Adam Reed

Director of School Improvement

  • Experienced Middle & Senior Leader
  • Specialises in data, curriculum and leadership training

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School Leadership: 9 ideas to develop service-leadership at your school

Have you ever worked with a leader who truly serves those with whom you work?  Have you, perhaps, worked with a leader who is less focused on serving others – if so, what was the atmosphere / culture like in your organisation?

I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with some amazing leaders in schools – some wore the mantle of ‘leader’ in their roles, others exhibited awesome leadership in whatever role they were currently employed to fulfil. I have seen headteachers cover classes to give staff additional personal days, teachers who stepped in to cover classes at short notice to support colleagues (in some cases, without being formally asked), individuals who stepped up to lead in very challenging, emotional and difficult situations.

What makes people do this? Is it a sense of pride in ‘the team’? (some would argue that it is). Is it a drive for recognition – the satisfaction of a ‘job well done’?  Is it as simple as ‘well, that’s what I’m paid to do’? Or is it something more, something deeper? Our view is that, more than anything else, it is in the culture of a school or organisation that we find the recipe for great leadership.  Schools that focus on developing leaders at all levels - and on ensuring that staff see their responsibilities as clearly as their rights - are those that build a culture of sustainable, individual-led leadership development.

What does this mean in practice?  Below are some simple tips to help you develop a culture of service-leadership…

1. Do unto others

If you would like your staff to serve each other, how can you serve them?  It could be as simple as making tea, offering to support with room clearing at the end of the year, giving / providing support with displays.  Whatever you do, model expectations of how you’d like things to be.

2. Listen to understand, not to respond…

Ensure your staff know for certain that you really listen to them – what may seem insignificant to you could be earth-shattering or life-changing to them.  Do you simply give them ‘air time’, or are you genuinely interested in those with whom you work, as whole people?

3. Be human…

We all have bad days, rough times, make mistakes, have emotional jubilation or upheaval.  Is it really a problem if your staff see that you are a human?  Does being super-human set up false expectations of emulation that many staff just can’t achieve?

4. Well-being yourself…

In another of our blogs, we talk of wellbeing from a number of perspectives.  But ask yourself this – do your staff see you taking care of you?  Your words and your drive to support them will seem hollow if you don’t also practise what you preach.

5. Give them time…

Always a tricky one; how to ensure all the good things keep happening, whilst giving someone the opportunity to research, rehearse and really perfect something that could be transformational for your school.  I can’t tell you how to make time, but I can tell you that if you do, the results will usually over-compensate you for your investment.

6. Give them experience…

Ensure you give your newer, upcoming leaders a chance to see the world through your eyes – whatever level of leadership you are currently at.  If they can see your world, several things may happen – they will grow in experience, they might suggest a different way to do what you do that benefits everyone, they will develop empathy and provide opportunities for those they lead to do the same.

7. Play…

As leaders, we benefit from chances to ‘play through’ (dare I say “role play?”) future conversations, initiative launches and so on – but do we provide enough opportunities for less-experienced leaders to do this?

8. Collaborate…

Share, discuss, collaborate – you’ll find lots of opportunities arise to minimise workload and even cut down on duplicated / unnecessary ‘leadership’ tasks.

9. Connect…

Leadership can be a very lonely place, so make sure you’re not alone.  Talk to people, listen to people, find out about them as a whole.  Re-connect and you will find good will and wellbeing grow.

These ideas, along with our deeper leadership thinking, will help you formulate the most appropriate style(s) of leadership for your current setting, position and career-stage. Our highly-acclaimed leadership courses can help you take the next steps on your road to becoming an inspirational leader that others will want to work for, work with and work towards being like.

A final word: the more I work with leaders in education, the more I find increasing numbers of leaders who are keen to serve, keen to support, keen to uplift those with whom they work – pupils, parents, staff.  It is a very positive message about education leadership in this country to find, in venues up and down the country, that leaders – experienced and new – are so supportive of the idea that to lead we must serve.  To ensure enduring greatness, sustainable change, and a legacy of ongoing leadership in our schools, we all need to ensure that there is a paradigm of positivity and personal development; a recognition of the professionalism and effort that teaching and non-teaching staff put into the futures of our pupils on a daily basis.  Keep leading, keep serving, and watch your staff grow.