Want to turn your teachers into future leaders? Steve & Paula Kenning reveal how in this article originally published by TES

By Steve & Paula Kenning

Sunita Khara was so inspired by her teachers that when she left Rivers Academy and obtained qualified teacher status, she returned to the very same school to begin her career as an NQT.

Khara is now our assistant principal at the school, which is part of Aspirations Academies Trust.  

However, this wasn’t just some happy accident. 

When Khara was a classroom teacher, she was enrolled on our trust’s talent management programme, Principal Incubator, designed to prepare teachers to lead a school.  

Khara, like many of our teachers, attributes her success as a school leader to taking part in the programme. She says that it has helped to ensure that she is motivated and developing, and is part of the reason she has remained loyal to our trust for so many years.

We run six different talent development programmes across our trust, all of which are open to staff from our schools and from outside.

But why spend so much time training up staff who will potentially leave and take their talent elsewhere? The answer is simple. As former principals, we believe that the onus is on us to create the principals of the future.

Growing the school leaders of the future

However, recruiting excellent principals is a tall order. There isn’t a sufficient pool of aspiring principals in the teaching population generally. So we decided that we would grow our own.

And our talent management programme is about more than just the mechanics of being a senior leader. Those things are relatively easy to teach – how to set budgets, how to apply HR policies and so on – but rather we look at developing inspirational leaders.

Setting up a teacher talent management programme

If you’re thinking of setting up your own talent management programme, or updating your current one, this is what we would suggest:

1. Identify your talent

The starting point for creating your own talent development programme is to identify your target audience. Who are your priority groups?

To reach this decision, you may want to consider which individuals or groups will support you as the leader of the organisation in taking the scheme to new heights. These individuals could be at any level of your organisation.

2. Give them what they need

Once your delegate group is identified, you will want to consider what skills and/or knowledge they will need in order to support you in the next stage of your organisation’s journey. This will form the basis of the content for the programme.

Inevitably, leadership skills will feature heavily in the content, as these are the critical skills for transforming an organisation, as explained by business management consultant Jim Collins in his book Good to Great

According to Collins, getting the right people on to your “bus” is a critical step in the transformation from good to great. Your talent development programme will allow you not only to invest in and hopefully retain these people, it will also allow you to manoeuvre them into the “right seats on the bus”.

3. Plan for quality in, quality out

Assuring the quality of the input is crucial in terms of ensuring the success of your talent development programme, and preventing problems from occurring.

You need to think about the quality of your applicants as part of the planning processes and as part of an ongoing monitoring process. Those running your talent management programme must have credibility and inspire confidence in teachers. In itself, this may require some coaching or training.

4. Ask for feedback

Ongoing feedback in the form of evaluation from participating teachers will form a critical part of your quality assurance process.

If the trainers inspire teachers and create the right atmosphere of trust, then feedback will be honest and constructive. This will help to continuously improve your programmes.

Leadership is all about trust. According to Colin Powell, former US secretary of state, “a good leader is someone whose people will follow him or her, if only out of curiosity”.

5. Get the buy-in

Finally, buy-in from the participating teachers is everything. The programmes must be sold in the right way when you present them as an option to your chosen staff. 

What you want to do is inspire those individuals to put themselves forward for the programme.

Rather than making it a simple “opt-in”, we ask our staff to apply to take part. We have found that an application process, in which teachers are asked to communicate why they feel they are right for the programme and how they feel they will benefit, secures good buy-in.

Another step that we have found has led to successful uptake and engagement is involving the principals in forming a recommendation for each delegate. A positive nudge from your boss in the direction of a high-quality CPD experience is always a good motivator.

Steve and Paula Kenning are two former principals with more than 21 years of experience leading their own schools. They are now the CEOs of Aspirations Academies Trust