4 ways to make the transition to primary subject lead

Being promoted from primary classroom teacher to subject lead can be a scary experience, admits deputy head Lekha Sharma. To help get you off to a flying start, she offers advice for bringing teachers on board and having an impact across the whole school
13th March 2020, 12:05am
Four Tips To Excel As The Subject Leader Of The Pack

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4 ways to make the transition to primary subject lead

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/4-ways-make-transition-primary-subject-lead

The move from classroom teacher to subject lead can be both exhilarating and daunting. Now you not only have to think with your teacher hat, but also have to wear your leader hat, too.

What’s more, despite you being keen to make your mark, there is often limited time and training to help you with this transition. That can leave you feeling somewhat adrift.

Fortunately, there are some core steps that you can take to make this change more manageable. Having been through this experience, there are four key things I would recommend to a new subject lead to help them hit the ground running.

1. Do an audit

When you become a subject lead, there will generally be a subject handover from the previous lead or you will get a “lowdown” from senior leaders before they (often fairly unceremoniously) pass the torch.

At this point, I remember feeling rather stunned by the idea of leading a whole school area. You may feel similar. But don’t let this stop you in your tracks.

The best way to get a handle on your area is to carry out a subject audit by talking to those who have gone before and other senior leaders about where the subject currently stands, its strength and areas of opportunity. But it’s equally important to formulate your own view so you start to know your subject inside out.

A crucial part of this is talking to teachers delivering the subject and to pupils. All too often you can have an airtight, theoretically sound plan for the direction of your subject, but how it’s actually experienced by teachers and pupils is vastly different. As such, it’s important for the subject lead to grapple with the nitty-gritty of their subject as well as what’s going well and what successes can be built upon.

By having a clear understanding of your subject at a whole-school, class and pupil level, you’ll be able to truly appreciate where your subject stands and how to drive it forward - both on a subject level and in line with the school’s wider priorities.

2. Get to know your audience

Being a subject lead is an exciting role because you can enact positive change across an entire school and influence the learning experience for a larger number of pupils than just your class.

This responsibility, though, comes with the challenge of really knowing your pupils across the school, just as you would endeavour to know the pupils in your class well enough to shape the teaching and learning for them.

But how is it possible to know every pupil in an entire school?

The answer lies in the make-up and the rich tapestry that is the demographic of the school. By taking the time to consider this, you can ensure that your subject’s curriculum is bespoke to your pupils and suits their needs. For example, in a school that has a high proportion of pupils with English as an additional language, it’s important to consider what measures can be put in place at a whole-school level to support these pupils so they can access and engage with your subject.

3. Focus on pedagogy and how to support teachers

Teaching and learning are the power engines of every school. When leading a subject, developing and supporting subject knowledge among your teaching staff is the key to improving delivery. Again, it’s important to engage in candid discussion with teachers to build a clear picture of what the strengths of teaching in the subject are and what the challenges are. By doing this, you can tailor your support and provide teachers with the CPD they require to really hone their craft.

Engaging teachers in this discussion will also allow you to lead while ensuring a collegiate approach to subject development and school improvement.

The best way to develop teachers is on the ground in classrooms through team-teaching and coaching, following on from CPD. If you are able to walk the walk in the classroom and model teaching and learning strategies, this will provide teachers with a step-by-step guide on how to improve their practice in the classroom. I would also strongly recommend getting out to other schools to see some great practice so you can distil these qualities and create a toolkit of what great teaching looks like to share with your teachers.

4. Share your passion for your subject

The best part about being a subject lead is the ability to share your passion for your subject far and wide and inspire other teachers to share in this passion, too. You have to bear in mind, however, that not every teacher will share a passion for your subject. So, it’s important to walk the line between making the presence of your subject felt and giving teachers the chance to learn more about what makes your subject special.

A good way to do this organically is through whole-school initiatives. For example, if you lead on literacy, you could implement “Drop Everything and Read” - an initiative that encourages reading for pleasure for an allotted amount of time daily.

Initiatives like this may seem like an “extra” but they keep your subject at the forefront of teachers’ and pupils’ minds and allow the whole school to appreciate your subject area and the purpose it serves. This will help to reinforce the quality of the delivery in classrooms across the school.

Ultimately, leading a subject area may, at first, fill you with trepidation, but it is a truly unique opportunity and a huge privilege and will give you a new perspective on your own teaching practice.

And to return to the idea of “hats” : my final piece of advice for thriving as a subject lead is to continue to keep your teacher hat firmly in place. This will enable you to take into consideration how best to support your teachers and develop the quality of your subject area concurrently, so pupils get the highest quality teaching.

Lekha Sharma is a primary teacher and deputy head at a school in South London. She tweets @teacherfeature2

This article originally appeared in the 13 March 2020 issue under the headline “Four tips to excel as the subject leader of the pack”

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