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Subject Leadership: Goals And Actions

When working with school leaders, and particularly subject leaders, on school improvement, curriculum development, and so on, I notice that people tend toward one of two ways of thinking.

There are those who know what they want but are less likely to think about the actions they might carry out to achieve it - they could be said to be goal-orientated.

Then there are those who know what they want to do but think less about what they want to achieve by doing those things - they could be thought of as action-orientated.

In other contexts it might mean something else to be goal- or action-orientated, but here we are talking specifically about when a person is making plans for the future.

The goal-orientated subject leader will likely focus on the things they want to achieve - the outcomes, the aims, the ideal scenario. The action-orientated subject leader tends to focus on the things they will or want to do.

Which one are you?

To get a sense of which camp you might fall into, and to root this in subject leadership, think about the subject you lead in your school and ask yourself just this one question:

What lies in the future for my subject or area of responsibility?

If you write your answers down, you can then begin to assess them to get a sense of how many of your answers are either goals or actions.

If your answers are things like 'for the curriculum to be delivered with fidelity to the plans' or 'for children's outcomes to improve' then you are thinking of the things you want to achieve - your goals.

If your answers are along the lines of 'to observe lessons' and 'to look at children's outcomes' then you are thinking of what you can do - your actions.

Perhaps there is a middle way too, and your answers are a balance of both. You think of goals and actions.

Avoiding pitfalls

There are potential dangers in thinking in any of these three ways.

If you are more goal-orientated then you may not be thinking enough of how you will achieve those goals and all you will ever have is pipe dreams.

If you are more action-orientated then you risk doing, doing and doing without any of those actions ever achieving anything particular.

If you are a balance of both you have to ensure that your intended actions are aligned with your intended goals. Often we can want to see certain outcomes without having actions that will result in those goals.

Getting the balance

Although I've noticed tendencies towards one way or the other, that's not to say that once a subject leader has followed their natural inclination that they don't balance it out:

Leaders who more naturally think of their goals can then thinking about what actions they need to undertake in order to achieve those goals. Those who think of their actions first need to be little more careful, ensuring that their actions are likely to achieve the goals they set, and adjusting them if it seems they won't.

In all cases it is best to think separately about your goals and your actions, making sure that you aren't conflating the two, but ensuring that they do align with each other.

Ask yourself the following questions instead of one single question:

Goals: What do I want to see happening in my subject?

Actions: What will I do to ensure that happens?

And then, before you get on with doing anything, think carefully about whether or not your intended actions will help you to move towards the goal you hope to achieve.

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Subject Leadership

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