The Art of Leading a Department: Persevere

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.”

H.G. Wells

If you’ve missed any of the series so far, click here for all of the previous parts of this series. This is a short post to wrap everything up. Enjoy!

I said, right at the very beginning of this series, that the role of Head of Maths is the hardest in secondary school. My aim with this series was to offer advice on how to make leading a department an easier job so that you can cope with the demands. If there is one concept that I think underpins all of what I’ve said, it’s the idea of perseverance.

Never give in!

I have often come across teachers new to the profession who have a few challenging classes, and are on the cusp of the downward slope to packing it in. The challenging classes are basically doing anything to get their way – in other words, what the teacher is facing is a control issue.

My advice to those teachers is to keep turning up. Keep planning lessons, keep setting expectations, keep expecting them to be met, and treat every lesson as a fresh start. Only when the job is completely unmanageable, and you’ve exhausted every possibility of relief, should you then start considering what the future holds for you.

That principle can be translated to leading a department. It’s bloody hard. It often places doubts in one’s mind about one’s capability, because there are times where nothing seems to be going right.

But the fact is that, especially in the early days, if you act as if you’re always learning, then it places a different perspective on things. I’ve met HoDs who’ve been doing the job for longer than they care to remember but they admit that the frequency of changes in curriculum and policy mean that they’re having to adapt all the time. Survival is the result of adaptation. Tweaking your practice and being situationally aware is the key to being a successful leader. But you have to be there in order for that to happen. No matter how difficult it feels at the time, that feeling is often only temporary.

As a head of department, the challenges are greater but likewise so are the rewards. Seeing students and staff alike succeed because of the input you yourself have had is incredibly fulfilling. It’s a long, hard game but one that makes a massive difference to people’s lives.

Good luck in your endeavours!

Amir, December 2014

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About workedgechaos

Teacher. Critic. Geek.
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