Assistant Head – Teaching and Learning
It’s the dream job for many of us, but a damn hard one to get from my experiences so far, and a door that’s just swung shut for me for the year.
I have heard talk of 80 and even 120 candidates applying for A.H. positions near me in Bristol. It’s certainly competitive out there!
I’ve had two unsuccessful interviews (one from an initial field of 20), and one application that didn’t make the cut (a field of 35)- it’s certainly been a real test of character as each setback hits you hard. You may not even want to read any further – I haven’t even secured the elusive position I’m blogging about(!), but I’m certainly in a stronger position than I was 6 months ago and wanted to share what I’ve learned from 50-60 hours of prep work if it can be of any use to anyone.
I’m philosophical about the setbacks so far, and had originally set myself the goal of becoming Asst Head by 40, so I’ve a couple of years to go yet!
Background -I’m a reasonably successful English HOF of 4 years (results have gone up by 10%), with additional responsibility for Literacy across the Curriculum for the last two years, and have this year enjoyed a year long secondment as an ‘Associate SLG’ member.
Here’s what I’ve learned about the whole recruitment process over the last few months.
1. You ain’t nothing without one.
I realised this after a course I went on last year where they emphasised how important it was. All the stuff you’ve done as a HOF – evaluating religiously, developing teachers, results, etc. It isn’t enough on its own. Vision isn’t just a word senior leaders bandy around for bulls**t bingo – it’s vital to establish what yours is. Most will have the same stuff: care for the whole student / aiming for excellence / etc, but it does need thought and condensing into a coherent whole that you can return to:
Here’s my first scribbles – Questioning / developing Self confidence / Personalisation figured strongly.
This was a start but I needed more substance I thought so my next step was reading -a lot!
2.You need to read some good books, blogs and make lots of notes. It takes HOURS of real investment in the process.
I read lots of blogs, and three excellent books shown below, making in excess of 20 pages of notes!
‘Good to Great’ helped me with the idea that a single focus over time was a powerful way forward – the ‘hedgehog concept’. It’s something that I have believed in for a while. I always hated the way schools bring in ideas and they rarely last the year, whilst CPD was often one-off sessions. Give people a chance to focus on something they care about over time and behaviours will change. A-Z of School improvement equipped me with lots of practical ideas, but it was The ‘Professional Capital’ book by Hargreaves and Fuller which was particularly inspirational, and this helped me recognise the importance of genuine empowerment of all staff in the teaching and learning process, to drive improvement in schools; in addition, the vital aim of building as many links as possible between teachers and faculties and nurturing a collective responsibility for one another.
I also picked up many tips from fantastic tweeters/bloggers along my Twitter journey in the last 6 months too -the likes of Phil Stock John Tomsett Caroline Spalding Natalie Scott Pete Jones Jill Berry Chris Hildrew Tom Sherrington Doug Lemov
All helped develop my vision (which I eventually got down to a paragraph) and have helped get me this far so thank you.
3. Volunteer for and then reference any work you’ve done across the school, beyond your ‘day’ job (likely to be as HOF)
For me, this was my Associate SLG role and my Literacy across the Curriculum role first and foremost, but I also volunteered to change the whole school Observation policy, organised a gathering of English teachers across our region for an Inset day, led CPD sessions, created a T&L magazine, offered documents that were then adapted by other HOFs.
Anything extra like that I think will get your foot in the door / pop your application to a higher place in the pile above other HOFs, but that’s about it…
A strange twist happens next. Ready?
4. Don’t think you’ll get to talk about Teaching and Learning much, even in a T&L job interview.
‘Making every lesson count’ Andy Tharby Shaun Allison was pivotal for me in terms of reacquainting myself with the fundamentals of what makes an excellent teacher and I was all primed to talk about this at both interviews, along with my vision of how I would develop CPD and teaching and learning across the school.
On interview 1, I got to do a short presentation on developing CPD, but there was nothing on it in the formal interview section. In interview 2, there was maybe 1 question that asked about the elements of an outstanding lesson, and one on Performance management, but again that was it from the whole day. Strange and frustrating right?
What are they interested in then?
5. It’s all about examining you, your leadership credentials and your impact
They know you’ve got ideas. So have all the other candidates. These are not what will get you the job. It’s all about whether they think you can cut it as a leader and what else you can bring to the Senior Leadership table: Leadership / Results / Measurability.
I made the mistake in Interview 1 of giving one answer that I thought was what they wanted to hear. This was a deliberate set up to see whether my leadership stance would sway from something I had said earlier. It did. It won’t again! Questioning gets a bit sneaky at this level!
I also spoke too much in Interview 1 of being a good listener. That’s important, sure, but was ultimately associated with weakness. I know why though – you listen, sure, but keep the person on the goal to where you want to go still. (duh-schoolboy error!)
What is your style of leadership? This needs further thought – it’s beyond just ‘vision’. What do you stand for?
For interview 2, I came up with the 5 Es – Excellence(Vision of), Empowering(others), Encouraging, Evaluative, Example(Lead by). There are many blogs on the subject of leadership to refine your answer here.
Also – Where have you brought impact? How did you measure it? This is MASSIVE! Prepare to quantify all you’ve done, and if you didn’t quantify at the time, you need to in the future! I’m increasingly convinced that THIS is what gets people the job.
6. Nail the interview with succinct, focused answers by preparing massively!
In Interview 1, I made two classic errors:
Adding extra info after I had given an answer. Don’t do this. It doesn’t make it better even if you’re struggling. It makes the interviewer lose sight of what your answer is.
Becoming sidetracked or losing sight of the question in an answer. It’s obvious but stay focused.
Sidetrack ALERT! If I ever get to Headship, I plan to adapt the interview process to allow interviewees to each see my questions 5 minutes before they enter the room. This would help establish a more realistic picture of those candidates: offer a chance for them to identify the two or three main points for each question that they want to say in advance , and avoid the whole ‘thinking on your feet under extreme pressure’ unnecessary challenge.
I was recommended Kev Bartlewho advocates here his excellent STAR approach for answering questions: Situation Task Action Results. This worked for some questions for me, and I shortened it slightly to EAR -Example Action Results as a mantra. His blog post was really inspiring in writing this post.
I tried to take the focused approach further and I’d highly recommend learning a succinct response to 20+ questions off by heart before the interview. This helped me hugely. Out of 25 questions I was posed in Interview 2, at least half I had answers ready for immediately.
Here were my top 20 questions and answers that I identified from my experience/research.
So this is where I am at the moment – frustrated that on paper I have been better than some other candidates I’ve come up against, but also that I obviously haven’t quite done enough on the day to swing it my way.
I’m learning anyway and aware that my time will come soon I hope(!)
Any feedback for future applications gratefully received. Thanks for reading!