Leading adults is different to leading children

As a head teacher your staff team are your class, apply the same principles and you will do well.  However leading children is different to adults.

When I work with school leaders, they often tell me about the issues they have with some members of staff:  some will be about performance, some about behaviour.  Very few are about getting that person to leave, which I’m glad about, because for me, being a leader is about serving my team to be their best in achieving our vision, and so if there is an issue with someone, it’s my job to help that person be aware of it and support them improve, much like being a class teacher.

I’m a qualified teacher – I’ve taught every year group from Reception to Y11 – and for me, a lot of leadership is about doing what teachers do with their class, but with adults.  It sounds straightforward enough, however, there’s something strange that seems to happen to us when we are working with adult performance and behaviour.  Somehow it’s harder.  Why?  I think it’s because as a class teacher, we have a natural position of authority; that doesn’t mean we are dictators in class, wielding our power, but it does mean we have sanctions and rewards we can apply and these are usually based around children’s behaviour (I’ve not yet come across any sanctions for performance thankfully!). 

As a leader, we also have a position of authority and we have sanctions and rewards we can use, so what is so different?  With adults, we don’t talk about their performance and behaviour as much, often because we are not trained in this specific skill and we can lack confidence in dealing with, essentially, our adults peers for fear of hurting them or getting hurt by their response.  If we did talk about an adult’s performance or behaviour as much as a class teacher does, we would be talking about it at least weekly, if not daily, and be very focused on what to try next to improve the issue.  Also, as a teacher, we don’t tend to worry about having these kinds of conversations with children, but with adults we often worry about what will happen if we do raise a performance or behaviour issue.

I hope as you read this you can feel the difference, emotionally, at the thought of talking to a child and talking to an adult about their performance and behaviour, all of which is very normal.  But if we can shift our mind-set to seeing the adults as our new class, who are in the classroom of our school, and see it as our job to help them develop into the best they can be, then that can help make these initial steps easier.

Being a leader is about serving your team, which you do by setting direction, making sure you’re all on course for success, and also by really developing your team both in terms of their behaviour and performance.  Just like you did when you were teacher, because leading adults isn’t actually very different to leading children.

Quick tip: To think of your adult team as a class, imagine them in one of your classrooms and tell me: Who needs stretching? Who needs extra support to improve their performance? Who has behaviour issues?

About the Author

Sonia Gill is founder of Heads Up, specialising in supporting Head Teachers and School Leaders create an outstanding school culture. https://ukheadsup.com