential to the smooth running of the school
  • A step away from the classroom, it should still be about everything that is going on in the classroom, the reason why we do what we do. Most SLT members will still have some teaching commitments & some have way too much teaching commitment (in my opinion)
  • Irrelevant to Teaching & Learning.  Better leadership means a better school, which can improve the standard of teaching and learning
  • For everyone. It is not a natural progression that everyone has to aspire to, but it is something that if you feel you have an interest in you should not hold back, but investigate right away
  • The ‘them’ of an ‘us and them’ scenario, it’s not about finding someone to take the blame for decisions that are often made elsewhere, but should be about colleagues working for the same goal
  • A provider of answers to everything, teaching is difficult and there are many times when it is best to work together to work out what the best solution is for your school
  • A heartless occupation, there is nothing harder and more heartbreaking than having to work with a colleague who is struggling for whatever reason
  • A punching bag, although the are times when it can be helpful to take that role, if you assume opposition from the outset it ends up being a waste of time and energy
  • Someone who should just let teachers get on with it, they are themselves still teachers and they are, in many cases, hanging on to their reasons for going into teaching in the first place
  • About making changes just for the sake of it. As professionals we all want to make progress so that sometimes, but not always involves change
  • Communicating one way. It might seem that many members of SLT are constantly issuing reminders, updates, emails, etc, but by far one of the biggest aspects of the job should be listening to everything that is going on
  • About living in your office and this is sometimes really hard to avoid. Listening to others often involves lots of meeting with colleagues & this inevitably ends up happening in offices, but it’s not about hiding thereheadmaster-2
  • About trying to thwart the professional development of their colleagues. They are not trying to waste precious budget on useless INSET days to irritate overworked teachers
  • Being beyond criticism yourself. Members of SLT should have extensive appraisals carried out, where all kinds of members of the school community can have their say
  • About being in it for yourself, in fact a personal vision of education & a shared vision for the school should be providing the motivations for decisions made
  • An emotionless experience. Sadly, being promoted to an SLT doesn’t automatically make you immune to feeling hurt when unfair comments are made, but you just have to deal with it
  • About being better than anyone else, as it is with the classroom, so it should be with the school and that is above all else people should be treated fairly
  • About being infallible. You do not automatically have Pope-like status and therefore can still make mistakes, but you need to have the humility and integrity to recognise your failings, we’re all human

Now this is not to say that there aren’t failing leadership teams of failing individual members of those teams and if you’re faced with injustice you have a decision to make. Either move on to a school more akin to your values or challenge the way things are.


15 thoughts on “The Via Negativa of SLT: what they are not

  1. An excellent list – I nodded all the way down and winced at a few. I became a deputy head this year and have had the toughest year of my career to date. Still love the job but it’s been very challenging at times and on occasions i have yearned for the security of the classroom. Am forwarding this on to SMT colleagues. Many thanks!

    • Thank you for this feedback David. Glad you survived your first DH year! I’m really pleased that it resonated with you and I hope your colleagues benefit it from it too.

  2. Very well put. It is interesting that the present twitter/blog load is anti SLT. We all want the best for the children we serve. It is a tough job for all in present climate and this us and them scenario just makes it even harder. If we all work together and support each other to constantly grow and improve there is success. The negative anti SLT opinion just smacks of lack of individual responsibility for doing well – teachers with the let’s blame other people for our failings rather than strive to be the best we can. Shared vision, all working together on our different jobs, complimenting each other’s roles and not battling with this “I’m going to get one up on the SLT” attitudes. Let’s keep why we got into the job in the first place as our focal point and put the children first.

    • Thanks so much for the comment and the reblogging. I definitely think the more we can do, to bridge the gap of understanding, the more likely we are to be innovative and creative with our shared vision

  3. Reblogged this on Journey to headship and commented:
    I love this! So true and relevant. And as I embark on the DH role this year, there comes to mind a few colleagues from past experience who I would love to have this list displayed upon the wall of the staffroom as a constant reminder! Thanks for a brilliant summary and for attempting to gain an understanding of the role of a leader in school.

  4. I love this! So true and relevant. And as I embark on the DH role this year, there comes to mind a few colleagues from past experience who I would love to have this list displayed upon the wall of the staffroom as a constant reminder! Thanks for a brilliant summary and for attempting to gain an understanding of the role of a leader in school

  5. I agree that this is very much how it should be, and I have certainly experienced SLT members who follow these ideals. However the majority I have come into contact with so far are nothing like. More interested in data than people (either teachers or students) and ultimately out of touch with what teaching is like, particularly for a new teacher.

    The most memorable time this year was a couple of months in and we were discussing behaviour in our NQT meeting. I discussed how I was having some serious issues with one student in particular and the SLT in charge’s only reply was “Oh him? He’s fine, easily squashed”.

    • I’m sorry you’ve had that experience. There are colleagues who have maybe lost their love for their work and that can be hard to grapple with. I know that not all SLT members inspire, but I think that your experiences should inspire you to keep to your ideals and, if you want to, become an inspiring leader yourself – even if it’s from bad examples! When I was a Deputy I can honestly say that one of the favourite aspects of my role was to work with NQTs, which is why I am a PGCE tutor now. It’s hard work starting out, but if you’ve got your values in place it’s a great start.

  6. Fabulous post, Bethany! Have just written a blog for GTN on ’10 tips for SLT’ – wish I’d seen this before I submitted it – I’d have recommended they read this too.

    In fact, I will, in the Comments section, when it’s published.

    Hope you’re having a good summer.

    • Having a great summer, trying to get ahead on reading, but it feels very slow! Thank you for your comment – I will be on the look out for your article!

      Hope you have fun in T&T!

  7. Pingback: Education Panorama (September ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | @TeacherToolkit

  8. Pingback: Education Panorama (September ’14) by @TeacherToolkit | | @TeacherToolkit

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