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Challenging our Thinking - Working with Middle Leaders in a COBIS Training School

Doha College, a COBIS Training School, is running the COBIS Programme for Middle Leaders (CPML) for the first time this year. COBIS caught up with Uzma Zaffar, Vice Principal – Quality Assurance, to hear her reflections on facilitating the CPML for the first time.

The CPML is a year-long programme for ambitious middle leaders who wish to develop their personal and professional skills. It is a blended course, with five days of facilitated workshops, self-directed learning, and a school-based leadership challenge project.  

“It makes you look at and evaluate your own leadership style. It gives you an insight into the roles and requirements of a middle leader. The feedback from our attendees was that it challenged their own thinking. The biggest impact is that it doesn’t end after the first three days of face-to-face sessions. There is the Leadership Challenge project to work on, with middle leaders having to implement something whole-school. And then there will be two more days of face-to-face sessions at the end to reflect. It’s a whole package.”

Three members of the Doha College leadership team attended the COBIS Facilitator Training in London last May. These three colleagues, plus a new member of staff who had also completed the training, have recently facilitated the first face-to-face sessions of the CPML in Doha. The course participants are an even mix of staff from Doha College, plus external participants from other schools in Qatar, Uzbekistan, India and Slovakia. The opportunity for middle leaders from different schools to come together and learn from one another can be very beneficial for participants.

"We tend to do a lot of courses in house, which means there is no chance to network with people from other schools. So when we set up this course, we wanted to have at least ten external participants…The group gelled really well. We mixed them up a lot, and mixed up our own staff (from different departments). So everyone had chance to work with everyone else.”

This was a learning opportunity for the facilitators as well.

“We did feedback at the end of every session, and after the first day our own staff were feeling that we were thinking too much about our own school. So we made sure on day 2 and day 3 that we were making it relevant to everyone.”

With four people facilitating the face-to-face sessions, over three days, a great deal of planning and organisation has been involved.

“The bonding between the four of us has been very good. We each picked different activities, with one person leading and one to support. There has been a lot of planning and organising to make sure that all our modules followed on from one another.”

The Leadership Challenge project lies at the heart of the CPML, and is a project that participants design and lead in their own school context in order to close a gap in achievement or attainment within their school. This means that the CPML can also have a wider impact on pupil outcomes.

“With the Leadership Challenge, we were very specific with our participants that it can’t be just any project – it has to be agreed with the school, be an area of development that the school has identified, and has to impact on students’ learning. This did take some time to understand.”

For Doha College, with c.10 of their own middle leaders engaging with the course, the impact could be significant.

“Multiple projects, all of which have an impact on learning – this is amazing for the school.”

The CPML is different from other professional development opportunities that have been offered at the school in the past.

“We’ve not done anything like this for Middle Leaders. We have done short courses, but this is more hands-on, with real situations. The fact that the facilitators are working in the school and delivering the course, gives a different slant. We can use real life scenarios – all real examples. Participants have the time to reflect and think about how the examples relate to their own school contexts.”

The CPML also has an impact on the professional development of those who facilitate the programme.

“It has been a massive learning curve – it was brilliant. Standing in front of a class of children is very different from working with adults. We were continually looking at what was going on, making sure everyone was involved, thinking about how to change groups around, and always trying to improve. We did feedback after each day, and the feedback on the final day from the participants was that they liked the fact we took on board what they were saying. We needed to be flexible, to adapt.”

We asked Uzma to sum up her CPML facilitator experience so far:
“Challenging; Engaging; Enjoyable. We all loved it.”