Leader in the middle: the power of talking

Middle leader, Nick Bailey, shares how talking to others has helped him to feel supported.

Articles / 5 mins read

MindEd Created in partnership with Twinkl Leaders Team


Middle leaders can often find themselves set adrift between the groupings of a school staff body, feeling a little unsure perhaps on where they fit in. Still with classroom responsibilities – and probably teaching daily – they do not sit within a senior leadership team. Yet their leadership roles and responsibilities can leave them outside of the classroom teacher collective too. So what can a middle leader do to combat potential isolation and nurture their own wellbeing? Nick Bailey, a secondary school teacher and Head of Business and Economics at Campion School in Hornchurch, London, has several years of middle leader experience across two secondary schools and is aware of the challenges a typical middle leader faces. We caught up with him recently when he admitted that ‘middle leadership can be quite lonely.’ He shares how talking to others has helped him to feel supported.

Build a supportive talking culture

As Nick said, “Just having people there for you is huge.” As a middle leader, leading a team of other teachers, you can build your own culture of support and collaboration. Nick himself took inspiration from a previous middle leader he had worked with who he described as ‘really keen and positive’. He  has used this to build his own approach to team wellbeing where people feel supported to try things for themselves and will offer support to others too.

For advice on how to talk to colleagues about mental health, watch this webinar. The panel discuss the importance of good relationships with colleagues and how this affects mental wellbeing. It also includes helpful strategies for building positive working relationships.

By communicating openly, frequently and face-to-face with your team, you can foster an environment of mutual support. Importantly, talking also builds connections.

Making sure you get out of your classroom or office to talk to those you work with. This can do wonders for your emotional self-regulation, too. Not feeling 100% about something you need to do? Seek out a colleague and ask what they think. Talking things through can help you to view a situation objectively and gather ideas and opinions from a different point of view, as well as working towards building that open connection and supportive culture.

It is also important to normalise conversations about mental health. As middle leaders, talking about how we are feeling and being able to ask for help goes a long way to promoting wellbeing, not just for ourselves but for others too. Have a look at this resource from Education Support if you’re wondering how to start a conversation with colleagues about mental health.

Connect with other middle leaders

Working closely on one subject or area of learning within the school can cause a middle leader to become introspective. “It’s really important not to become insular,” says Nick, who recommends that you ‘talk to other middle leaders.’ This can help to give you a wider perspective by hearing other tips, advice and support that may help you to feel less isolated.

Talking to other middle leaders in your school can help you to see how they manage situations and how they lead in their area, allowing you to magpie ideas and strategies you may not have thought of. It also gives you someone to talk to at the same level as you, someone with similar responsibilities and similar priorities.

As Nick told us, “We've got to look out for each other.”

Look out for opportunities to connect with middle leaders from outside of your school. This might be through local cluster groups or school networks, through your multi academy trust or even nationally through social media groups and pages. Being able to talk and share openly with people who understand can do wonders for your mental health and wellbeing, helping you to see that you are not alone.

Ask questions and seek advice

As a middle leader, it’s ok not to know. It’s ok to ask the SLT for support, clarity or advice – that’s what they’re there for. Nick is a great proponent of this and says that, “communication with your SLT is really, really key.” This goes both ways.

Middle leaders can potentially feel caught between their own team and their SLT, being left to disseminate messages and lead on initiatives that they may not have had a say in themselves. But by talking to your SLT, asking questions and seeking their advice, you can help to build a positive relationship where both sides can see where the other is coming from. Again, face-to-face communication will help towards building these positive relationships. This isn’t always easy to achieve with busy senior leaders, but opening up those in-person conversations will help to break down barriers and build solid working relationships. If you’re feeling a little worried about approaching this conversation, and would like some helpful sentence starters, check out Education Support’s tips to approach challenging conversations.

Finally, if you can find a supportive role model yourself and build that coach or mentor relationship, it can help to increase confidence in your role and ability. Nick shared that, “having (a) person to bounce ideas off, ask questions to, but fundamentally making the decision yourself, is really important to help feelings of self-worth.” It’s not about having somebody tell you what to do; it's about finding someone who will listen, offer advice and ask questions of you, ultimately empowering you to move forward. This could be a fellow middle leader, someone with more experience or a senior leader. Try to find someone you admire, feel comfortable with but also connect with, who can help you to grow and thrive in your middle leader role without feeling isolated or lonely.

For more support as a middle leader, particularly thinking about loneliness and the importance of talking, you may find the following resources helpful:

You can call the Education Support helpline on 08000 562 561 for immediate, confidential emotional support.

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