Time management for middle leaders

Balancing teaching and leadership responsibilities is key for middle leaders. Jo Smith offers practical ideas and strategies to successfully manage both

Author details

Josephine Smith is head of a secondary school within a MAT in Lincolnshire. She was previously a vice principal and head of English and director of Key Stage 4 in schools in Leicestershire and Rutland.
Josephine holds NPQH, is a Research...

Whether you’re new to middle leadership or just looking to restore a bit of that elusive work-life balance, there are things you can do to work smarter.

Teach smart

You’ll be expected to practice what you preach, so make sure what’s going on in your classroom passes muster. That doesn’t mean spend more time preparing amazing lessons - your leadership role means this can’t be your single focus.

Instead you need to find the short cuts to excellent learning, such as routines. Build routines into the start of your day: projector on, registers loaded, lesson resources laid out on desk.

Have a classroom that’s kept tidy so pupils know where to find things for themselves.

Ditch those over fussy, labour intensive resources you used to have more time for. Now your best friends are smart planning, routines, ICT and your charisma (and if all else fails your experience to fall back on).

The three part lesson is still possible. Keep the opening activity short. While pupils work on something you organise the next steps of the lesson; get to the deep learning quickly and use the sharpest pupils to run the plenary.

Q​uality assurance: observations, learning walks and work scrutiny

After the impact of your own teaching this is perhaps the biggest way to affect a positive difference across a department or area. Visiting other lessons provides you with a conversation about learning with your team.

Plan a schedule of QA in your area in advance and stick to it. It may be possible to adapt whole school paperwork and record keeping proformas for your use. Ask the senior leader responsible for this area if they have paperwork you can use.

The best quality assurance is done together as a department. Standardising work, using a department meeting to do joint work scrutiny, or team teaching are good uses of time.

The best quality assurance is done together as a department

You can make judgements, for example, about the effectiveness of feedback, while other members of the department can see good practice in action. Discuss development plans with the department beforehand to agree the focus for any learning walks and try to visit classrooms regularly and before a planned meeting so that feedback can be prompt.

Mirror whole school practices at department level

You probably have a whole school calendar and several published whole school schedules. Adapt electronic versions and add your own self-imposed deadlines or department level appointment.

By doing this in advance you can pace yourself during busy times of year and plan in advance.

End your week looking ahead to the next one factoring in key tasks. Keep a note of what’s timely and what isn’t, and adapt for the following year.


Delegating is one of the hardest skills. How do you get people to do things when it’s probably quicker to do them yourself?

Many leaders make the mistake of thinking that delegating will be interpreted as shirking one’s responsibilities. In fact colleagues often value the trust you place in them and are keen to take on the next level of responsibility.

Of course there are tasks you can’t delegate, including examination board or safeguarding accountability.

Use performance management to share responsibilities for the year ahead. This works well especially with UPS3 staff who are then clear about the contribution they are making and the deadlines they are working to.

Be prepared for people to complete a task differently than you would have done and perhaps, especially the first time, not as well.

You’ll have to honour what you tell pupils - it’s OK to not get things perfect first time, that’s how we learn.

Be prepared for people to complete a task differently than you would have done

Plan and p​rep

The best middle leaders make sure their time is spent efficiently, especially when it comes to preparation for planning and analysis of pupil attainment and progress.

Assessment results analysis for example can be done so that the information is useful to you, can be shared to good purpose with the team, can be used in meetings with line managers and even reported to governors or shared with inspectors. Think about how one format can suit multi-audiences before you start a task.

Create good filing systems

Create main electronic folders, no more than six to ten, and then create sub folders within them. Think carefully about the folder headings so your expanding library of documents remains tamed.

With paper documents don’t be afraid to purge at regular intervals. Your school will have a records retention policy for sensitive or externally used documents but if you haven’t used it for 18 months you’re not likely to again. 

Encourage the department to do the same. Try and be as electronic as possible and set up clearly assigned folders for resource sharing and storage.

One paper based tip for new middle leaders is to keep a file with the months of the year marked for each section. As annual school or department events occur, store relevant prompt sheets or reviews of what’s gone well/needs doing differently in each month’s file. The following year you will have a ready set of help sheets.

Spend wisely

Spend your increasingly tight budget wisely. Don’t buy gimmicks or splash out on new untested initiatives without careful budgeting. Consider time saving resources first: online versions of textbooks, homework workbooks and subscriptions you will actually use.

Prioritise and compartmentalise

Central to managing your time is prioritising and compartmentalising different aspects of your role(s) to make sure they’re all given the attention they deserve.

Although tempting to check emails constantly in an attempt to keep on top of that inbox, more effective is to assign a specific time slot to check emails each day. Discard junk and deal with replies in one sitting.

Working this way you may even find that people who are quick to email for instant advice have actually sorted their own problems while you have been working on your most pressing tasks.

Sometimes not being there might mean you aren’t always relied on to sort/advise or fetch and your team might just become increasingly self-sufficient.

If you’re an early bird and work most effectively first thing, find somewhere to work productively. Get lots done so you can be more available to others at the end of the school day perhaps.

It’s not about being less helpful but balancing your time so you can use it to best ends.

Last Updated: 
25 Jul 2016