Teacher Career Progression – The gap between classroom teacher and head of department cannot be under-estimated. Managing people and managing change is a completely different skill-set to the one that likely drew you into teaching. Leading children through learning is so much easier than leading teachers through education, especially at the middle tier of management where you are the deliverer of senior leadership decisions.
Preparation for middle leadership needs to begin before you are appointed to the role. You should ask for middle leader’s training and you should ask to shadow the work of a Head of Department. From this training, you should get an idea of the workload and the pressures before you begin. On appointment, you should continue your training by asking to spend at least a day with the team and to be in the department. Be wary of asking teachers if they would mind you in their classroom – you are their new boss – they will be nervous of your presence! If they invite you in – great – if not, wait and see what the lay of the land is regarding observations and drop ins.
When you begin the role, you will be surprised how much teaching you are still expected to do. For a core subject, you will be allocated 4 hours per week for management, maximum. If you are a non-core subject this could be as little as 2 hours per week. Your classes will be important to you and the way you teach will be your main way of communicating your values to your team. Decide quickly if it is fine for you to be interrupted whilst teaching. It is better to proactively put in place a policy, then it is to react to the interruptions of your team.
Your first day will involve a department meeting. You should be the one who talks the least. In fact, this is the best pattern for the first term, depending on the situation. Listening and learning will be respected – no one likes the person who comes in and changes everything. This communicates that what was happening before was perhaps wrong or poor practice. Live with the way things were run for a while and listen to what the team felt worked and did not work. From this active listening form a plan with the team for how things can be better. You may feel pressure from the senior team but this is yours to bear for a while – your middle leader role is to buffer your team from the pressure brought to bear on you.
The middle leader’s role is the most influential role in the school. You have direct access to your team and your students and you can shape the learning in your subject area. It is exciting and rewarding – and a hell of a lot of hard work. But, if you wanted to make a difference – you are now in the role that means you can do just that.