Make friends from the start

15th August 2003 at 01:00
As a new head of department, you will stand or fall with your staff.

So learn how to treat them right, warns Gerald Haigh

A new head of department is plunged straight into a working school with fixed routines and a demanding personal timetable. During those early days, there isn't much space to interview every member of the team. But getting to know your colleagues is crucial. Nicola McLeod, head of modern languages at Priestnall school, Stockport, suggests having a social event for the depart-ment. "You don't have to befriend people, but you need to show them you're interested. It's important that they don't feel they've been going wrong and you've come in to put them right," she says. "Because if they don't want you to do well, you won't."

This may involve keeping at bay a senior management team who've appointed you to achieve results. "You could be in a difficult position - piggy in the middle," she says. "But as long as you present a good action plan, and management can see you're moving in the right direction, they'll understand."

Mike Bell, a head of science working with the Association for Science Education, urges getting to know routines in advance so you don't have to waste time finding them out. "It's important to arrive knowing the school systems - which means reading the school and department handbooks." Not only that, but, he says: "You may find yourself providing induction for new teachers and support staff at the same time as trying to provide it for yourself."

Knowing the roles of key members of staff - which deputy head does what, the name of the special needs co-ordinator-is a priority. Similarly, where there are people in the team who have important roles outside the department - as year heads, for example - it's necessary to talk to them and find out how they see their jobs.

Part of stamping your authority as department leader, says Mike Bell, involves knowing what's happening in your subject. "Teachers might be vague about the latest curriculum or exam changes, but as head of the subject they'll expect you to know - so you have to do the research and find out.

Summer's the time for bringing yourself up-to-date - not just in your own subject but concerning developments in the wider school curriculum."

It is also important to establish your position with pupils."You should go round to every class over a period of time and introduce yourself," he says, "and make clear your expectations for them."

This isn't always easy in a busy department, but it's a priority, and it can be done over, say, half a term. For pupils to see teacher and head of department together in what's obviously a hierarchical relationship reinforces the new head of department's position.

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