Leadership Dilemma 4: Do outstanding teachers make outstanding headteachers?

Should one of the key criteria for becoming a headteacher or school principal be that the person must have been an “outstanding” teacher in their own right?

Now I suppose this will inevitably lead to the question and some argument about the constituent elements of an outstanding teacher and headteacher.

It might even help to turn the dilemma on its head and ask if it’s possible to be an outstanding headteacher/principal without having been an outstanding teacher.

Oops nearly forgot – Happy New Year to everyone and best  wishes for 2008. 

6 thoughts on “Leadership Dilemma 4: Do outstanding teachers make outstanding headteachers?

  1. HNY to you, too, Don, and to all of your avid readers.

    Remembering that educational establishments are hierarchical structures, they suffer (evidently!) from the Peter Principle, in that (sometimes) people are promoted beyond their competence. Having said that, I do think that head teachers, with all of the multiple responsibilities they bear, absolutely have to be first and foremost teachers themselves.

    I like the reported practice of giving teachers, irrespective of rank or length of service, the opportunity to be one-year deputes: it taps into the leadership resources in the classroom and brings fresh ideas to educational leadership. I’d like to see the trend of widening the hierarchical gaps in school (arising from appointing PTC’s and not PT1’s) reversed or even replaced by more “local acting” promotions for teachers.

    Tearing down the hierarchy will go a long way to providing an outstanding service.

  2. An interesting question Don – as is – what is an outstanding teacher/head teacher? There are many attributes and qualities required I think – and they are observable in abundance in East Lothian Schools. Happy New Year to you.

  3. I think that it is important for headteachers to have been teachers so they have a thorough understanding of what it is like to teach. Also, I think it is difficult for someone who has never taught to gain the trust and respect of teachers.

    Having said that I don’t think a person with the skills to be an outstanding teacher would necessarily have the skills to be an outstanding headteacher. They are very different jobs and require very different skills.

    So, in answer to your question, no I don’t think one of the key criteria for becoming a headteacher or school principal should be that the person must have been an “outstanding” teacher in their own right. However, I do think they should have been a competent teacher.

  4. I feel that a response to this requires one to know the alternative to having been an outstanding teacher: to have been simply good enough; mediocre; poor or (in some brave new world of management structures) never to have taught at all. In all cases, the credibility gap might be felt most keenly in the area of observation.

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    Cath – I think there is a huge overlap between teaching and leading effectively and leading a school.

    Nick – yes there are people who are promoted beyond their competence, just as there are many who never extend themselves beyond their point of comfort.

    AJB – we are very fortunate – and it was thinking of them that prompted this post.

    Alan C – I think I could guarantee that someone who was not an effective classroom teacher would not be an effective headteacher – certainly not the kind of headteachers we require in 2008.

    I think there is a positive correlation between those individuals who have been “outstanding” teachers and how they then perform as headteachers.

    When I run through my memory banks of people who have been really good headteachers they have – without exception – been outstanding teachers.

    I don’t go for the credibility angle as it’s not the headteacher’s job to teach, in fact I see too many headteachers still teaching classes because they feel they need to maintain their credibility with teachers.

  6. Hi Don
    This is a very interesting debate and it could lead to a tangent of the “I kent his faither” variety, so firstly I do believe there is a need for credibility as an outstanding teacher before anyone moves up that ladder.

    The skills change and the number of plates a Haed must juggle are incredible. I appreciate this an aspiring Head, and I first saw this ina ction when I became a PT. Managing staff, discipline, curriculum development – and resources – with varying degrees of excellence in on-the-job training may not always lead to excellence in leadership! When I became Depute in my secondary, suddenly I was faced with responsibility for Health and Safety. All staff in any organisation must uphold H and S, especially when in charge of young people, but I was glad when our business manager arrived! That (almost) allows me to concentrate on teaching and learning.

    I’d like to see more opportunities for teachers to become involved in direct distributed leadership, building their experience and skills in so many ways. If anyone wanted to take this further, wouldn’t it be great if every school could appoint a seconded depute, who could gain senior experience? With McCrone, that greasy pole is much harder to climb (fewer opportunities to become PT). A rolling programme of seconded deputes might add a great deal to that person’s professional development, never mind their CV. If they decided not to pursue further promotion, that would be fine, (think of the Peter Principle) but their leadership skills and perhaps their appreciation of the role of senior management might be enhanced, to the benefit of all.

    To ensure a consistent experience in every school, their might be a role for the LA, or even other external bodies, with an ‘SQD’ which could contribute to the SQH.

    Happy New Year

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