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How to keep your department sweet

It's not easy being a head of department, but there are many things that you can do to make your life simpler and to create a happy and efficient domain. Here are some ideas to achieve that.

Keeping staff happy

This is important for its success. It helps if you can all get along professionally and have the same vision for the department. You need to present a united front if the department is to become strong and successful. This doesn't mean you have to all be friends, but have effective professional relationships.

Understanding staff and their work

Show your department that you appreciate the stresses and strains they experience and try to help them by suggesting practical solutions.

If you know a member of staff has a difficult group, support them by being as visible as possible before the lesson and, if you can, pop your head around the door during the lesson. Offer advice on how to deal with difficult situations. Don't let them to feel isolated. Make sure they are able to follow the school policy and to record carefully any incidents that need to be dealt with higher up. Give them a clear set of processes that need to be followed. They need to show they are following advice so that more support can be given. Take them a bar of chocolate or a coffee at the end of the day and ask them how things went.

Don't give a staff member a class that you wouldn't teach. Allocate groups fairly and logically. Remember what it's like to have certain groups and a lot of preparation and marking, which you might not have. Show you understand by making allowances and offering support to those with difficult classes.

Department meetings

Always produce a formal agenda for meetings and write basic minutes. This is important for recording everything that is discussed and will become a record for all deadlines and issues in the department for future reference.

It is easier to look back at minutes than trying to remember what was said six months ago.

Ask staff if they have anything to put on the agenda before the meeting.

This allows you to be prepared. This also ensures that meetings don't turn into a gossip or a moaning session. Go through each item quickly and efficiently. Stick to the agenda. Encourage staff to have their say, but if they have individual issues discuss it with them after the main meeting.

Don't allow a meeting to be a discussion on badly-behaved individual pupils. If behaviour management is on the agenda, discuss it in general terms and offer solutions and techniques.

If there are new ideas, discuss them and develop them so everyone can benefit. Recognise good work by individuals. Make sure all resources are shared and that people don't keep the best for themselves.

Departmental standards

Use meetings to do checks on standards. It is a good opportunity to see marking, record keeping and so on. There must be consistency across the department for progress to be made. For example, ask staff to bring a set of Year 9 books and spend 10 minutes looking at each others' books and sharing ideas, or get them to bring in mark books to check they are being completed efficiently. This allows you to monitor the quality of teaching and assessment that is being done.

Most importantly, if there is no need for a meeting, don't have one, and don't make every meeting a repeat of the past one by discussing previous issues. Give a copy of the minutes to your line manager and the headteacher to show that you are working effectively as a department and to highlight any whole school issues that need to be sent upwards.

Staff morale

Praise staff for meeting deadlines and representing the department in a positive manner. Mention good practice to management andor the head as much as possible. They like to hear the positives, not always the negatives. At the end of every term, give small gifts to your staff to thank them for their contribution and commitment to the department, or at least a personally written card. At the end of the academic year write a formal school-headed letter thanking them for their work. They can use this in their threshold portfolio.

Leading forwards

Some staff may initially resist and be wary of these systems, but it is much easier to start off formally and then to relax once your department is established than to start off too laid-back and regret it. There is a fine line between being seen as an over-demanding head of department, where staff respond negatively, and being efficient with high standards. Keeping things formal will help establish authority and create standards which will allow the department to grow.

Dawn Cox is head of REand GTPNQT co-ordinator at St Charles Lucas arts college in Colchester. Read part 3 in early April

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