I just returned from a lunch with a group of friends that raised an interesting issue for me. My friends work in ICT in the commercial and tertiary sectors and were commenting on the plethora of bad project managers out there working at the moment on complex projects in ICT. They were particularly frustrated by the way that the project manager acts as a “go-between” the client and the workers doing the actual grunt work. They cited problems akin to “chinese whispers” in disseminating information and communicating effectively.

It struck me as we were conversing that this is the role that many middle leaders in a school essentially find themselves taking on. They are the ones relaying feedback from teachers, parents and students to principals and upper leadership and vice versa. Instead of communicating directly with the people doing the work; teaching classes, implementing reform and improvements; middle leaders such as leading teachers end up in the role of relaying information up and down the chain.

This system falls down for several reasons:

  • It requires interpretation to pass a message on, meaning that important details and information can be overlooked, underplayed or missed in the process.
  • It isn’t time effective to have middle leadership effectively regurgitating information and passing it up and down the chain. In effect, this takes time and energy away from other worthwhile tasks, such as curriculum reform.
  • Often, people at the top are so far removed from the reality of everyday teacher that they have unrealistic ideas or have “forgotten” the complexities and day to day issues faced by active classroom teachers. Likewise, classroom teachers are not privy to the pressures and demands on upper leadership from the department and leadership, which causes a standoff as they have no clear means of communicating their frustrations and causes of stress to each other.
As a Leading Teacher, I grapple with these issues daily. In some ways, I find that being a middle leader teaches you as much about effective leadership as it does about ineffective practices. It helps you to clarify and identify practices that don’t work and to consider the ways that you would choose to lead differently. For me, this would mean streamlining the communication process and breaking down the hierarchical structures that most schools still operate within. Surely by enabling all levels of educators to talk more freely would aid in a common understanding, be more time efficient and allow for much greater focus on teaching and learning. And of course, that is really why we teach.