At the heart of an educational organisation are its middle leaders. Middle leaders often describe their position as rewarding, yet challenging. On one hand, they believe that they can directly influence teaching, leading and learning, and on the other, they feel a real tension between their dual role as teacher and leader. As influential leaders within schools, they are expected to drive curriculum, change, and innovation (Ministry of Education, 2012). However, many middle leaders perceive that they are not adequately prepared for their leadership role, nor effectively appraised as middle leaders (Bassett, 2016, Cardno & Robson, 2016). Whilst the onus is on senior leadership to develop and appraise their middle leaders, evidence suggests otherwise. In the absence of government initiatives, we’d like to offer an online course that specifically supports middle leaders to meet this need.
According to the latest Education Review Office report (2017) on Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako, the priority for our education system is to achieve equity and excellence in learner outcomes. This requires effective leadership, which “builds collective capacity to do and use evaluation and inquiry for sustained improvement” (p.11). The advantage of an online course designed for middle leaders is that it provides ubiquity, connectedness, and flexibility, regardless of geographical location, or size of organisation. One of the key outcomes of this course is to build a community of leaders, and utilise a specific model of middle leader inquiry to enable critical reflection which has the power to improve outcomes for all, collectively. Enabling leaders to connect across communities offers them opportunities to curiously inquire into their own leadership practice, with a view to challenging their existing skillset, assumptions, and capabilities. In the online course, facilitators offer the external expertise required to ensure that middle leaders matter.
Organisations are complex, and as such, extremely challenging to lead and manage. Bassett (2016) asserts that middle leadership demands a set of leadership and management skills that require specialised knowledge and training. Drawing on the work of Bolman & Deal (2013), a set of principles are outlined to navigate the complex nature of leading from the middle. Using a multi-frame approach, middle leaders are supported to improve their leadership practice by exploring multiple perspectives “to understand and influence what’s really going on” (p. 40). These principles are: shared vision, developing culture, building relationships, and implementing systems/structures, each of which is unpacked within the middle leaders’ context, during the online course.
Ultimately, middle leaders matter. For our middle leaders to feel valued and developed as leaders, meaningful appraisal experiences and middle leadership development opportunities need to be a priority.
Bassett, M. (2016). The role of middle leaders in New Zealand secondary schools: Expectations and challenges. Waikato Journal of Education, 21(1), 97-108
Bolman, L. G. & Deal. T. E. (2013). Reframing organisations: Artistry, choice and leadership (5thed.). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Cardno, C. & Robson, J. (2016). Realising the value of performance appraisal for middle leaders in New Zealand secondary schools. Research in Educational Administration & Leadership, 1(2), 229-254.
Education Review Office (2017) Communities of learning/Kāhui Ako: Collaboration to improve learner outcomes (Wellington: Education Review Office).
Ministry of Education. (2012). Leading from the Middle: Educational Leadership for middle and senior leaders. Wellington: Ministry of Education.