This has been one of the most fulfilling terms of my career, and also one of the most challenging – how often these two seem to go hand in hand. It has been something of an adjustment, having to learn how to manage a department as well as take on new whole-school responsibilities. Not to mention trying to teach. Here are some of the things I have learned this term:
How to do duty… And how to not do duty
In the early days, I felt ridiculous doing duty. I’d knock apologetically at classroom doors, and teachers would scowl as if I were interrupting them – which, of course, I was. Now I’ve done my duty periods enough times, I think I’ve worked out which classrooms I can pretty much leave alone, and which benefit from a “casual walk-through.” I think back to myself as a new teacher, and how I’d have liked SLT to approach my classroom; I’m tougher with the students who are clearly taking advantage; I’m tougher if it’s a supply teacher or an NQT – I tend to haul students behaving less than perfectly away from the former in particular with little discussion. Especially as we come to the end of term, I feel like they are the ones who most need a calmer classroom. I’ve also realised that the more visible you are, the easier it becomes. Serendipitously, a spate of SLT sickness has allowed me to take on more duties; practice makes for some fast improvements.
How to teach less, but well
It has been a big adjustment going from having four classes to three. You wouldn’t think that losing four periods would have such a big effect, but the remaining 15 hours a week I am teaching have become my favourites. I really miss my year 9s, who (I’m almost sad to confess) are racing up to me at lunchtimes to fill me in on how much they are learning with their new teachers and how well they are behaving. Now, I feel grateful every lesson I can shut the door and just be a teacher. At the start, it seemed like this was the least important part of what I do, but after a bit of a battle with my year 10 class, I realise it is the most important. It is worth spending extra time making those 15 hours my best of the week. The fewer issues I have in my own classroom, the more helpful I am in the rest of my roles.
How to take feedback
I am so blessed to have a plain-spoken member of my team who simply does not sugarcoat: I know when I’m doing a good job, and I definitely know when I have to do better. A few weeks ago, she told me, in much more couched terms, that I wasn’t a presence in the English department at the moment; I wasn’t supporting teachers enough. After recovering from this blow, I resolved to do better. How can I ensure I check in with all the teachers I am responsible for, so none of them feel like she felt that day? How can I rebalance my responsibilities so I don’t let teachers down?
How to keep my sanity
That said, the English office is always a place of sanity for me. It’s amazing to have such a team of motivated individuals. We share the office with the Maths department, so they also deserve kudos for keeping our spirits up at the end of a long term. In particular, there are four or five of the teachers who have been permanently stocking the office with chocolate, Haribo and donuts. I need to exercise more restraint in future, but this term these have been all but essential to a healthy spirit.
My favourite thing this term has been observing the three colleagues who have opted into the “Leverage Leadership”-style “developmental observations” – 20 minute drop-ins with brief and focused feedback following (Harry Fletcher-Wood has written about this in helpful detail). It has been really something watching each colleague grow and improve as term has gone on. The Headteacher is fond of telling me that when she is feeling stressed, she goes and “walks around year 11 English lessons.” I know exactly what she means – there is nothing so soothing as watching great professionals at work.
Some thoughts for the term ahead (the year ahead feels too enormous to contemplate):
I will keep writing
Like almost everyone, I suffer from melodramatic crises of confidence, and I have found it increasingly hard to write this term. Or rather, to publish – I’ve written copious posts which now lay strewn in various folders, achingly missing the special something which would allow them to flow freely into the digital world. I’d like to write better, of course, but at times it might be worth just chucking it out there (like this post in fact, which I never intended to publish).
I will support teachers
I have come to realize that my time in school needs to be spent being completely available to the teachers I am responsible for. They need to be supported, and their needs must always, always come first. I know, and must never forget, that it is harder to be a teacher on a full timetable than any of the positions I have been lucky enough to hold: I have never been so viscerally exhausted as a HoD or member of SLT as I was teaching, even with some years of experience, a full timetable. That is the real hard work.
I will be great at my job
In the past, I’ve tried to be all things to all people and have taken on far too much outside school. This led, last year, to a five-month long cold I just couldn’t shake and needing a pair of crutches to move around (a very long story). I need to remember that my first responsibility is to my school, and no matter how exciting the opportunities I might be offered, sometimes it is better to just say no, and instead be great at the day job. After all, I have a long way to go to be “great”!
… but I will take time to do other things
The Head of Maths and I have been talking about going to meditation classes for about six months. I have a tendency to race from thing to thing with little thought or reflection – 2015 is the year to stop this nonsense. I will also see my friends more, even if they choose to live in far-flung suburbs or crazily West.