Q: I’m a primary school teacher and really love the profession. I qualified six years ago and am now thinking of moving into a school leadership role. Any suggestions on how to put myself in the school leadership picture? (AH, email).
A: We put this question to one of our coaches, Arthur Geraghty, who is also a primary school principal. His response follows:
In recent years, leadership styles have evolved, and in most cases the ‘heroic’ leader’ – the isolated boss – has been replaced by a team where leadership is shared. Distributed leadership is the favoured approach of the Department of Education and Skills (DES). There is a whole language attached to leadership studies. Teachers who aspire to leadership roles need to be familiar with that language. Many universities and ITs offer excellent postgraduate courses in education leadership and applicants for promoted posts in school are advised to complete a course.
DES circulars and documentation, and school policy development
School management is directed by DES rules and regulations. Circulars and other documents are sent to schools regularly setting out these rules, regulations, and expectations, and are available on the DES website. It is very important that prospective school leaders are familiar with circulars, particularly those related to leadership and management. Looking at Our School (2016) is probably the most important DES leadership document.
Desirable skills include leadership, management, teamwork, communication, and interpersonal skills. Good leaders have a clear vision and bring others on board to realise that vision. Furthermore, emotional intelligence is a central skill in interactions with colleagues. Strong interpersonal skills empower leaders to nurture important relationships with their team.
Leadership roles in school
There are ample opportunities for teachers to undertake leadership roles in their schools. Distribution of leadership is referred to clearly in Looking at our School, and principals are generally supportive of teachers who are happy to take on extra responsibilities. This gives aspirant leaders opportunities to experience leadership and develop relevant skills. These roles may include sports team management, choir or musical direction, Health and Safety Representative, Deputy Designated Liaison Person or Professional Support Team member.
Give the application form time
The application form for promoted posts in schools is a searching document. Applicants are advised to begin filling it well in advance of possible promotion opportunities. The more thought candidates invest in it, the better they are prepared for interview. The interviewers want to find out whether applicants can lead the complex journey involved in driving an initiative.
The application form centres around a small number of competencies. Before approaching the competencies, applicants should first list every life experience where they led or managed in a school, organisation, business, club or society. Consequently, these ‘life stories’ can then be arranged into the various competencies and used in the application form and later at the interview. However, if an applicant cannot come up with two to three stories for each competency, it may raise questions as to their preparedness for promotion.
Volunteering and local community
It is generally accepted that anybody who volunteers gets far more out of it than they put in. Volunteering provides opportunities to meet new people, learn new skills, work in teams and lead projects while doing good for others and society in general. The website www.volunteer.ie is a good starting point.
Arthur Geraghty is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers.
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