22 Jul

With a drive by the government over the last year to recruit career-changers into teaching, it is important for school leaders to be ready for older, and more experienced trainees coming through their doors. Sadly, it is my experience that many are not prepared for managing the challenges and opportunities this brings to the table.

What gives this RQT the credentials to write on this subject? After leaving the British Army as a Non-Commissioned Officer in 2004, I entered into a junior management role in the logistics sector. I was responsible for many employees that were more experienced than I was; that was a challenge that I took seriously – notably because I had entered into a business sector very set in its ways, with many outdated practices. Drivers would not take anyone in the office seriously due to a them-and-us culture that has been nurtured for years. Within four years I had my own name on a company’s Operators Licence (meaning I was the one heading to court for a fine or imprisonment should we fail the DoT equivalent of an Ofsted), and I finished my Logistics career as an Operations Manager, running a large depot outside of Heathrow Airport.

Recruitment and retention were an issue in the early noughties in the military, and the issue has not gone away; education has stark parallels to this. Likewise, when managing a workforce of warehouse staff and HGV drivers, in the Heathrow area, the same challenges are found – Staff with skills that are in demand can easily move where conditions and/or pay are better. Recruitment and retention is a game of ‘hearts and minds’. When leaders get this right, word travels – recruitment becomes easier as people want to be part of something great, and retention becomes less of an issue.

Unsurprisingly, the best advice I can give comes from years of management and leadership in other sectors. If you want to get the best from those working in your organisation, build a relationship with them. If your mentee doesn’t feel you are invested in them, there is little chance they will be invested in you, or your school past the 1265 hours they are contracted. Here are my eight top tips (because I couldn’t make it ten meaningful ones!):

1: Get to know your mentee’s background I cannot stress this enough. It is naïve to assume a tabula rasa when there is someone with experience sat in front of you. While you may be the expert in your school; what has this person done before teaching? Never assume a career change has occurred because they were a failure at their last job; nor that they do not have some prior experience in training/lecturing/teaching, albeit not to the students they have now.

2: Skill-sets – What specific skills do they have that will support the school? Teaching job application forms always ask for the usual academic qualifications from staff. So little attention is paid to anything outside the norm – Make an effort to discover these hidden talents. If you have someone qualified or experienced in Health and Safety, why not use their experience to your advantage? If you’re not using the former Project Manager to manage something, or at least work with the person responsible for transition, what is the point of recruiting them in the first place?

3: Self-management – How do they prefer to be managed/mentored? This isn’t exclusive to those with previous experience, yet will have arguably more impact on someone who has been responsible for their own time, workload and actions; more so if they are used to managing teams of people, and have been accountable for this also.

4: Effective relationships – A school leader should be approachable, at the very least; at best they should actively engage with their staff. The number of trainees, NQTs and RQTs that I meet who have only had minimal contact with their Head/Principal, or who are actually afraid to approach them is concerning. While it is easy to say that the early career teacher should have the confidence to do so; retention of staff is not their responsibility. If you don’t already, try to be that friendly-face on the corridor – I promise, it does make a huge difference.

5: Career progression/Succession planning – So, you’ve bagged yourself a decent early-career teacher. This one has some experience behind them too. What are you going to do to retain them? Staff that see their career going somewhere within an organisation are less likely to look elsewhere for challenges, development, and promotion. Education has many TLRs and opportunities that a career-changer isn’t aware of – Open the doors for a glimpse into these roles, and explore where their strengths can best suit your school. Help them navigate this new workplace, and talk about aspirations openly. Changing career isn’t something done lightly (certainly if this has involved a huge pay-cut), so many will be keen to progress and bring their skill-sets to bear on the new career to their advantage.

6: Communication – This is a personal bug-bear of mine. Industry relies on effective communication to survive. The best school leaders that I have met are the ones that know how to communicate with adults effectively; I’m a professional, not a student. Some forget this, and it’s a sure-fire way of losing respect – therefore losing the buy-in to whatever is your vision.Don’t rely on the management structure to do this for you – Middle leaders and Mentors have their own relationships developed. Make an effort to communicate directly with your staff. Good leaders make time to pop in and see new teachers in the classroom; the best take the time to personally give feedback and praise. There is no better feeling than the Headteacher leaving you a ‘Well Done’ card with “That was an inspirational lesson” on it.

7: Questioning – Be prepared for questioning, lots of questioning. When someone has come from the same level of leadership you’re in, they will want to understand the nature of their new educational environment. This isn’t a challenge to your position, it is someone trying to appreciate the nuances of your role, and work out whether their thinking makes sense.

8:Time-served – I have always tried to remain humble about my current role in education. This advice is something I was given – My time-served is valuable, even if it isn’t in education. Leadership experience, and management of budgets etc is still very valid. We aren’t after a fast-track to Headship; some aren’t even interested. What we do want is to be on the right-track to our career goals, and aren’t afraid to be put on that track, or find where it is ourselves.

Changing career is a huge leap of faith to make, yet everyone involved in recruiting you to the new one assures you that your experience will be recognised, and valued by your new employer. From the networking, and the speaking at events thus far, this isn’t a universal truth. Some school leaders embrace us and want to nurture talents, others see us as failures in past careers who are invading classrooms ‘for the holidays’. Hiring a career-changer is not the same as hiring a fresh graduate – Schools are used to the latter, but need to prepare themselves for the significant uptake of teaching as a career by those who have heard the call to arms, and want to be part of the solution at a time when recruitment is hard.

Originally posted in the "pintsizedpedagogy" wordpress blog - August 2019 

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