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Are Middle Leaders Helping or Hindering Workloads?

It has been great to see the increase in middle leadership roles (Heads of Curriculum, Literacy Coach, Pedagogy Coach etc), particularly in primary schools. For many years the leadership in primary schools has fallen on the shoulders of a sole leader or a very small team. However, I am concerned that in many schools the additional roles appear to be adding further burden to the workload of teachers rather than reducing it.

Whilst the focus of each middle leader’s role is inevitably ‘school improvement’, and they take on their role with passion and good intentions, the reality can be that classroom teachers have multiple people placing additional demands on their time. The Literacy Coach wants time with them in the classroom and a meeting after school to reflect and debrief. The Head Of Curriculum wants to meet with the Year level team to seek their ‘input’ and collaborate on the development of a unit and the Technology Coach “just wants 5 minutes” to talk about integrating technology into what they are doing.

Primary teachers are expected to be a ‘Jack of All Trades’ and have expertise across the curriculum. They are now also expected to be involved in a number of initiatives across their school.

Just as parents can at times be guilty of being solely focused on just their child and not consider that there are 24 other students in the class, middle leaders can be singularly focused on their leadership area and not consider the multiple additional demands placed on classroom teachers.

Time is a precious commodity in schools. It is vital that middle leaders who are released from responsibility for a class, utilize the time they have. They should be doing the ‘heavy lifting’ in developing units, finding resources and progressing school initiatives rather than relying on ‘working parties’ of teachers who have daily responsibility for a class.

Ultimately the key role of leaders is to create the best possible environment for the magic to happen in the classroom. Leaders need to manage all available resources including facilities, timetables, classroom resources, staffing and funds to optimise the learning of the students. Classroom teachers need the best facilities, resources, behaviour management support, curriculum clarity and professional development to help them be the best teacher they can be. Leadership guru Ken Blanchard describes this as “Servant Leadership”. The key remit of leaders is to optimise the environment for the ‘magic’ to happen – in the classroom, with the teacher.

In many schools, middle leaders are unintentionally adding additional workload to the classroom teacher rather than supporting them by lightening the load. I believe the perceived importance of ‘collaboration’ is adding to the problem. Often middle leaders feel they have to collaborate ‘with’ the teachers to ensure that the classroom teachers have ownership of the outcome. However, this creates additional demands on the time of the classroom teachers as well as additional workload. Great middle leaders utilize the time they have been provided with to do the ‘grunt’ work eg they develop a draft of the unit or the assessment task and success criteria and then ‘consult’ with the classroom teachers to refine the draft.

Great middle leaders add value and lighten the load on classroom teachers. They are very sensitive to the impact that their expectations have on classroom teachers and are acutely aware that it is IN THE CLASSROOM that the ‘magic’ happens.

However, many middle leaders are oblivious to the impact they have. The challenge is to have frank and honest conversations with classroom teachers, is the work of the middle leaders in our school helping or hindering them doing their best work?