This year I began my new post as Curriculum Leader for Geography in Hampshire. I am in my 5th year of teaching and have worked at two schools previously with the aim of progressing to a middle leader role. During my PGCE I was inspired by my mentor and at that time, Head of Geography, to follow the same route so that I could shape a department myself. I still have a lot to learn but I wanted to share some of my experiences from the past term and some tips for any aspiring middle leaders.
- Get your team on board with your ‘vision’
When you take over a department it is really helpful to have a clear vision of what you want to improve or change and how you want to do that. Share your ideas with your department and get them enthused about what you want to do. Talk to them and figure out what they want to change as well – completing a SWOT analysis (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) can be a great way of doing this. I have been lucky that my department have been so open to change and willing to work to improve our schemes of work.
- You can’t change everything yourself and all at once
One of my biggest challenges has been learning to prioritise. In term time there is just not enough time to make fantastic display boards and plan lessons. The learning comes first and the displays will just have to wait until the summer term. As a new head of department you also cannot do everything yourself however much you might want to. Delegate to your team and share the jobs out. You can always oversee the jobs and offer advice if you struggle to let go. I have still not perfected this!
- Get organised and ask for help
As soon as you can, find out about department monitoring schedules in your school and how observations are carried out. Changing schools, I also had to ask different people about performance management structures and my responsibilities. Even though I have mentored trainees and NQTs this has been my first experience of management. Getting organised and having a folder for all your paperwork is a good idea. I have the department monitoring schedule, any paperwork from department or line management meetings, lesson observation notes, data tracking (including lists of PP students and any interventions) and performance management paperwork all in one folder. If Ofsted were ever to come I feel confident that I have everything ready.
At times it has been difficult to manage my roles both as a teacher and a middle leader but I have honestly enjoyed it all. I leave school every day feeling a sense of accomplishment as I have helped to improve the department and faced new challenges. If you are considering a jump into middle leadership, ask to shadow a head of department and/or talk to people who already do the job. If you are up for a challenge, I could not recommend it enough! Already made the jump? What are your top tips?
Rachel Hawke is Curriculum Leader for Geography at Court Moor School in Hampshire. She completed her PGCE at the University of Oxford, during which time she developed an interest in enquiry learning. Her ideas on this subject have been published in the ‘Teaching Geography’ journal.