27 Aug '14

News What I wish Id known before starting as a head of department

Former and current middle managers reflect on what they would love to have known before starting a leadership roleIf your school were the Starship Enterprise each head of department and leader of a whole school area would be its Scotty, working tirelessly to keep things running as chief engineer. Middle managers are of the utmost importance, but what do you need to know before you become one? Some teachers will start the new term in a new leadership post: managing a team and holding staff to account. Its important, as a middle manager, to manage the moment, but also to keep an eye on the future. Another point Id make is that its a very steep learning curve, but things get easier as you build routines. Dont stress everyone finds the first year a killer.I started as head of English last September. It was an internal promotion, and I was aware that some members of the team thought I wasnt suitable. Because of this, I was initially cautious and didnt really want to delegate for fear it would be a sign of weakness. I took on all jobs myself, but by October I was on the edge. I realised that (most) professionals thrive on responsibility and challenge, so that I should encourage every member of the team to be involved in the development of our department. The position you take on, unbeknown to you, may have been one another member of staff applied for but didnt get. Be relentlessly positive, and find out what everyone in your teams strengths are. Make sure you share that recognition with them as well as senior leadership. You will want to make changes and drive forward improvements, but dont forget what is already going well. If possible, do what you can straight away rather than leaving things to the day before the deadline; file and label everything as youll need to call on it one day. I think one of the biggest challenges as a head of department is balancing commitments and the number of people needing some of your time (parents, students, your department members). The most useful thing I did was to mentally allocate my free periods to particular tasks: one for sorting emails, one for contacting home, one for lesson planning (obviously some tasks take more than one free period). If it is not possible to meet a target you must say why and what a realistic outcome will be. If an initiative is not right for your department you need to come up with alternatives and explain why you need to adapt.Always work towards the common goals of a school in a way that benefits the students, and make sure you communicate effectively with your senior managers before you make any decisions.I realised when I moved into management that it can be quite lonely. You often have to give feedback to staff that they may not like. As a teacher I was often very defensive and found criticism hard to take (especially when I had been in the job for a number of years). I found it hard to give tough messages to staff, and especially if I knew these staff members were working hard, but sometimes people need to hear hard messages to help them reach the top of their game. Sarah Rostron is assistant headteacher at St Bede academy. She was formerly a year 6 teacher and literacy co-ordinator.When I first started my management job I realised that staff would come to me with problems. Its one of the main reasons I wanted to be a manager, to help people find solutions. However, in the early days, the solution usually involved me stepping in to sort things out. By doing this I deskilled the staff and found that I was committing myself to too many things. When someone has a problem now I ask, what do YOU think we should do? or I ask for time to think. This gives you and your colleagues space to work out the best way forward. Keep the line of communication with the faculty succinct and direct. Each week I start a new weekly bulletin and all communication tends to go through this. Colleagues know it will arrive every Friday with information on all the relevant events in the faculty in the coming week. Another tip: get a good cobbler. I go through at least one pair of soles on my shoes each year walking around. There are some conversations that shouldnt take place via email.Meagre faculty budgets can go further with planning. I found savings when looking through stock tucked away in cupboards and classrooms. Twitter is great. I have had so many ideas, connections, inspiration and advice from it. It is the place where education is being made now. #Sltchat and #mltchat are worth a look in. BanksSmile, think first, speak later and dont react immediately to stressful situations. Instead, walk away and discuss things with trusted colleagues. When youve done this you can go back to the situation with a chance of resolving it. Continue reading...

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