For many aspiring teachers the prospect of becoming a Head of Department is one of the most aspirational targets and achievements within a career in education. And rightly so, not only are your career prospects considerably enhanced having ‘Head of Department status’ but improves your skills in a variety of ways, you will undoubtedly become a manager, motivator, organiser and sometimes even a councillor.  
From managing newly qualified teachers and experienced veteran educators, to liaising with senior leadership teams you will ultimately be accountable to a range of different people within the pressured and results driven business of education.  

Being a Head of Department can be a fantastic and challenging position or one that can swallow you whole. It is not easy to manage a team of teacher’s, as they can often be very opinionated and do what they feel is right rather than what is best for the organisation’s needs. 

There is a fine balance between supporting the needs of your team and that of your organisations. There will be members of staff that will try to sway your decisions but remember that you are in charge and you have the ‘final say’. Try to remain positive and be yourself.

Remember that you possess the qualities and skills which helped you to secure your position

For any aspiring or new Head of Department, here is some key points to consider when starting your new role:  

1) Planning

Nothing breeds confidence within a successful department rather than a plan. From organising open evenings and staff time tables to guest speakers, the list of planning is endless. The main objective here is to plan far in advance and to communicate with staff members about timely reminders of upcoming events. An electronic diary such as Google Drives are popular with many departments which can be updated and shared with staff, however a simple wall chart within the office can highlight key dates.

2) Praise

In the same vein as knowing your learners, the same applies to staff. Praise is important but knowing how to give praise is of upmost importance. Many staff members enjoy public praise in a meeting others will simply prefer a quiet word. Praise is essential to keep the morale of the department high, this does not mean having to buy bottles of wine or chocolates every time a staff member as this can get expensive! Simply make time to praise your staff, a simple well done card in a pigeon hole goes a long way. 

3) ‘No’ to emails, keep a personal touch

The sheer volume of emails a teacher can receive during a day can be overwhelming- try not to contribute to this! 
Can you give up your time to see each team member at least once per day? If time does allow, pass on the message to them face-face rather than communicating by e-mail you will engage their reaction better and see how they are doing. 

Tip! Try to visit your staff members at least once a day and check on how they are doing- even if you have no specific messages to pass on simply saying ‘Good morning’ or asking how their weekend has gone can promote team cohesion. 

4) Delegate responsibilities

‘Work to live not live to work’. A good manager will delegate roles and responsibilities to the team. It is important to approach staff members personally and check whether or not they are happy with the task they have been given and that they fully understand their responsibilities. 

Failure to communicate effectively with staff members will only lead to a mountain of tasks for yourself which can impact negatively on your Head of Department time.  

5) Go into bat for your team

Working within education can often feel like ‘spinning a number of plates’ all at the same time and occasionally one will drop. When things go wrong (and let’s face it, they often do working within a busy industry!) Reassure your staff members and try to look at it from their point of view. Make time to have a conversation with them and see how you can make their life easier in the future. Perhaps they need more training in certain aspects of their roles? 

When senior managers are making enquiries about your department, try to adopt a ‘we’ approach, comment on which staff members have come up with a successful idea’s. 

6) Make a fool of yourself

'Laugh at yourself before anyone else can’ The old saying can be applied to all aspects of teaching. By adopting a relaxed and light hearted style you will make your team feel at ease and more likely to be more approachable which is important within a fast pace environment. 

7) Set short goals

As much as long term planning and ‘visions’ are important, the short term goals are key for these strategies to materialise. By giving your team simple instructions and achievable goals, it will help them to prioritise their work load and build up communication skills and transparency within your team members. 

8) Trust your ‘specialists’

With so many different subjects or courses within your department it is impossible to be a master of all. Being a Head of Department requires trusting the specialist skill set of your team and letting them make decisions using their own professional judgement. Try your best to listen to the team member’s advice and let them know that you are fully supportive of them and any training needs they require. 

9) Let the team develop

It is important not to let your department ‘stagnate’ and not move with the developments of education and qualifications. Through appraisals and meetings, you can understand the training needs of the team. Allow for your members to attend training courses and arrange for cover of their classes. With you team becoming innovators will make your department more adaptable and even more marketable to teach new courses and qualifications. 

10) Innovation and Adaptability

Education changes are inevitable, with new government policies to schemes of work set by an exam board. By staying current means that you are well prepared for changes and you can provide the best advice and support to your staff members. 

11) What makes them tick?

Everyone values their job differently and will have different motivations and interests. Some will do what is required on a job description, others will go ‘above and beyond’ for your department. The best way to take this is to speak to each team member about their aspirations, interests and motivations, you will begin to understand how they work and what is driving them. 

12) What style are you?

Authoritarian, Democratic, Lassiez-Faire are some of the more common leadership styles within teaching but one style should never define you. As you get to know your team better you will understand what style works for that individual. An experienced teacher within the department may require a ‘hands off’ style of leadership where the occasional check-up is important. Whereas, a recently qualified teacher may require more focus and a structured leadership style to ensure they remain on top of their work load. 

13) Trust your gut

When everyone is giving you their opinions on new ideas, always remember that you are in charge and have the ‘final say’ on decisions. A successful manager will always seek advice from others and ultimately make the decision based on what is best for the team. 

14) Those ‘difficult conversations’

When situations arise and you need to address a problem with a staff member, it is best to do this in private and resolve the issue and move forward together. Try to listen to the staff member first and remain objective, it may be useful to record the meeting and any email communications between yourself and the colleague. 

15) Mind the meetings

Meetings are somewhat inevitable within teaching. Whenever an inspector examines your department more often than not they will request to see the minutes of your meetings. As tedious as they are, meetings stand necessary to ensure team members are on the ‘same page’ and important information can be provided and shared. When arranging a meeting try to send out an agenda in advance.

Timing is important as team members may have additional commitments after work.