Is middle management for me?

When we set out on the career journey to become a teacher the focus is on developing our skills, knowledge and understanding of how to facilitate learning. I have often believed the training to become a highly effective teacher is immensely challenging and it is a true testament to those who successfully complete it and become professional qualified teachers.

For some the satisfaction of teaching is enough to fulfil their career ambitions. It’s important that we recognise the significance of being a lifelong teacher. The contribution a good teacher will make to the hundreds, potentially thousands, of students during their career is extraordinary. However, for some there will be a consideration about taking the next step in the organisational hierarchy, progression into management. The problem is that sometimes we do not see ourselves as being able to become managers.

“I lectured at the college for over 10 years and often thought that management roles were out of my reach.”

Alison Bell, Head of Learning for Animal Management, Equine and Dog Grooming, Brinsbury College

So why is it that we can plan a curriculum, lead a course and manage a classroom of students, but we may not feel ready to manage other teachers? There are likely a range of factors at play here.

Firstly, management may to some be unappealing, drawing us out of the classroom and away from the ‘calling’ we had to work in education in the first place. However, a move into a management role doesn’t mean we do not have impact. In some roles we might continue to teach and in others we facilitate change in other ways.

“I chose to work in FE because I wanted to work in an education sector that facilitates social mobility. This is one of my key motivators, working in a sector that provides opportunities to change our students’ lives.”

Bushra Iqbal, Head of Faculty, Southwark College

Secondly, we may see managers and think ‘I am not sure I can do that’. This is completely understandable, but how different is this to when we were a trainee teacher? When I consider the teachers and managers I have trained, each group often have had comparable feelings of being on an exponential learning curve. Yet these people were often the ones who became the most effective and confident in their practice.

“I was never the type of person who would give talks/presentations, in fact, it would make me so nervous I would shake… I have developed strategies to manage this and become more adept in delivering to large groups of people whether it be students, staff or external stakeholders.”

Nick Mercado, Group Head of Student Services, Crawley College

Thirdly, we often don’t fully understand what it is that managers do. In the past this has not been helped by a lack of sector wide expectations for management and leadership roles in Further Education. Fortunately, this has changed in September when the Education and Training Foundation published the Professional Standards for Leaders. They are designed to provide clear guidance for existing and aspiring leaders at various stages of the leadership journey.

There may be a range of reasons not to become a manager. However, there are also a range of reasons to do so. The decision is an individualised one. Rather than dismissing the possibility, perhaps it would be useful to consider the role through the lens of the new Professional Standards for Leaders. This could help to identify whether a step into leadership is right for you.

Dr Stephen Corbett

Dr Stephen Corbett
Reader in Professional Development & Learning
University of Portsmouth