11 top tips to consider when moving into a new role, by Oliver Wright.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. These words are often thrown around when talking about careers in school. There is often a feeling that those of us in it for the long haul are at an advantage, that time served somehow conveys a benefit. But how do those with ambition get started? Even if we accept that teaching and leadership is a marathon, many of us are still itching to get started, so here is my advice.

1. Be absolutely crystal clear on your values

There is a whole range of educational institutions out there. All of us feel more or less comfortable in some. Working out what it is that makes you feel that way is just the beginning. It’s worth really drilling down into this. Why do you feel more (or less) comfortable with certain things? Why do certain aspects of your current school’s way of doing things annoy you? Why do certain tasks get you really fired up?

The key word here is ‘why’. Find your why! Refine it. Make it crystal clear.

That way, you can evaluate opportunities that may arise. If they match with your values, then go with them. It also makes it much easier to turn down those good opportunities that you feel as if you ‘should do’ or ‘should want to do’.

2. Be very good at what you do

Many educators are ambitious and want to take on new opportunities. However, all of us need to be as good as possible at our core function, which is teaching. Put time into developing your craft. Take every opportunity to develop as an excellent teacher. Keep demonstrating that on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. If you’re known as a consistently good teacher, then it’s possible to take on extra responsibilities.

3. Develop your speciality

Whilst it’s important to be a good general teacher, there are lots of other good teachers out there. What will set you apart from other candidates will be your specialism. Something that you can offer, that you’re passionate about and really sets you apart. Identify what it is and then develop that special interest. Schools need a range of specialisms, so be true to yourself. Whether it’s creativity, reading, SEN… it doesn’t matter, as long as you are passionate about it. This will set you apart from other candidates, and if you’re recruited on this basis, you will be far more comfortable in post.

4. Don’t be tempted by the shiny roles

It can be very tempting to try and develop your speciality in an area that’s currently very popular. If they’re genuine passions and you develop your skills in those areas, then you will be in demand. However, chasing these because of current popularity will be a mistake. Your understanding of how your speciality and passion can be an important area of development will be an asset to any school.

5. Do your homework

It can be tempting to spot what looks like the ideal vacancy and apply on the spot, but I would encourage you to spend a little time matching your application to the school, visiting to see what it is like and personalising your statement. It’s also important to do your homework. Ask the right questions, talk to as many people as possible, listen to everything and then make an informed decision. An outstanding school may be trading off an unjustified reputation, may be a centre of amazing practice or may be an extremely high-pressure environment. A school graded RI may be rapidly developing and be an amazing place to make an impact and develop or there may be issues beneath the surface that could make it a difficult place to work. Knowing what you are stepping into and whether that’s what you want will prevent you from making a wrong move.

6. Develop your network

Take every opportunity to make connections. It may be formally through school networks, but it’s often far more effective (and easier) to make your own connections. Any meetings or courses you go on are opportunities to develop your contacts and learn from others. Twitter is another area where it’s possible to connect. All you need to do is reach out or ask. Often, it can be these discussions that will help you to develop and clarify your own practice. Just remember that your network is not a one-way street. You will get far more from connecting with others in the education world if you’re one of those who are willing to help or discuss with others.

7. Don’t burn bridges

No matter what your thoughts are about somewhere you’ve been on a placement, worked previously or are leaving in a hurry, there is always a benefit from keeping communication open and treating everyone right. The education world is surprisingly small and interconnected. Everyone knows everyone and people move around. Always leave with the possibility of future collaboration.

8. Treat everyone well, even when no-one is looking

Everyone in a school is important. The way you treat everyone will get noticed, even if you don’t think anyone is watching. The cleaner you held the door open for will talk to others in the school. The support staff who you took the time to ask about how they were getting on will remember. Often, it’s the little things that are so important. Putting litter in the bin, a smile, a kind word. All these actions show the kind of person you are, and this is often just as important as whether you have a complete skill set.

9. Recognise your leadership in existing roles

Anyone working in education is already displaying leadership. From a member of support staff leading a group, to a midday meal supervisor leading a play session, to a teacher leading their class. Recognise what you are doing, talk about this as leadership, analyse it and develop your skills. Learn from others. Normalise leadership discussions so that when it comes to talking about it at an interview, it will just roll off your tongue.

10. Don’t think of it as a ladder – it’s a climbing wall

The old-fashioned ladder is a very simplistic view of career development. Whilst for some it may suit to progress from trainee to teacher to subject leader to middle leader etc., for many, the path isn’t quite as linear as that. Some of us may want to spend longer honing our craft. Others may have opportunities thrust in their path that, with support, could be amazing. Moving sideways to pursue an interest or passion that makes a real difference will only make you more valuable in the future.

11. Be clear on why you want to move

Often, career progression involves moving in some way. Whether it’s moving roles within the same school or trust or moving to an entirely new place, there is always change. Before you begin working towards that change, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider why. Are your reasons to develop yourself and others? Are you wanting to spread a positive influence? Do you feel the need to be making decisions and implement change based on your core values? Or are you running away from something? Moving on to get away from a difficult situation or to leave behind something that you’ve not finished dealing with doesn’t always end well. It’s worth just checking in with yourself. If your reasons are good, then go for it – and good luck!


  • Oliver Wright

    Oliver is an experienced headteacher who helps those who lead at The Key. Before this he worked in primary schools in Sheffield and Derbyshire for over 20 years. His experience ranges from large city schools to small Peak District schools. He also presents for Teacher Hug Radio and is a co-chair of governors.
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