10 ways to ace being a leader in education

Jasmin Choudhury

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Here are a few tips to help you succeed in what can be a high pressurised and stressful role. Unfortunately, you are observed continuously as you have chosen to be in a position of power and influence. Yet with careful planning, you can make a successful start!

1. Be integrity led and make child centred decisions

Remember you are in charge of people’s lives. Not just the children but the entire staff. While teachers can be given delegated responsibility for the pupils in their classes, your job is to make sure that the staff are supported and their well-being is maintained.

Try to make child centred decisions at all times. At the end of the day, we are educators and our job is to make sure that the children and their families get the best deal. When hard decisions are taken at times it can be unpopular with staff.

"When they realise that your core purpose is to provide the best outcomes for the children, they soon settle and develop grudging respect for you."

2. Discretion and confidentiality is crucial!

As a senior leader, every action you take or conversations you have carries influence as you are in a position of power.

Always act like the consummate professional. Be discreet and share only where you think it is necessary on a need to know basis. You will be privy to many, many confidential discussions about children but also staff.

People need to know that they can trust you and most of all, your boss needs to be assured that he or she can talk to you in confidence.

It is essential that any such confidence is kept behind the closed doors of the office. Sometimes you maybe a sounding board for a member of staff.

Again, share what is necessary. At times, a listening ear given to a disgruntled member of staff might just be the panacea for a whole host of issues.

3. Identify champions within the school!

Identify who you can trust especially when you are finding things difficult. Seek them out at all levels and ensure they are integrity led too.

They are out there and it is only a few people that will fit the criteria and it takes time. You will need these people in moments of reflection and when you are doubting yourself. It happens – you are human.

They will also be your champions especially when you want to influence change. As a senior leader, you don’t tend to have your own classes so are reliant on developing staff by influencing their practice. They will also challenge you to think harder and deeper about decisions.

In addition, always give credit where it is due - staff value this. You are the backseat driver with strong control of the gears and people will realise you have empowered them for the better.


. Know your data inside out!

Even before you have officially started – ask for the year group data and also the outcomes data for the relevant key stages of the school. Do your analysis. Analyse patterns and trends carefully for learners of all abilities.

Look at data for gender, EAL , ethnic groups, SENd & LAC pupils, pupil premium, spring, summer and autumn born children. Check the rates of progesss and the historical data. Are they consistent and showing an upward trajectory?

What have you noticed and more importantly what are you going to do about it. Know the soft data too! Get to know those key groups and meet with relevant staff and their families. See what interventions have been put in for them. What is the impact?

Observe and listen carefully to what has been happening in the school and create a picture. Of course this will need to be adapted as time goes on – but it gives you a head start.

5. Do learning walks every day!

The learning walks are essential! It gives you a clear picture of what is going on every day and sends a very strong message to staff that you put teaching and learning at the very top of the agenda.

More importantly, you will get to meet staff and pupils and find out what is happening at grass roots. The chance to praise and also take notes to make improvements are rich for the picking. It is also a less threatening way of monitoring and teachers get used to your presence.

Do it both inside and outside of the classroom setting. In addition, it enables you to form a picture of what is happening on the ground. Sometimes as leaders we can get so tied up with admin and can forget what is important!

6. Don’t forget to be that model teacher!

Try to find time to teach at least once a week or certainly once every half term. At the heart of it all, we are teachers.

By modelling expectations and excellence, we can influence change for the better in the most powerful way. When you show you can teach that really difficult class or teach the good and better lesson, it sends ripples through the school community.

Children and staff will view you with new found respect and even your harshest critics will develop a more favourable view of you (albeit begrudgingly). It is also an excellent way of monitoring as it enables you to find out what really is going on. It also allows you to empathise with the teaching staff.

Teaching day in,day out, marking assessment papers (mostly at weekends and late into the night) and managing behaviour, especially if it is challenging is hard work and exhausting.

teacher in group of kids


"...reminding yourself of the challenges your staff face will make you a better leader."

7. Keep an open mind until you know the facts for yourself!

When you are a leader, you will have the advantage of talking to many stakeholders. Yes, people can play games and you will hear many things about what has gone on and comments about people. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” is a good mantra to follow.

Listen to the conversations – with a time limit! You are a busy person and there are jobs to get on with.

Listen with an open mind, do your research, reflect and come to your own conclusions. Remain solution focused all the time. Do not ever indulge in gossip and try to be honest and as clear and transparent as you can.

Stay calm in the face of adversity and as long as you have acted with integrity and remained focused and professional – you do win through eventually.

8. Have those difficult conversations!

Don’t be afraid to challenge when you think there is sloppy practice or inappropriate behaviour. It is the part we don’t like but it must be done.

Reflect deeply how you want to approach it and follow the lines of accountability.

Maintain a “developmental and not judgemental approach”. If a teacher is not developing as a good and effective practioner, talk to them. Your job is to serve the children who don’t know any better and to support the member of staff.

Have that difficult conversation. Identify ways and people to support them. Sometimes a conversation is enough but a follow up email and note of the meeting is also essential as it evidences the trail of support.

Sometimes though, after all the advice and help, decisions of whether to continue to support the person or to find other alternatives need to be made. On occasions, the decisions can seem harsh.

However, our role as educators and particularly as senior leaders is to ensure all children get excellence and enjoyment at every opportunity.

9. Develop the best team you can create and always be Ofsted ready!

Ensure that you create a culture of learning within the school community. Develop staff and share your own expertise.

Always be “Ofsted ready”! This doesn’t mean that you do things for the sake of pleasing Ofsted. (Discerning Ofsted inspectors don’t buy that). As leaders we need to always be prepared to bare all.

Create a “can do” culture where every member of staff has the opportunity to drive their own CPD. Enable them to devise their own projects of school improvement and support them in taking calculated risks. Don’t just give it to the person who shouts the loudest. As a senior leader, the school community becomes your classroom.

There will be the able teachers, those that need support and some who have become complacent. It is your role to really know them both as professionals and as people. Bring out the best in them as well as holding strong lines of accountability.

Try to recruit the best, but also create the best! Sometimes working with what you already have can create the best teams. If staff or people don’t appreciate your efforts, it doesn’t matter. It is always about the bigger picture!


"The best teams can falter under scrutiny if they are not well prepared. By being ready and evidencing the hard work and impact - your team will flourish."


10. Play hard, work hard and maintain your work life balance!

Understanding your limits is an essential tool of the leader. Create headspace for yourself where you can think about your actions and conversations.

You will be one of the most watched people in the school and wider community. Parents, staff, governors and children will rely on your advice and act on your decisions.

The school has become the urban centre of support. Try to maintain a calm and professional approach at all times and leave at a reasonable time. You have loved ones to go to and a private life to live! Well rested leaders who can laugh and work hard as well as be a “safe pair of hands” and continue to be compassionate and honest are priceless.

Remember, you set the tone of the work place and create the culture of work, rest and play. The role of the senior leader is hard and you need to be selfless! There is no mistake about it. Yet it is immensely rewarding and what’s more, you can improve the lives of the school community for the better.

"You are in a position to improve and change the lives of people and empower staff and pupils by creating opportunities for them."

When things get tough – and they can and do – take time to identify your key strengths and your Achilles’ heels. Work on them all the time and strive to be a better leader and person each and every day. You won’t always get it right.

At the end of the day, it is all about playing the long game and whether you can sleep with an easy conscience at night!



About our Community Expert


Jasmin Choudhury
Community Expert

Jasmin has extensive experience of working in a variety of settings which have included being recruited to work schools in special measures and concern as well as outstanding.

Jasmin has been qualified as a teacher for over 20 years and has been a Deputy Head, working mainly in some of the most deprived and challenging schools in the UK.

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