Return to blog

7 leverage strategies for school leaders

Guest Post
A blog post image

Nina Siddall-Ward is Director of Why Consultancy Ltd, an independent educational and motivational consultancy business that specialises in finding innovative solutions to everyday and complex issues. She is also an associate education expert for The Key.

I have a fascination with efficiency to the point of near obsession.

[caption id="attachment_5287" align="alignright" width="159"] You can catch Nina speaking at our primary assessment events in London and Leeds this November.[/caption]

I don’t know why time and motion and ergonomics absorb me, they just do and to start this blog I just have to confess this core driver with you!

A while ago I came across a National College description of headteachers as the "guardians of leverage". I guess the concept of leverage stuck in my head. You will have heard the expression "pushing at an open door" to explain easy persuasion or low effort influence. Thinking about doors as levers, and being a very practical person, I had to try it! Pushing at the hinge end versus pushing by the handle with the benefit of the door as the lever certainly made a difference. Leadership can feel like that.

Over the years, I've merged these three ideas of efficiency, leverage and leadership to develop the lever analogy for leadership further. The idea is simple: what are the leadership strategies that will help school leaders be as effective as possible and make a difference with maximum efficiency for the least expenditure of effort, energy, time etc? The levers are leadership behaviours and attitudes that make a positive difference for learners; their purpose is to help you to achieve what you aim for with skill, ease and, hopefully, creative leadership energy to spare.

Here are seven levers for you to interpret and apply in your own leadership contexts:

Gain a sense of ownership. Involvement leads to ownership; in all that you do as leader, consider how you can involve others, increase their understanding, unlock potential and build their capacity to influence school improvement. This shareholder principle underpins all others.

Lead with learning in mind. The drive to improve learning should be the core for everyone; for every action by every member of the school community there should be a traceable influence on your community of learning and the individual learners.

Hold yourself and others to account for pupil outcomes. Lead by example. Some call it “walking the talk” or “getting your hands dirty”; knowing what's expected of everyone and who's responsible and accountable for actions makes a difference. One example would be putting names rather than titles or roles on an action plan.
Have a vision for success and share it widely. Wherever you take a look at a ‘slice of school life’, you will receive the same messages about the vision and values. In the context of successful leadership, you cannot overshare a clear vision!

Prioritise actions and practise abandonment. Practising abandonment is the concept of working out just what you can stop doing. By doing this, you can free time for important issues. If you had two hours' extra time tomorrow, how would you use it? What is on your to-do list? How could you make some extra time?

Have high expectations for all. Model positive attitudes and demonstrate ‘all can do’ expectations for everyone. Flip target-setting discussions from “how many can achieve x?” to “what will stop everyone achieving x?”

Keep it simple and make it memorable. This is about the power of the soundbite. Recognise and develop repeatable phrases to provide direction and exercise influence with colleagues to support and encourage them in their development. The soundbites are there already: hear yourself and copy others!

Over to you, commenters: what would your colleagues quote as your leadership soundbite?

Sign up for our news briefing

The Key's weekly education sector round-up, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Get weekly news briefing