In my experience, the toughest part of being a school leader is dealing with all the different personalities in a large staff. Delivering on your grand vision stands or falls on whether you can mobilise the staff in your team – always a diverse, complex group of individuals. Getting everyone to give their best and work towards some shared goals is easier said than done.
At a recent middle leaders training event we discussed some of the teacher-types and how to manage them. Of course no-one is really defined by a type – it’s lazy code for how they sometimes present to us in specific situations. However, these things are real enough in practice. People are complicated. How we see people isn’t how they necessarily are or how other people see them or how they see themselves. But actually, a lot my time spent supporting middle and senior leader colleagues has been given to the process of resolving difficulties with specific personalities. Sometimes it’s our perception of them that’s the problem… of course.
How would you deal with them?
- Maverick Genius – someone who is genuinely hugely talented and delivers the goods with the students but insists on doing it their way; not a team-player, sometimes wilfully individualistic. Wears their Maverick status like a badge or honour. You value them – but they demand special license to be different at all times.
- Jaded Eye-Roller of Doom – the permanent cynic, arms folded, weary of change. Though potentially providing some healthy scepticism, they can also dampen the spirit of team meeting when people want to shift up a gear of change direction.
- Behaviour Blindspot – someone who is potentially a great teacher but really struggles to hold attention in a lesson. It’s not that they struggle and need help – it’s that they don’t think they struggle or need help. In fact, they can be defensive about this area, making it difficult to discuss.
- Experienced; not expert – God knows we need experience on the staff, but here we’ve got someone who, despite many years of service, is no expert. Their schemes of work or lessons are not models for your NQTs so learn from. They don’t get the promotions but stick it out, make a contribution but often in a rather mediocre fashion.
- Literalist – they see the world in black and white. You say ‘you’re marking too much- focus on the improvements’; they hear ‘stop marking’. You say ‘group work isn’t necessarily a good option here’; they hear ‘we’re not allowed to do group work’.
- Ladder Racer – it’s great to have ambitious people in the team, but this person is on a mission, not especially interested in learning to lead by doing the job in the classroom or as a middle leader. They give the impression they’re not sticking around for long and just want to climb up as fast as possible. (None of the SLT folk that I’ve rated have used some kind of scheme to bypass that crucial stage of leading a team for a few years)
- Hyper-Puppy Evangelist – this person seems to be style over substance, excited about some kind of innovation or other, quick to laminate the Sunshine poster and often not ready to have their idea challenged without the puppy-eye crushed face, making it personal.
- Deluded Dunning-Kruger- the person who has truly been promoted beyond their intellectual limits. They cite the research that they don’t fully understand; turn a subtle idea into a massive bureaucratic beast and generate teaching and learning checklists to hand to expert teachers that don’t need them.
- Down with the Kids – the person who just wants to be loved. By the students. Over-familiar, prides themselves on being popular and goes out of their way to make it so. Occasionally crosses the line with personal comments…
- Marking Martyr – hides behind their scrupulous marking when really they need to focus on other things. Refuses to believe that students don’t read every word they write and they simply have to spend all day on Sunday marking every single weekend, even after you give them multiple alternatives that do not require them to do this.
- Nice but Dim – not to be mean or anything -these guys are lovely – but they’re not all there. It can be that they struggle with the subject material – and don’t realise – don’t really understand that their grammatical errors in speech and writing are a problem and sometimes set lame low challenge work unless you catch it in time. They mean well.. but can’t really deliver in the way you might want.
- Hoarder – the person who WILL NOT SHARE. Even when they are told directly that this is in breach of the staff code or team culture, they secretly hide their stuff; it’s theirs, they made it, they don’t want anyone using it when they put in all the effort.
- Lofty Professor – the intellectual who cannot really teach too well. Lovely person, amazing brain but can’t communicate past the few students at the front to reach the less engaged students at the back – or can’t simplify a complex idea so their novice learners can get a toe-hold.
- Show Boater – the person for whom it’s all about ME. This is what works for me; let me show you my fabulous resources; this work from my student was incredible; this special thing that only I can do was especially marvellous. Etc.
- Knowsitallalready- Yup, I know; that’s what I do; yes, I always do that; yup – we’re already doing that; yes, I’ve read the book; I know, we did that in my last school. Trouble is – none of this is evident. They claim it, but you never see it.
- Solo Operator – someone who will do their own thing, whatever is agreed by the team. Not a maverick genius – just someone who thinks their autonomy is more important than the team. Finds subtle ways to go it alone, do things slightly differently… to not accept the team view.
- Entitled – the person who thinks they simply deserve things because of who they are, how long they’ve been around, their self-assessment of their true greatness. Expects timetable privileges, room allocation perks and sees their TLR more or less as a reward for being them, not for doing a job.
- All mouth, no trousers – complains too much but doesn’t follow up when given the chance. Call their bluff and agree to their suggestions and they buckle. They’re happier complaining. Or so it seems to you.
- Doing the world a favour – the people who, like the Ladder Racers, are very clear that they could be somewhere else. They’ve come into teaching do save the world – before running off to the city or whatever else. And boy do they want you to know about it. Meanwhile, the pros are getting on with it rather more quietly.
- Reluctant Leader – the kind of person you desperately want in your team – capable, intelligent, great in the classroom and with people – but just doesn’t yet have the confidence or inclination to take on some responsibility to push things on. They need to be spotted and nurtured; given their wings and encouraged to fly.
All of these types are simplistic – of course. They could all be fabulous in the right context. But the challenge for a team leader is to harness their strengths whilst making sure the problems they create don’t do too much harm. We might well have a bit of these caricatures in us ourselves..(I’m sure I’ve been awkward to manage over the years) so a bit of self-analysis might be where to begin!