The possibility of promotion in schools can be a tricky and sometimes a frustratingly rare occurrence. Some schools have less leaders and those in place have often been in position for some time. In addition, middle management roles are few and far between. Not everybody wants to climb the leadership ladder. The extra responsibility and increased time away from the classroom is understandably not everybody’s cup of tea. But for those who find their aspirations leaning towards management or leadership, how do you get experience and noticed in international schools where roles and responsibilities sometimes appear impenetrable?
A starting point would be to define your ultimate career goal. It sounds obvious but this is vital to how you communicate your aspirations to others. Be clear about what you want and why you think you would be good at it. Having a vague notion that you would like to be on a senior leadership team is futile, without knowing which area of school leadership you ultimately want to lead. Be honest about your strengths. Are you better suited to the pastoral or curriculum side of education? Is the phase you are currently working in going to support your long term aims? Wanting to be a head of a sixth form is less likely to happen without experience of teaching A-Level or IB.
With your goal established, begin to plan ways of establishing a dialogue with your current school leaders about this. At the simplest level, it could be chatting informally in the staffroom about how people arrived at the positions you are interested in. Be aware that when chatting in this way, mentioning your aspirations can occasionally cause suspicion. Choose your wording carefully and consider using phrases such as ‘in the future’ and ‘when the time is right for me’. Regardless of whether your school is catering for 2000+ pupils or 50, playing the waiting game for promotion is probably going to happen, so be prepared to prove yourself- again and again.
This starts with how you conduct yourself around school. Simple professional integrity such as being good at the job you are paid to do; being punctual; avoiding staffroom gossip and following systems and procedures diligently, are an obvious ‘must’. Dressing smartly and being the perfect employee inside the school gates is obviously somewhat marred if you are tagged on social media downing Jaeger shots from the floor of your local pub. So practise what you plan to preach.
Follow public figures who have the role you want via Twitter or other social media platforms. Read blogs and articles and stay abreast with developments in the area you wish to go further into. If you can, submit guest blogs or articles for teaching magazines. Teach Middle East Magazine should probably be your first stop, as their mandate is to give educators a platform to share their ideas. If you haven’t already, begin your own online presence in the global teaching community. Networking is vital in career progression and especially in education.
Use your school’s performance review structure to your advantage. Raise the subject of career progression and arrive at the meeting armed with suggestions of how the school can help you get there. Avoid going straight in with a request for a three-day course with a fancy title and price to match. If your school has an impressive CPD training budget, then you may be off to a swish conference centre with freshly baked Danishes for breakfast. But realistically, for most teachers requesting development, the pot simply does not stretch to such luxuries. If this is typical in your school (and even if the budget is massive), consider getting creative in-house.
Request to shadow a manager or leader during your PPA time, before or after school. This will impact on your already stretched schedule but it does go a long way in showing your commitment to gaining experience. If this is granted, request to take on very small tasks. While this is not the same as grappling with the bigger concepts of leadership on a course, you can be sure that you are beginning to get a real taste of what your future job will entail- from the bottom up. Expect no extra payment and moments of silently screaming into a filing cabinet, but repeat the mantra: the only way is up.
Build a rapport with the person you shadow; they may begin to delegate more tasks to you. A good mentor will find ways for you to be acknowledged and valued, but try not to be too disheartened if some of your work gets attributed under somebody else’s name. Be careful not to run before you can walk and remember, doing a little over a long period of time well, is better than agreeing to take on more than you can handle, then appearing like you are not ready for the step up.
Expect that there will be moments where the job you eventually hope to do, is made to look easy- especially if the person doing it has done so for many years. By the same token, it can be tempting to form private criticisms about how you’d do things differently if you were in charge. This is a natural part of you learning the ropes- but be very wary of this trail of thought. Until the ink has dried on your very own contract for that position, accept that experience is everything in management and leadership, and what you are gaining by shadowing or assisting will count for a lot.
Keep an eye on the job market and the types of experience schools are requesting. Where possible, try to ensure your CV can reference as much as possible. Be patient and prepared to speak up regularly to your Head or Deputy. If you are told that you are suitable and ready for promotion but nothing is available, book back in to see the Head the following term and the one after that and so forth. Registering your intentions to climb the professional ladder once in a meeting may not cut it. So speak up and often!
Finally, when you do make it and get established- don’t forget to be kind to the person clambering for your position. The future of leadership and management relies on you passing the baton over with a willingness to invest more in the next colleague than was invested in you. Good luck and if you want to get in touch about creative CPD strategies that happen in your school, I’d love to hear from you.
By: Emily Gee
Emily Gee is Assistant Director of Studies at The English School, Kuwait.