What is a head of department? Let me count the roles…

As I approach 20 years as head of English, I might be forgiven for wondering how I’ve managed to plateau for so long. Professional life is frequently demanding, if not exhausting; and restarting the process each September can be daunting. Yvonne Williams writes in Tes. 

I am very grateful to my colleague for her words of wisdom in the first whole-school gathering of the year, when she said “don’t ask ‘what do I want to do this year’, but ‘what do I want to be?'” From such a perspective, what might at first appear to be a flat, bureaucratic job description for a department head – a list of duties spanning several pages – takes on exciting dimensions:  

1. Subject promoter: For me, English has always been the channel along which everything else is conducted. It provides the language, the narratives through which school life and professional experiences can be understood, and the opportunities to create as well as interpret the world around us. English is the only discipline that is fundamental to every transaction within the school.

4. Stage manager: Leading a department shouldn’t be about taking centre stage. Getting the timetabling right provides synergy between teachers and groups. Stock control is mundane but necessary. If workload is well planned and everything possible is done to reduce bureaucracy, teachers will become more relaxed and prepared for performing miracles in the classroom.

5. Mentor: It’s a responsibility and a privilege to support beginning teachers and new arrivals. The paperwork may be onerous but the dialogue provides two-way learning. The most fruitful part is seeing new colleagues gain confidence from trying out more adventurous strategies in the classroom. Every mentee has different needs and abilities. Get mentoring right and the effect on the classes and the department can be transformational. Neglect new staff or fail to find the time for them, and another teacher will be lost to the school – and possibly the profession.

11. Counsel for the prosecution: When exam results come in, there can be minor or major anomalies. Over the years, I’ve learned how to overcome defensiveness from exam boards, how assessment works, how the regulator has changed the rules of engagement. At the furthest extreme, I have actually taken on the role of prosecutor in a stage 2 appeal. Knowing how to negotiate reviews of marking and moderation is vital to ensure that justice is done.  

Read more duties for a head of department What is a head of department? Let me count the roles…

Can you relate to these roles? Any more? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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