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Hints, Tips and Musings
The Interview: Part 1
February 22nd 2019
The good news is in; you have been invited to interview. Your campaign has moved to phase two of your preparation.
What to Wear?
Like most schools, it is likely that this school has a dress code which is likely to be based on the theme of “business like and fit for purpose”. This translates into something smart, professional, clean and comfortable. A suit and simple blouse, top or shirt is the best choice. A stylish piece of jewelry, scarf or tie helps to distinguish you from the crowd. Your look should convey that you are approachable, collected, calm, professional and that you are a leader.
• Gentlemen: Leave the cartoon tie and brightly coloured socks for Red Nose Day.
• Ladies: Make sure your neckline and (if you are wearing one) length of skirt or dress reflects the fact that you are working with children. If you are wearing tights, take a spare pair!
• Wear clean, comfortable shoes; this will be a full working day involving lots of walking and most likely some teaching.
• Make sure you will feel comfortable if you need to take off your jacket; it might be freezing outside but it can get hot in those interview rooms.
What to Take?
• You will be asked to bring certain things with you. These will include your qualification certificates, teacher reference number, DBS certificate or passport and a utility bill as proof of identity. You will be asked for these when you arrive at reception.
• Any equipment you will need if you are going to be teaching. A back-up of any digital presentation is useful to avoid any calamity with incompatible laptops, dodgy memory sticks or network mishaps. Take your own board marker, a few spare pens, pieces of paper etc for the inevitable pupil who has forgotten theirs. You may only have half an hour to teach so don’t want to spend time digging around in drawers looking for basics.
• An umbrella – there will probably be a tour of the school which requires you to dash from Block A to Block B across the yard at the precise moment the heavens decide to open.
What Can I do to Prepare?
So, you might not know the questions you will be asked but it’s not rocket science to work out the general themes and areas they will focus on. This is like preparing for an exam. You are applying to be a leader of learning; what do you think the panel will want to find out about you? Make a list and begin to bullet point answers. Include evidence of any impact your actions had. Consider how they may come at each topic from different angles and how you might use different prepared responses for different questions. Rehearse the core of your answers, learn key phrases; having key ideas in your head will ensure you don’t stumble on the day. You don’t have to remember it verbatim, but you won’t be left floundering either.
The Candidates’ Room
On arrival, you will probably be taken to “the candidates’ room”. This will be your base and you will be collected and returned to this place as you rotate round the various interview activities. As you arrive, this will be a quiet, polite space with simple nods and smiles and respectful questions to find out where you are from (school) and what your current position is. The aim of the game, however, is to find out what level of competition you offer; play your cards close to your chest. Some people will list their experience; ignore this, the panel will dig deeper and may find very little beneath the surface so don’t let this intimidate you. If there is an internal candidate it definitely does not mean that the job is theirs. The panel will be looking for the BEST person to fit the post and that might be you. Sometimes a candidate returns to the base looking like they have been grilled and complaining about the intensity of that section of the interview. Don’t panic; that may have been the area where the panel discovered their weak point and you will nail it. In short, play your own game, play it calmly and don’t get caught up in the candidates’ room drama. When you come back from a panel activity, just say it went fine and the questions were straightforward.
Be polite, friendly but circumspect. If you have time and have been encouraged to do so, go for a walk around the school, get some fresh air, observe and breath.
Formal versus Informal
In the introduction, you may be told that you will have an informal guide of the school by some of the students or a chance for an informal chat with the team over lunch; there is no such thing as “informal” at interview. This just means that there is no set structure to this section of the day. You are “on interview” from the moment you enter the carpark to the moment you leave. It is highly likely that the interview panel will seek feedback from all the people involved in any of the activities you undertake – students, teachers and teaching assistants, reception staff may all have a comment to make during the day. Be professional every second of the day. Smile as you go around the school and acknowledge people you pass by. A nod of thanks to the teacher whose lesson you saw on the tour goes a long way as does holding the door open for potential colleagues or students. Don’t allow nerves to overcome your natural behaviour; breath deep, stay calm and act like you belong there.
Read on in The Interview: Part 2 – how to nail the formal interview.
The Interview: Part 2
February 14, 2019
One to one personal coaching for Teachers.
March 15, 2019
What is the role of a Middle Leader?
January 15, 2019
Are you ready for a new challenge? Maybe you have been teaching for a while and feel you have a good handle on life in the classroom. Perhaps you sit in meetings listening to your Head of Department thinking you could do that job too. The natural response to this situation is to scour the job adverts for middle leadership posts and apply.
If you are looking to
• shape and drive an area which is your passion
• use your creativity, problem solving and thinking skills to knock down barriers and achieve goals
• grapple with a challenge and lead a team to success
then you will enjoy middle leadership. Before you send off those applications, however, gift yourself some time to consider your next steps carefully. Truly understanding the core purpose of this role will ensure that they lead to the right job for you.
Firstly, let’s clear up a few misconceptions.
• When I’m Head of Area, it will be easier because we can do it my way.
You and your team will not work in isolation; your team will be one of a range of teams which make up the whole school. Each team leader is responsible for delivering the whole school development plan and vision in their area. In other words, you will be accountable for turning the school vision into reality in your area of responsibility.
• When I’m Head of Area, I will protect my team.
When you become the Head of an area, you become part of the leadership team. Many people refer to middle leaders as having a foot in both camps; needing to work directly with the staff in their area and with their line management in the senior leadership team; you become the piggy-in-the-middle. This perception, however, will lead to confusion, mis-communication and frustration. The reality is, when you take on the role of a middle leader, you must be prepared to “cross the fence”. You will be a leader! When the Ofsted Framework refers to “Leadership and Management” they mean middle leaders too.
So, when you accept the position of middle leader you:
• have been employed to drive forward the whole school agenda within your area of responsibility
• have made the move from main scale to leadership.
The Core Purpose of School Leaders
Every leader in the school, whether they be senior, middle, pastoral, cross-curricular or a leader of a classroom has the same core purpose; leading learning within their specific area of responsibility.
The core purpose of a middle leader, therefore, is to ensure that all students, irrespective of their starting points, enjoy and are successful in learning within their subject area.
Whilst this statement is easy to aspire to, the reality of achieving it breaks down into a number of concrete skills, strategies and very clear processes. Getting to grips with the points in the following checklist will not only help clarify whether this job will bring you satisfaction, it will also help you to thoroughly prepare for any forthcoming interviews.
• Can you identify what constitutes outstanding teaching and learning?
If you intend to deliver outstanding teaching and learning across the area, you need to know exactly what it looks like when it happens. What are the components of an outstanding lesson? What aspects of the teaching make it outstanding rather than good?
• Can you articulate this effectively to others and help them to plan for it to happen?
Can you explain this to others in a way that they, too, have a clear and shared understanding of what you are aiming for? Can you explain it in concrete terms rather than vague notions?
• Can you identify and then prioritise the correct areas for improvement to maximise effective development?
You will need to be able to formulate a confidant, robust and honest assessment of the current position of teaching and learning in your area. You will need to know how to use and promote the strengths you identify; you will need to be able to create clear plans for supporting growth in those areas that do not yet meet the standards in your vision of outstanding teaching and learning.
• Can you create, implement and evaluate a concise, SMART action plan to tackle these gaps?
Incisive thinking, clear communication, organised planning, determined implementation and rigorous evaluation, all skills required to be effective and efficient against a busy backdrop of daily teaching.
• Can you engage, support, challenge and motivate your team to get on board with achieving the goals of the vision?
This is perhaps the biggest challenge of moving from the classroom to the role of leader. Not only do you have to think about your performance; you will now be responsible for the performance and outcomes of the colleagues in your team.
If this all feels like an awful lot to contend with, then yes – it is. However, lots of people do it and do it very well.
A key to success is to have an accurate understanding of the actual core purpose of middle leadership from the outset. By taking time to reflect on the points above before you apply, your preparation for application and your performance at interview will be much more focused and relevant and your future career more satisfying and rewarding.
Choosing the Right Job for You.
February 14, 2019
Scanning the adverts for your first promoted post is exciting. Indeed, the desire to spread your wings and lead your own team can have you dashing to download the application forms for the first post you see that fits your travel distance on your job alert.
Pause just a moment however. A small amount of laptop research coupled with a set of incisive questions can arm you with some crucial information; is this post the right fit for you?
Surprisingly, this isn't always a given. The ethos, context, leadership approaches and expectations of a school can vary significantly and, whereas you might flourish and thrive in one workplace, another could stifle your career development. In the interests of your professional fulfilment and impact, it is essential that you get this choice right. This becomes even more acute if you are seeking promotion as a means of escape from professional frustrations; beware the frying pan and the fire.
Four rich sources of information which can guide your application choices:
The School's Website
* Read the Headteacher's welcome, the school vision and their purpose statement.
Is it focused on academic achievement or a broach approach to education? How do you feel about this? Does this chime with your beliefs?
* Read any input from the schools' governors - what does this tell you about the focus, aims and attitudes of the school?
* Look at the curriculum. Is it narrow and targeted and if so, how does it justify this? Is it broad and balanced? Where and how do minority subjects feature? What significance is given to your particular area and how does this feature in KS4/5?
* How does the school communicate with parents and carers? What does this tell you?
* What is the ethos promoted via their policy documents? Does the language used to discuss areas such as inclusion, equal opportunities, behaviour and expectations mirror that which you use? Do you feel comfortable with it?
* What is their public profile? How do they promote the achievements of their students? Who gets the credit? Who writes up the stories?
Visit the School.
Many schools offer the opportunity to visit and have a look around. This may include the opportunity to meet some of the team. If you feel comfortable with this, you can glean a lot of information from such a visit. Remember though, it is always a two-way process; don't give away all your secrets in what seems like an informal setting.
Things to consider:
What does it feel like when you walk through the door? How are you greeted? What is happening in the foyer as you wait? Are you shown around the school? By whom? Senior Leader, Second in Department, Outgoing Middle Leader? What are you told about the post? How much time are you given to ask questions? Does what you see around you appear to match what you are being told? Why? Did the people you met seem pleased to tell you about their work and their aspirations?
Such a visit can be a mine of information if you ask yourself incisive questions; what am I seeing, feeling, hearing? What does this tell me? Can I envisage myself working in this setting?
Read the latest Ofsted Report
This doesn't mean find out if it is good or not. This might not have any bearing on whether this post is a good fit for you. It might say that the department you wish to lead is outstanding; you might be looking for a role which allows you to build rather than maintain and evolve. The report might indicate that behaviour is a barrier to learning; this might be a challenge you would relish whereas another candidate might be looking to develop pedagogy. Being armed with a detailed understanding of the key areas formulating the school's current focus will enable you to highlight where you fit into their vision and ensures you will have opportunities to develop and thrive.
Whilst it is necessary to take opinions with a hefty pinch of salt (not everyone knows the whole story especially when schools need to act in confidence), you can glean a lot of information from people you know. Listen out for or ask for impressions and facts. There will be people in your network who may have some knowledge of the school including former colleagues who have moved there, current colleagues who have worked there, peripatetic staff, local authority staff, friends and family of students there. Remember too - what they see as a negative, might be a positive for you. One aggrieved parent whose child was excluded for misconduct may satisfy you that the behaviour support in the school is what you feel comfortable with.
As you shape your application, you should be able to gather information that satisfy your queries on the following matters:
* Does the school ethos fit with yours (nurturing, zero-tolerance, exam-focussed, thinking school, collaborative)?
* Does their vision match your beliefs and vocation?
* What scope/support do they give their middle leaders? Does this meet your needs?
* What opportunities are there for future development including cross-curricular work, action research, collaboration with other schools, innovative projects that enhance your experience? It's not all about upwards promotion.
* Are there hidden difficulties - team staffing, funding, key weaknesses) that would not provide the most appropriate springboard into leadership for you?
Every interview is a two-way process; they are interviewing you but you are interviewing them too. Right from the point where you read their advertisement. Is this the right next step for you? If you are still feeling fired up and excited, read on for hints and tips on how to make your application stand out from the rest.
How to Write a Successful Letter of Application
February 20 2019
This is your first opportunity to impress; your letter needs to leave the interview panel fired up and keen to find out more about you. Writing a compelling, well-constructed letter which packs a lot of information into concise articulate prose is no mean feat. It is, however, eminently doable. Have a look at these eight tips for inspiration:
• Preparation is Paramount.
Don’t underestimate the power of thorough research and preparation. The bulk of your time should be spent on this section. If done well, your letter will practically write itself.
1) Read everything you can about the school; the website, the application pack (it was put there for a reason), the Ofsted report and the school’s social media output are all rich sources of information. List key points and then match up with your own vision, values, experience and evidence.
2) Peruse the job advert and application pack, highlighting all essential and desirable skills they are looking for. Link it to your own list of evidence.
3) List the core purposes and roles of a middle leader (See the earlier blog “What is the role of a Middle Leader”) then add any additional tasks detailed in their job description. Again, match these up with your experience.
4) Once this is done, review your notes selecting the most relevant aspects of your experience to support and evidence your claims. Don’t overload your letter with every thing you have done; you will have other opportunities to use these at interview!
This process of classification will underpin the crafting of well structured, persuasive letter.
• Why do you Want to Work in this School?
Are you applying for every middle leadership post on your radar or have you selected this post because you are inspired by the job and the school? In a couple of sentences, tell them why you want to work for them. Are you attracted to the specific challenges? Do you share the same values? Do you have the same passion for their teaching and learning approach? Telling them why you want to work THERE will highlight the fact that you fit their ethos.
• Address the Core Purpose – Teaching and Learning.
Prepare a concise paragraph which articulates your philosophy of teaching and learning explaining how you have applied this to your work. The interview panel need to know that you are passionate about teaching and learning and can discuss and deliver best practice. Refer to this as you move through your letter.
• Shape Your Main Leadership Paragraphs.
Begin to craft the paragraphs which will embody the key messages of your application. Each one should address a point in your notes. You need to convince the interview panel that you have the necessary experience, understanding, skills and qualities to lead their team and make an impact on performance. Don’t simply give them a list of all the things you have done and a lecture on how your current school does things. Inspire and enthuse them with your ability to draw on experience, evaluate your learning and then apply your thinking to innovative solutions to new problems. Consider these two passages:
1) “Last year, I took part in a project aimed at improving homework” and
2) “Ongoing professional development is a powerful improvement tool. A key skill I drew from an Aspiring Middle Leadership course is the value of basing improvement planning on evidence gathered through quality assurance. When working with a cross-curricular team to improve homework, we were able to select the most effective action to take having carried out an evaluation of the current situation.”
There are so many enticing titbits to follow up here. The reader will infer:
- You seek self-improvement and apply it to your practice.
- You understand the cycle of review, plan, implement, evaluate and have used it.
- You can work effectively with others and see your role in the context of the whole school.
- You are passionate about developing pedagogy.
The possibilities for you to develop these points at interview are endless.
Work through your notes ensuring you:
- Headline your paragraph with your main point. Express it with confidence (See above).
- Back your point with evidence.
- Explain or elucidate further.
- How will you apply all this to future settings?
• Your Qualities and Aptitudes.
You may have mentioned some of these above. Often a simple overview of the personal qualities you possess will convey that you are aware this job needs a specific set of abilities. Resilience, dogged determination, reflection, self-awareness, ability to listen, ability to think strategically, interpersonal skills, a sense of humour; this list is endless. Just indicate that you know what the job needs on a personal level.
You are applying to lead learning in a school. Literacy and presentation are important. Show them that you are a good role model and will maintain high standards when representing the school (think reports, letters, brochures). Once you have finished your letter, check it through, get others to check it and then sleep on it. It is so easy to read what you think you have written and overlook that missing conjunction.
- Word process your letter.
- Check the spellings and eliminate typos.
- Check the grammar.
- Get rid of unnecessary waffle – get to the point.
- If you cut and paste, make sure you don’t carry forward tell tale signs like the name of another school.
- Keep it to two sides of A4.
A simple, short paragraph telling them that you are ready for a new challenge and excited about the possibility of finding that in their school. You look forward to the opportunity to discuss your application with them further.
Are you considering applying for a promoted post? If you would like a critical friend to support you through the process, why not contact me to find out how we might work together? In any case, I wish you all the very best and good luck!