The Art of Being a Brilliant Middle Leader

By: Gary Toward , Chris Henley , Andy Cope


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Size: 198 x 126mm
ISBN : 9781785830235
Format: Paperback
Published: March 2016

The Art of Being a Brilliant Middle Leader by Gary Toward, Chris Henley and Andy Cope is a new addition to the successful Art of Being Brilliant series. Whether you’re already leading or you have it on your radar, this book’s for you. Don’t expect a textbook full of highfalutin theories though, this book is rammed full of practical ideas that you can use instantly to help you in your current role or to get the position you want. How do you create a brilliant team? What is needed to establish an awesome ethos? How do you do those difficult personnel things? How do you make an impact? Answers to all of these questions and more are based on the combined 100 plus years of the authors’ leadership experience in a wide range of educational settings. You’ll find a cornucopia of pick and mix tips, strategies and stuff that really works and will make your leadership brilliant!

Leadership doesn’t come from formulae or from the latest list of government standards. Neither does it come from the school handbook or a ‘values’ poster in the staffroom. If you pick up 100 different leadership books you’ll find 100 different nuanced definitions. Fundamentally, brilliant leadership is inspiring people to go the extra mile. There’s a difference between ‘outstanding’ and ‘brilliant’. Brilliant is self-made, inside out, creative and beyond the bounds of any simple description. Brilliance is a calling and brilliant practitioners go well beyond the call of duty.

Middle leaders are the backbone of any school. At their best they challenge, manage, plan, develop and inspire colleagues to make learning brilliant for kids. Middle leadership covers a broad spectrum of roles and titles: curriculum leader, pastoral leader, key stage coordinator, subject coordinator, head of department, school leader, head of year, school leadership, head of house, head of faculty, subject leader. This book is aimed at anyone in middle leadership, regardless of job title, whether long in the tooth, new to leadership or wanting to get into it. Dip into this book and you’ll find a wide range of tools, strategies, advice and top tips to help you be your brilliant best.

Gary, Chris and Andy cover the myriad of issues facing middle leaders with their customary mix of good humour and solid, experience-informed advice. Topics covered include: starting a new role; whether in a new school or following internal promotion, what your colleagues and the kids will expect of you, identifying personal strengths and areas for further development, shifting your focus from your to-do list to your to-be list, having an impact, building rapport and a team ethos, planting seeds of positivity across the school, tips for holding effective meetings, how to plan improvement which works for your team and meets the expectations of senior leaders, planning, implementing and evaluating change, dealing with negative colleagues, overcoming issues and personnel problems, understanding and owning your thinking, celebrating successes, modelling and sharing best practice and developing a brilliant team.

The Art of Being Brilliant series was a finalist in the 2017 Education Resources Awards in the Educational Book Award category.

Picture for author Gary Toward

Gary Toward

Gary Toward is a trainer, keynote speaker and novelist who has previously taught in seven schools countrywide. He was head teacher of three schools in Leicestershire, during which time he co-led a pupil referral unit (PRU) out of special measures.

Picture for author Chris Henley

Chris Henley

Chris Henley is a trainer and keynote speaker who taught for over thirty years in three different secondary schools. Chris is an inspirational teacher who moved on from leading an outstanding languages department to become a senior leader. As assistant head in charge of teaching and learning, he played a major role in two successful Ofsted inspections.

Picture for author Andy Cope

Andy Cope

Andy Cope is the author of the famous Spy Dog books, a trainer and keynote speaker. He is an expert in positive psychology and happiness, which led him to develop The Art of Being Brilliant. This is delivered in various forms as workshops for businesses, conferences, teachers and teenagers. It has also informed the thinking behind his brilliant books.

Click here to listen in on Andy's podcast with Pivotal Education - 'Being Brilliant!'.


  1. -˜The Art of Being a Brilliant Middle Leader', co-written by Gary Toward, Chris Henley and Andy Cope is a user-friendly manual and resource for middle leaders in education. Between them, the three authors demonstrate a wealth of experience within the classroom, as leaders, and also as trainers and keynote speakers.

    As stated in the foreword by Sir Tim Brighthouse, the tone is always optimistic, energetic and light-hearted. Each of the nine humorouslynamed chapters include diagrams, cartoons, Top-Tips, quotations and/or aphorisms under the heading of -˜Thinking inside the Box'. All of the above make for an entertaining read. The style is very often anecdotal, never too wordy or scientific, enabling a dip-in, dip-out approach for the very busy middle leader.

    It should be noted that this book is firmly based in the English system with frequent references to Ofsted and management structures which are somewhat alien to the Irish reader. However, leadership is leadership and people are people, so by putting these differences aside much good advice may be gleaned by middle leaders in education and indeed in other sectors.

    The first chapter deals with -˜busyness' and is entitled -˜The Struggle'. The authors begin on a positive note - as they would say, -˜begin as you mean to continue'. They affirm and value the challenging role of the middle leader, comparing it to that of a master juggler. They advocate attention to the moment by thinking and musing as an antidote to busyness, so as not to be swamped by something which will not go away, but is part and parcel of the life of a middle leader.

    A positive checklist is provided, to be answered honestly and on a scale from 1 - 5. 1 is -˜not yet' and 5 is -˜brilliant'. A brief warning - this may be initially daunting! The reader is subsequently advised to make note of areas for development and improvement, but not to lose sight of his or her strengths.

    The next chapter deals with the often difficult concept of change. The reader is encouraged to prioritise a -˜to-be' list as opposed to a -˜to-do' list - to concentrate on who you are being while doing things. Positivity, being creative, having a sense of humour and being organised are all advocated. The -˜little acts' of leadership, such as being genuinely interested in students, or being positively purposeful on a daily basis, or having a smile for all are presented as being more significant than the larger, more obvious acts of leadership, such as decision- making.

    Subsequent chapters frequently highlight the importance of positivity in a middle-leader and how the right attitude and asking the right questions can plant healthy seeds. Simple behaviours such as using eye-contact, greeting, praising and appreciating are strongly encouraged. However, over-positivity is cautioned - a ratio of 6:1 regarding positive versus negative comments is seen to be the ideal, particularly when chairing meetings.

    The authors also ask middle leaders to be aware of the dangers of complacency (coasting) and denial (-˜teaching was better in the old days') and advise the direction of regeneration. Again, the reader is reminded of the importance of embracing the challenges of change.

    Middle leaders are also frequently encouraged to listen to and involve others in creating plans to foster a sense of ownership, however thornier issues are not overlooked within the sea of positivity. We are reminded that moments or situations of negativity must be addressed. Practical tactics are suggested as a way forward, such as not becoming emotionally involved while retaining a true sense of purpose and verbally expressing a possible difference of views. We are advised that disagreements should never become personal and that middle leaders should not bear a grudge and should always attempt to choose to remain supportive.

    The penultimate chapter entitled -˜House of the Rising Sun' sums up best practice, focussing on the importance of constant improvement, creativity and overt appreciation of all partners. Middle leaders are asked to facilitate reflection and to involve teams in discussion on ways to improve and move forward.

    The authors take their leave with a thank-you and an activity: identify the number one thing we can start today and the number one thing we can stop doing today for the most positive impact.

    This is indeed a self-development book which is accessible for many. Those who have an innate dislike of Americanisms such as -˜awesome' may have to brace themselves on occasion. Although this book was inspired by an education system which differs from our own, there is still much valid and thought provoking material for any aspiring brilliant middle leader.
  2. In the world of education, nothing is easy. Indeed, year after year it seems to get harder, with more and more resources published declaring that they will help us to improve schools but rather just leave us feeling more and more inadequate. Therefore it was amazing to discover the Art of Being Brilliant resources, which enabled hard-working teachers and teaching assistants to focus on the important things in schools, using a clear, focused and fun approach. The Art of Being Brilliant series of books were a godsend to my busy workforce: letting them see how changing your mindset enables you to change your life and, more importantly, the lives of the children we are teaching. These resources have helped our school to develop a positive mindset and to recognise how everything that we do -˜creates the weather' in our classrooms. As a result of this attitude to learning, behaviour for learning and enjoyment of teaching has improved.

    It is important that teaching professionals, teaching assistants, and, most importantly, children recognise that they are brilliant in a world that can quickly become negative. By encouraging individuals to see their own brilliance we build resilience and enjoyment in education.

    I discovered these resources at the beginning of my headship three years ago and I credit much of the improvement in my school to the support they gave me, both through the authors' publications and consultancy. My school is located in a challenging area of the country where there is much deprivation and our school is the beacon of hope for our children. My staff recognise this and work to ensure that the difficulties the children face in their lives are addressed and that their impact is balanced with the successes they can achieve in school. To see them skipping into school each day, enthused by the challenges they face, is a joy to behold - and that is both staff and children. Brilliant!
  3. We have used the Art of Being Brilliant series to support and inspire both teaching and classroom support staff. It is the positive approach based on experience that strikes a chord and makes the difference.
  4. This series is hugely innovative and hundreds of copies have been purchased and raved about by both trainee and newly qualified teachers during our collaborative work with the authors' consultancy company, Decisive Element. The resource is hugely energising and a positive tool for new and experienced teachers that feel overwhelmed.

    The impact of these resources has been hugely positive on learning and the work of the teacher in the classroom; lots of our members have reported back how effective the tips and tricks learned are and how they have used the resources to combat behaviour issues in particular.

    The titles support and enhance the everyday life and work of teachers, pupils and schools by using tried-and-tested techniques that enable teachers to engage with pupils in a positive, understanding way which is at all times enjoyable!

    This resource is absolutely priceless and has helped hundreds of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' (ATL) members develop in their teaching practice!
  5. Many colleagues in my school have purchased copies of these titles, depending on their roles and responsibilities, and along with the support of the authors we have developed a positivity approach with our students, which has had a very positive impact on behaviour and results.

    However, I would like to comment specifically on what has happened in my department and how these books have helped during a major transition.

    The first and most important thing to point out is that these books are not textbooks. They're not stuffy or filled full of pedagogical theories and studies. Teachers and support staff are busy people with lots of pressures so it's a breath of fresh air to have books which are easy to read, are packed with tips and strategies that work and also lift the spirits with a few laughs. Because of this, they are both readable and useful. Some staff have dipped in to them when looking for new ideas, others have read them cover to cover. All have found them easy to read and engaging.

    There's a superb theme that runs through the books: that of relationships. I have used the ideas presented both within my teaching to get the best out of my students (The Art of Being a Brilliant Teacher) and in leading my staff to collectively become an outstanding department commended highly by both Ofsted and Her Majesty's Inspectors during recent inspections (The Art of Being a Brilliant Middle Leader). The idea that we all have to try to be our best - ultimately for the benefit of our students - is a great theme for staff.

    What's key here is that these books are about the pupils, not the teachers or support staff. They might have roles in their titles, but it is very clear that by being brilliant at what you do - whatever your role - the school's pupils get a better deal, and that has enabled my staff to help our students achieve better outcomes. Behaviour and engagement in learning have been crucial areas to get right in our development as both a school and a department, and the tips and strategies given in this series of books have helped this process.

    As a leader I can spend hours talking to staff about the direction and vision I have for my department, however it also helps to have an extra voice; and in this case the voice is from two teachers and school leaders with huge experience (Gary Toward and Chris Henley). This, coupled with Andy Cope's positive psychology spin, really creates a recipe which helps me as a leader to get the best out of my staff. Great CPD and inspiration.

    I have recommended these books to colleagues in other schools and will continue to do so as they stand out for me as easily accessible and inspirational CPD. The fact that the books can be supported with additional programmes and strategies, both with teachers and students, adds that extra factor which really does make a difference for kids.
  6. I have immensely enjoyed reading the Art of Being Brilliant series: a fantastic set of resources for anyone working within the modern classroom. Engaging and challenging, these pocket-sized -˜bibles' distil decades of combined experience and expertise into manageable chunks of advice and direction. Written in a straightforward and relaxed style, the authors cut to the chase with practical illustrations and inspired suggestions to help classroom practitioners at all levels to -˜be brilliant'. Delivered with trademark humour and passion, I can't think of a better resource for teachers of all levels to turn to for creative ideas, intelligent and helpful challenges, and affirmation of the power of teachers to really -˜control the weather' in their classrooms and impact most effectively on the attitudes and learning of not just students but also colleagues. Indeed, many of our clients have bought these books and speak highly about how much they have helped them ... CPD in their pocket.

    These are everyday guides that can easily be dipped into with -˜top tips' and key messages communicated well both visually and regularly throughout the books. More than just a -˜back-to-basics' approach, there is real power in focusing on the small things that can have a massive impact on both teaching and learning. I have had the opportunity to experience the delivery of these ideas by the authors in practical workshop settings and have always been impressed with the power of the simple yet essential messages, the accessibility of the information, the unapologetic humour and, dare I say it, -˜fun' involved.

    A cost-effective resource that should enhance the everyday practice of anyone working within a classroom environment. At Hays we have bought hundreds of copies to give to our NQT clients as we know they will benefit so much from them.
  7. We have used the Art of Being Brilliant publications over the past few years at Glen Hills Primary School and Fairfield Primary School. Both teachers and classroom support staff have found the books inspirational - chiefly because they are realistic. They are written in an entertaining way but also deal with ways to enhance teaching and learning in practical situations.

    The books have real meaning in 21st century education and the impact that they have on classroom teaching, with the underlying message of motivating pupils, makes them a cost-effective and inspirational resource which both teachers and classroom support staff have taken on board.

    I know that the two schools where these books have been purchased for staff have benefited from the fresh and supportive approach that they advocate. This has helped maintain one school as -˜Outstanding' and raise the other from being at risk of being placed in -˜Serious Weaknesses' to an Ofsted grading of -˜Good'.
  8. This book begins well, stating what any leader in education knows: that there is never enough time, that you will always be busy, and that the to-do list is relentless. Given the increasing volatility and constant change in education, one of the best quotes of the book comes on page eight as it discusses this struggle with busy-ness - “change is not something to be got through, but to get accustomed to”. The authors say that the key to becoming change-proof is about being “positive about yourself and investing in your skills, knowledge and attitude”.

    So far you'll get no argument from me. I'm an optimist, and a bit of an education and leadership geek with a particular penchant for the work of academics such as Michael Fullan. So I'm all for a book that wants to upskill middle leaders to deal well with change and that unashamedly promotes the power of positivity.

    But after a few hours, even I felt that I'd been hit over the head with the positivity stick. A shame, because the clear explanation of why positivity can be so influential and some good advice on a variety of areas of leadership feels clouded by the “positivity cures everything” message.

    The book addresses the difference between overt leadership activities (leadership with a “big L”) and the impact of you as a person in your world (leadership with a -˜little l'). The authors talk about the importance of character and integrity, of being authentic as a leader and about the idea of having your own leadership “to-be” list. They identify the importance of who you are on your ability to influence others, list what others want or need to see from you and talk about you as someone who sets the climate and direction of travel.

    Then more discussion of the ripple effect of your positivity, and some advice about making sure your meetings are as positive as possible, including some interesting ideas about the ratio of positive to negative comments and its link to effective meetings. Each chapter finishes with some practical (and good) top tips.

    Another change of direction and we're back to considering change management, and a couple of simple but useful models. These are unlikely to be new to anyone who has been around in leadership for any time, but there is some useful discussion around the sigmoid curve, setting goals, understanding your “why”, motivating staff and so on.

    Next up, dealing with less positive staff, having tough conversations and giving feedback; motivating staff by caring, more positive thinking and the power of praise. All have the same combination of good, sound advice and unrelenting positivity.

    If you're an aspiring middle leader, about to start your first middle leadership post, or new to leadership, then you could do far worse than spend a couple of hours reading this book. After all, teaching and leadership are (in my view and the authors) brilliant, exciting and rewarding, and this book captures that beautifully.

    It also gives some good advice, and is a perfect antidote to the natural inclination of teachers to be a little cynical. On the other hand if you've been in leadership a while, it will not offer much that's new.

    As a first leadership book, a little pick-me-up or an introduction to leadership theory, it does what it sets out to do.

    You can read the review on their site here.
  9. The key messages of The Art of Being a Brilliant Middle Leader include the importance of positivity and how we can take control of our lives as teachers and middle leaders, responsible for helping the members of our teams to be their best selves. The authors adopt a light, humorous tone and work to build a positive relationship with the reader. The book is full of humanity and energy, personal anecdote and practical tips. We are exhorted to -˜make it personal', build powerful and productive relationships with those within our teams and across the rest of the school. There is a recognition that the current pace of life in schools can be manic, but the reader is encouraged to resist falling prey to -˜busyness' and to focus on the -˜to-be' list rather than the to-do list: start with the why and never lose sight of our fundamental purpose as teachers and leaders.

    Leaders are compellingly described as -˜the heartbeat of the team': they can plant seeds and create a climate within which positivity flourishes if they are committed to being brilliant, a central message I found uplifting.
  10. Gary Toward, Chris Henley and Andy Cope provide practical ideas on how to develop the leadership skills of middle leaders in order to make change happen in schools, but also to help individual leaders become more efficient in their work. Anecdotes, and the chatty style of writing, make reading The Art of Being a Brilliant Middle Leader particularly easy. The -˜thinking inside the box' and -˜top tips' boxes offer information, food for thought and relevant quotations about a wide range of issues pertaining to leadership. These little snippets of information make dipping in and out of chapters easy, too.

    Throughout the book the authors focus on the special role middle leaders play and demonstrate that leadership is all about relationships with others. By leading by example changes will eventually take place. There are clear practical examples of how relationships need to be fostered by thanking colleagues and helping out others when they need support in difficult times. The authors suggest middle leaders need to promote a clear culture of collaboration, where failures and successes are valued as learning opportunities and where positivity prevails.

    If you would like to become a brilliant leader, then this book is definitely for you. The style of writing makes this a fantastic and easy-to-read resource for anyone who would like to learn more about introducing changes to the existing culture within their educational settings. It is evident that the examples presented in the book are drawn from years of experience and the authors' honesty about all aspects of leadership is refreshing. I particularly enjoyed the -˜thinking inside the box' and -˜top tips' boxes, which I will be quoting from and referring to in my own work as teacher educator.
  11. This book is another in the Art of Being Brilliant series by established happiness gurus and motivational writers Toward, Henley and Cope. Previous books have set the template of a well-tried formula for innovative and imaginative theory, backed up by sound practical examples. As -˜old timers' at the art of positivity, and knowing what works in schools, the authors are well-placed to bring out this latest volume.

    The book takes the realistic view that almost anything can be accomplished with the right mindset and enough hard work and determination. Not groundbreaking stuff you may think, but it's the humorous and well-written way that this theory is extolled that makes these books so readable and successful. The authors know how to spin a yarn without getting mired in the tiresome bogs of educational rhetoric. Gary and Chris have years of teaching and management experience and it shows. They write with authority and genuine wisdom. From the excellent, punchy and erudite opener by Tim Brighouse which tells us -˜a focus on middle leadership paid dividends right across the school' to the well-thought-out, cleverly evolving following chapters, the book takes us though the components that make up an outstanding middle leader. These teachers are often the forgotten factors of successful schools, stoking the boiler room of improvement and success. As the authors say, to be -˜a ninja of transformational leadership' takes real commitment. But it also takes the wisdom which can only come from years of dealing with people - this book distils that wisdom into easily digestible sound sense.

    Like all the -˜brilliant' books the success of this one is in its writing - clear, funny and intelligent. Many of the concepts sneak up on you and you find yourself thinking them through in everyday leadership practice. If I could recommend one book to all aspiring leaders in education - buy this now, for yourself or to give to someone who needs a lift - it's wisdom in a bottle!

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