10 tips for successfully leading a subject

Will you be leading a subject for the first time in September? This primary assistant vice-principal shares his advice to help you manage the responsibility

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So you've been given a subject to lead. But where do you start? And how do you get everyone interested enough to teach your subject effectively in an already overcrowded primary timetable?

If you are leading on a non-core subject, the challenges can be particularly difficult to overcome. But by following these 10 steps, you will be better placed to make your subject shine.

  1. Get yourself trained
    Teachers are often given a subject to lead in which they have little prior experience. Be on the lookout for training courses and get yourself booked on them. You'll probably need the say-so of a more senior leader for this, so make sure you outline the benefits for the school when you ask.
  2. Find online CPD
    The internet is a wonderful place for teachers. It's guaranteed that there's another teacher out there who leads the same subject as you and who would be willing to connect with you. Facebook and Twitter both have excellent communities where you will find like-minded educators. A quick search through the hashtags will lead to a wealth of online articles and blogs that will help you to grow your subject knowledge.
  3. Start a local working group
    If networking on social media's not your thing, try to meet with other coordinators in your local area. Mutually encouraging one another, sharing ideas and even planning together will make you feel less alone in your role and more empowered to champion your subject in your own school.
  4. Ask for time
    All schools should be aiming for a well-rounded approach to delivering the national curriculum. Use this as a reason when you ask your senior leaders for time out of class to work on your subject area. During this time you might create schemes of work, observe lessons or monitor work.
  5. Provide staff training
    Ask to run a session about your subject with other members of staff. Most school leaders will be delighted that someone else is offering to take a staff meeting. It's worth booking this well in advance, as there are plenty of other matters which vie for staff meeting time.

    Leading staff training might seem like a daunting task, but it's not too dissimilar from teaching a class of talkative children…
  6. Make staff training exciting
    You don't have to go too wild to provide a stimulating and engaging CPD session to your colleagues. Even just stepping beyond the monotony of talking through a PowerPoint presentation is a good start.

    Most staff don't mind playing the role of children and having a go at some examples of activities. Another valuable use of time is to allow staff to actually plan a lesson, learning sequence or activity there and then.
  7. Extol the virtues of a cross-curricular approach
    Teachers like to kill two birds with one stone. Think particularly of the stronger subjects in your school. For example, if reading and writing is done well, but not geography, work with staff to show them how they can bring geography into their English lessons. This way, even without one-off lessons or topics, your subject is still being taught.
  8. Seek out learning opportunities for your staff
    It might not be on everyone's mind that they should try to do a history trip each year; it's your role as subject leader to encourage this. Spend some time looking at the curriculum and searching out local visits and visitors to enhance the teaching of the topics in your subject. Doing this leg work for staff will be appreciated.
  9. Embrace special weeks, days and events
    World Book Day, Science Week and the like always seem to get a look in. But what's on the calendar for your subject? A quick search online will turn up a whole host of weird and wonderful awareness events

    For example, did you know 5 June is World Environment Day? Or that 14 June is World Blood Donor Day? And 20-26 June is Refugee Week. You should also look out for local events at museums, libraries and other such venues.
  10. Send a subject bulletin
    Write a regular email with links to articles, blog posts, videos and events linked to your subject. Jot down a few ideas about how these could be used to enhance the teaching of your beloved subject — teachers are more likely to pay attention to what you've sent if you've provided some ideas for how to use it. Some ideas might be about full lessons, others could just be 10-minute end-of-day activities.

Aidan Severs is an assistant vice-principal at a primary school in the North of England. He blogs at ThatBoyCanTeach and tweets @thatboycanteach

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