9 important lessons I've learnt as head of department

Jane Basnett

Jane Basnett is head of MFL at Downe House, a successful Independent Girls School in Berkshire. She has been teaching for almost 20 years and is still learning. She achieved an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.

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Website: janeebasnett.blogspot.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image credit: Pexels. Image credit: Pexels.

After 24 years as a teacher you learn a few things about the job. Within this 24 years I have had time as a head of department (four as Head of French, and the last ten as a head of a large, vibrant modern languages department) and this has really enabled me to learn about myself. Just as with teaching, as a head of department I am still learning but have collected a few top tips. So here are my top nine things I’ve learnt about this job.

1. Be humble. You don't know everything. There are other experts too, so don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Personally, I'm always learning and will only stop when I don't want to learn any more.

2. Personality at interview is really important. If the interview candidate’s lesson goes well but the interview leaves you doubting - think carefully. You can change someone who is reflective, open to advice and ideas and these are skills that will come across at interview. If they seem inflexible at interview, then the likelihood is that they will be inflexible to work with.

3. Listen to advice - but remember you don't have to take it. Trust your own judgement.

4. Discover your inner leader. You're leading a team. Getting people on-side is key to running a successful team and you need to think about how you will do this. It takes time to get to the point where your team have confidence in you, and you have to work at it. Be prepared to make difficult decisions and understand that you will not be able to make everybody happy all the time. Be honest with your team and explain your reasoning behind the decisions you make. You are not infallible; it is not a weakness to make a mistake and admit that you have done so. Your team will value this honesty.

5. Feedback is better in a sandwich. The feedback sandwich is well-known and is a cliché, I know, but it's true. Ensuring that you praise what is done well enables you to get someone on side and in the right frame of mind to think about changing one thing that really is not working. Praise more than criticise.

6. Open doors - your door should always be open. Both the office door for advice and the classroom door. If you want your team to happily invite observers in their classroom, then you should invite your team to observe you whenever they want.

7. Experience is everything. My years in the role have given me more than just a few silver hairs! Experience allows me to know the answers to tricky questions and to know how to deal with the various situations that invariably crop up over the course of a school day.

8. Be prepared - starting your day with marking and lesson plans ready means that you can spend your day helping those around you. It is important to understand that your team and your students need you and that you need to be there for them.

9. Be a multiplier - as well as backing your team up, give them the space to develop. Learn to delegate and trust in your team to deliver. As a leader of a department your job is to develop a team who believe in the vision you have and who play a full part in making the vision become a reality. This means letting go and allowing the team to get to the point where they feel that they could take on positions of responsibility - perhaps even your job!

Running a department is not easy, but it is incredibly rewarding. Whether you are new to the job or you have been doing it for some time, I hope that you find these nine tips of use. Let me know your top tips…

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