Professional Standards for Middle Leaders: Being reflective in leadership

Alison Bell portraitAlison Bell, Head of Learning for Animal Management, Equine and Dog Grooming at Brinsbury College, looks at how reflection has benefitted her leadership. She discusses how she has reflected at different stages of her career and the impact this has had on her and those in the teams she leads. She also highlights the value of professional standards in aiding this reflection and enabling her to become more proactive in undertaking her role.

As Head of Learning, I am curriculum lead for Animal Management, Equine and Dog Grooming, which has around 500 students enrolled on courses ranging from level 1 to 5 each year. What this means is that I work with various stakeholders including employers to plan the curriculum so that it meets current and future needs and provides a positive student experience. I manage a team of around 40 staff which is a mixture of teaching and technical staff. I am also responsible for managing the department’s budget as well as writing the annual self-assessment report.

I lectured at the college for over 10 years and often thought that management roles were out of my reach. I could not imagine I would ever know enough to be a manager. I actually left the college and taught in a secondary setting, but I missed working in FE and so applied for a Deputy Head of Learning role for which I was shortlisted but was unsuccessful. A few months down the line I gained a lecturing role instead. Whilst back in this role the turning point came when I engaged in a ‘Future You’ course which helped me to reflect on my skills and competencies. Following this I was given some projects to lead on; these experiences facilitated me making a successful application for a Deputy Head of Learning role, giving me examples to draw upon that I had not been able to previously.

For me, a real strength that I have developed was reflecting on my experiences and using this to inform my development as a manager. For example, recently it has been very challenging in the FE sector, and I wanted to raise my team’s morale. I reflected that starting the day right can make a significant difference. I now ensure each morning I ‘walk the corridor’ and speak to each member of my team. This provides an opportunity for them to catch up on anything they need and for me to provide a quick resolution to issues which may be bothering them. I find this has facilitated a positive start to the day and allows both me and my team to focus on what needs to be done rather than the barriers to getting it done.

I have been Head of Learning for about three-and-a-half years. At this stage in my career, I believe I need to further develop my skills in strategic planning, appreciating that an essential part of this is bringing my team along with me. I am currently planning my development in this area and have thought about the use of networking and shadowing others, which I have found beneficial in the past. I do think a tool that helps managers to identify what development activities to engage in would be beneficial and am pleased to hear the Education and Training Foundation has developed such a tool.

Reflecting on the Professional Standards for Middle Leaders I can see many synergies with my experiences and the skills I have developed, such as nurturing positive relationships, motivating teams, being reflective and maintaining my currency with regard to teaching and learning. If I had the opportunity to speak to myself when I first began in the role, I would suggest that being abreast of contemporary issues and taking the time to think and reflect before acting are important; these are things that enable a manager to be more proactive and less reactive.