It is very encouraging to see some FE colleges introducing a new role called the learning leader, in an attempt to enhance the focus on T&L. Incorporating actual roles into college structures could be helpful in a range of ways:
- Give T&L issues and priorities a greater voice in long-term discussion, debate and planning across the organisation
- Create a team who can lead/coordinate TLA focused initiatives to ensure strategy becomes implementation
- Follow up on TLA development work to investigate the impact on staff and learners and share those findings, to inform future planning
- Act as a link to the wider world of TLA through reading (research, policy, practitioner insights and case studies) and networking with other institutions to bring current theory and practices back into college for consideration
- Act as ‘change agents’ or ‘champions’ for getting college culture more focused on TLA questions and issues, in the battle against the rising levels of bureaucracy in the sector
In my training and consultancy work to develop the skills of these new learning leaders, I am beginning to note a common challenge. Many institutions genuinely want to increase the focus on TLA but the learning leader role definition is not sharp enough in terms of priorities or even how it interacts with other roles in college structures.
Some recurrent challenges are:
Learning leaders in some places have a substantial number of teaching hours yet are being asked to manage staff, carry out developmental observations, run CPD and “drive TLA monitoring and improvement and create a great culture of learning” across teams. In this situation, the established operational processes such as observation and appraisal seem more likely to take precedence over the less sharply defined and new TLA leadership aspects of the role. In these settings the learning leaders I meet are feeling entirely swamped by operational tasks and deadlines and are struggling to find space, time and focus to develop the innovative leadership elements of the role. To me these roles most closely resemble that of a curriculum manager with a smattering of TLA tagged on but not clearly defined.
Loose definition of the leadership of learning aspect of the role
Some institutions have put considerable resource into these roles, freeing up a large proportion of the week for the leadership of learning aspect of the role, keeping teaching hours at a more manageable level. However, the role descriptions and subsequent briefing meetings indicate that there is a vagueness around how it will work and where and when learning leaders will be active within operational processes, initiatives and project cycles. It appears that nobody did the appropriate homework of working out how the role could fit together with other parts of the college structure and process, to enhance TLA. The danger here is that the learning leaders start in their role but are unclear about priorities, don’t necessarily engage with key staff and miss opportunities to foster improvement in TLA. Duplication of effort could also be a consequence of different parties getting involved in the same area of work from poor definition of responsibilities.
I am meeting many learning leaders and hearing a great enthusiasm for the notion of the role but a great deal of confusion/hesitancy about its identity. It seems to me that careful thought about the shape of the role is critical here.
Questions to consider when shaping the learning leader role
- How can you balance aspects of the workload to make it viable?
- How much teaching and everyday line management can be included without diluting the focus of the role on inspiring, galvanising and leading others in TLA improvement?
- Are the learning leaders part of the formal lesson observation team and how comfortably does that sit with their developmental remit?
- What are the key TLA priorities for the college and how does this role engage with those?
- How much of this role is about tracking and monitoring and how much is it about initiating development work and being a change agent for TLA?
- How does the learning leadership team get access to other key collaborators such as the coaching team, ILT/E-learning team, curriculum managers and senior leaders who steer on TLA? Which meetings, forums and working groups will they need to attend?
- Who is the strategic lead for this group and who do the LLs report to? For me, it needs to be someone at a high enough level of the college structure to ensure the relevant overview of strategic priorities and the capacity to make decisions which enable TLA development to take place
Developing the learning leader skill set
Once the role has been defined thoughtfully, there is a need to ensure that the learning leaders have the appropriate skills to be effective. In many settings, I am delivering skills training related to:
- Project management planning, monitoring and reviewing
- CPD delivery skills
- Coaching skills for engaging individuals and groups
- Solution focused thinking and communication skills
With a clear remit and direction as well as the appropriate skill set, I am optimistic that learning leaders can play a significant role in TLA development in the colleges of the future.
If you need support with shaping and supporting the Learning Leaders in your college or school, you can contact me at email@example.com