April 5, 2017 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
I have been working as Head of a Science faculty for just over a year now. As I approach the Easter holidays and start looking ahead to a new academic year in September, I thought I would reflect on what I have learned over the past year.
- As teachers we often have to act as de facto social workers for our pupils. What I hadn’t realised previously is that as Head of Science very often I have also played this role for my staff. One of the aspects of the role I have enjoyed the most in the last year is being able to support and nurture such a large number of staff. Seeing the positive impact I can have on colleagues has provided the same satisfaction I get when I have a positive impact on a pupil. I did not anticipate however how emotionally draining this would become. It is so incredibly important to have a network outside of work that you can turn to and offload on to. I am thankful that I have an incredibly patient family at home that are willing to listen to me regale the trials and tribulations of the day. This aspect of the role is one that I have not heard discussed very often but it should really be something that a future Head of Department/Faculty thinks about and prepares for before entering in to the role.
- Having a vision is incredibly important. Knowing where you are and where you want to be in the future. What if that vision however clashes with the whole-school policies that are in place? This is something that I have struggled with an awful lot over the last year and I imagine will continue to for the foreseeable future! An important aspect of coping with this clash has been the incredibly productive and supportive relationship I have with my SLT link. The importance of this type of relationship is one that should never be underestimated. I have seen in the past how a breakdown in this relationship can be an absolute disaster. The conversations I have with my SLT link have helped me to clarify my own vision for the faculty and also helped me to realise that on occasion there is value in ‘toeing the party line’. The phrase ‘pick your battles’ is one that I would have etched in to my tablet of Middle Management Commandments!
- The final lesson I have learned over the last year is the importance of being visible. Not just to students but to staff as well. As much as I can, I try to be in corridors between lessons to have brief conversations to pupils I used to teach and those who I currently teach. You have to try and set the tone for your domain within the school. Letting pupils know their teachers have been praising them in the staff room. Reminding pupils of the events coming up. Showing them that what they do is important and matters to not just them, or their individual teacher, but to the whole faculty. Being visible to my colleagues however is equally important. My lab door is nearly always open, when I am teaching and when I am not. I try and check in with all 18 of the staff members that work within the faculty on a daily basis. I try my best to pick up on signs of people who are feeling low and also recognise those who have something to celebrate. We want our pupils to feel happy, safe and secure when they come in to our faculty and for this to happen the staff first need to feel the same. I haven’t always succeeded with this over the last year, but I have recognised that you have to never stop trying.
That leads me to the areas that I feel I have performed less well in this year.
- Managing workload. This has been difficult for everyone and I have tried various strategies to improve this but I still feel that too often my workload gets on top of me. Getting better at prioritising has been one thing I have focused on recently. I am also aware that in preparation for next year I need to do better at developing the capacity of the Head’s of Department (HoDs) and other colleagues that have responsibility within the faculty to ensure that I can confidently delegate to them. One thing I changed mid way through the year was that I stopped meeting HoDs as a collective group and instead met them separately. This has enabled me to use time with them more effectively.
- Behaviour management. My heavy workload has meant that at times I have not supported my staff as well as I would have liked with regards to behaviour management. We need to strengthen the systems in place and be more consistent with our rewards and sanctions across the faculty. Taking care of the little things linked to behaviour management will hopefully enable improvements in all areas of the faculty.
In just a year I have learned so much about what the role of Head of Faculty involves, and I no doubt have plenty still to learn. The positives far outweigh any negatives I have experienced thus far. I am incredibly lucky to have an incredible team working with me and it is exciting to think about how much more we can do in the future. This role is definitely a challenging one but one I would recommend anyone who loves their subject and the teaching profession in general to take on.