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How to Excel in Your New Role

Five Minutes With: Rob Davies, Secondary Head Teacher

American Presidents get 100 days to make an impact before they’re judged on how well they’re getting on. In business they often talk about the first 90 days. For you it will be your first term. When you start a new role in school you’ll have a term to make your first impact. Here’s some guidance on how to make sure you get quickly into the swing of things and become a valued member of the team.


Make the Mental Break

One of the commonest mistakes when taking on a new role is not being mentally ready for the change in position and responsibilities. Often there’s a distinct shift between your previous role where success was determined by you buckling down and working your socks off, to your new role where it’s more about motivating others to do that instead. Often, when faced with adversity people then work all hours god sends, when they should be distributing those tasks amongst their team. That’s the route to burn out, so take the first step and be clear that you’re in a new role now which will sometimes require new ways of meeting your goals.


Get Your Goals in Writing

Soeaking of goals, early on discuss these with your line manager and get these set down in writing. You want them to be nice, clear, measurable and powerful – your job is to ensure that come what may you achieve those initial goals. That will start to give you a real momentum.


Listen and Learn

Whether you’ve just arrived at the school or you’ve been working there for some time, the key to your success won’t be telling people what to do – rather it will be listening and learning. The more you can understand people’s point of view and the more you can get to the bottom of the real issues affecting your area the better placed you will be to put proactive strategies in place to fix them. It’s surprising how much disagreement is actually simply disputing the facts. Often if you can pin the facts down you’ll find much greater agreement on the steps to take to remedy any issues.


Discover the Powerbrokers

Every school has its powerbrokers – and I don’t just mean your line manager. There always will be people who have a disproportionately strong sway in the classroom. Get close to them and understand how they tick and what their issues are. Equally, if you’re new to the school, discover who the storytellers are. There’ll be some long standing members of staff who’ll you’ll find absolutely invaluable in filling you in on some of the political backstory to various changes and initiatives to alloow you to avoid making a misstep.


Set the Tone

Set the tone early on to give everyone a clear idea what you’re about – both people who work for you and those that don’t. Doing this right will depend on how effectively you learnt about your area’s issues and the school’s politics. You may well discover that the previous incumbent managed from his office and was viewed as ineffective. In which case, make sure you’re seen round the school and you take an active involvement. This is style over substance, but it will give people the understanding that things are changing. This is actually most important if you’re an internal promotion. You have to try extra hard, even once you’ve made the break with your old role, to help others do the same and see you in a different light.


Secure Early Wins

Getting some early momentum going is crucial. If you meet those early goals that you set and then some you’ll have established real kudos and will be able to push your area further and faster. And don’t just get those early wins for management either – secure things that matter for the people that work for you and other members of staff around the school – whether it be reforming an assessment schedule that was overbearing and pointless or siply engaging more with other departments. Because schools are quite flat structures you often need to ask for help to get your goals accomplished, so make sure your colleagues are willing by responding in kind.


3 responses to “How to Excel in Your New Role”

  1. Avatar Adam David Barnes says:

    This is some really good advice for all professionals in education not just those stepping up into management or leadership.
    In FE, for example, this advice is equally applicable to sessional or fixed term lecturers who have secured a permanent position in their existing workplace.

    • Avatar Tom Hesmondhalgh says:

      Thanks! Some time ago – when I was starting a new role in fact – I read a very good (business) book called The First 90 Days. It talks about lots of the things I’ve mentioned here, and is an excellent introduction to the topic.

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