1. The primary role of school leadership is to remove extraneous demands on teachers so that they can focus on planning and teaching the very best curriculum possible.

If you’re doing anything that interferes with this primary responsibility take a long, hard look at yourself.

For clarity, this includes behaviour. While teachers have a responsibility to both uphold the standards you’ve set and to hold students to account, behaviour is, primarily, your responsibility. If you find yourself blaming teachers for poor student behaviour you are part of the problem. Of course, some teachers will need more support than others but your support should focus on… removing extraneous demands on teachers so that they can focus on planning and teaching the very best curriculum possible.

2. Instead of boosting your own career by dreaming up some new initiative, think about ways to genuinely make colleagues’ professional lives easier and more fulfilling

Leadership is a greasy poll. The easiest quickest way to make your mark is to latch on to some trendy whole-school strategy you’ve heard about, put together a few policy documents, inflict it on an unsuspecting staff, write about it in your application form for a new, more senior leadership role and naff off before the disastrous consequences of your great idea unfold. If I had my way, school leaders would only be promoted if they could demonstrate that they had not come up with any new initiatives but instead done the hard work of maintaining and streamlining existing systems. There is is a time and a place for new ideas but it is not when you are new to SLT! Master the basics before moving on to grand plans.

3. Leadership is a domain specific body of knowledge. It is not a generic skill.

You don’t know nearly as much as you think you do. You need to know a lot about leading a school and most of it will be specific to the school you are working in. If you’re new to a school as well as being new to SLT you are a loose canon. A useful default assumption is that experienced teachers/middle leaders know things you need to know. Have the humility to shut up and listen until you are no longer new to SLT. Also, assume that the vast majority of leadership books or course are worse than useless; they encourage gimmickry and generic strategies that are unlikely to apply to the specifics of your role in your school. You will, inevitably, be tempted to use some of this generic advice. If it doesn’t conflict with points 1 and 2, maybe it won’t make the lives of everyone you work with a living horror.

School leadership entails making judgements under uncertainty. You will rarely know unequivocally that you’ve made the best decision and you will often make poor decisions. It’s hard but try to be honest about what you do and don’t know for certain. If you’re new to SLT it’s unlikely that you’ll be put in the situation of having to make truly fatal snap decisions, but you will make plenty of relatively lower stakes judgement calls. Your headteacher, if she’s any good, will go out of her way to back you, but if you forget points 1 – 3 you’ll rapidly use up good will.

4. Assume, until proved otherwise, that the people you are responsible for leading are well-intentioned and knowledgable

Most who work in education do so for honourable reasons. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re any more likely to be right than anyone else, but neither does it mean you are. Whenever you encounter a situation where you feel you’re right and they’re wrong, check out your thinking with people you trust and, ideally, who know the other people involved. Doubting yourself is, contrary to much leadership BS, a Good Thing.

There will be times when the approaches pursued by teachers or middle leaders are sub-optimal. They may sometimes argue that they ‘just know’ that whatever it is they like ‘works best for their students’. Everyone deserves some latitude here but if students’ performance in national exams is declining then no one has the right to insist that their preferred approach is adding some intangible value not picked up in tests. Anecdotal sources of evidence may paint a picture but you should treat them with due caution. That said, anyone can spot a car crash.

Sometimes this will lead to difficult decisions, but new members of SLT should never be expected to deal with these situations alone. Ask for help. Find out the best ways of dealing with the people in question. If you decide, on balance, that a change must be enforced, make it clear what needs to happen in a way that allows the other person to be their best. Try to persuade rather than resort to fiat. Where this isn’t possible, bite the bullet. And take responsibility for your decisions!

5. There are always exceptions – make sure they are exceptional.