Home' Independence : Independence Vol 31 No 1 May 2006 Contents 14 Independence Volume 31 No. 1
Jenny Allum offers the following
reflection on what it means to
be a Head of Department. This
article is edited from a recent talk
given to the Mathematics Heads
of Department Annual Dinner run
by the Association of Independent
Schools in NSW. Jenny is Head of
School, SCEGGS, Darlinghurst.
The Head of Department position is
a critical role in any school. Heads of
Department are pivotal, as they work
with and supervise closely the teachers
of the department, and are responsible
for all that the department does – its
teaching, its relationship with students
and parents, the way it promotes its
subject and the very nature of the
teaching and learning itself.
I want to outline five functions (in no
particular order) which I think Heads
of Department must both confront
and execute. Firstly, as a Head of
Department, you are a role model.
You need to demonstrate excellence in
teaching, in administration, in all of your
professional conduct, in your relationship
with parents, and so on. What personal
qualities do you want to exemplify?
• Be discreet
• Be supportive of colleagues
• Be loyal to the Head of School and
• Don’t gossip, don’t put others down
• Respect everyone – colleagues, students
• Do things well – try to be exemplary in
all you do.
What are you going to do when you don’t
agree with something – with something
your Principal does, or a policy of the
school for example? Never under-estimate
your effect on staff – they do look and see
what you are thinking, and often take their
lead from you. One doesn’t demonstrate
loyalty when one agrees with the decisions
of the boss – it’s when one doesn’t agree
that one’s loyalty is demonstrated.
Secondly, you are a leader. Heads of
Department need to have a sense of
vision – about what “can be” in your
department. What do you want for your
discipline and for the teaching of it?
You also need to understand intimately
and identify with the school’s ethos and
vision. And there are other questions to
be answered. What should be the role of
technology in education? How do you see
the pastoral dimension being played out
by the teachers within your department?
How does your department contribute
to the school community? You are
responsible for forming these visions and
ideas, and communicating them to your
department as “the beacon on the hill”.
Thirdly, you are of course a manager of
people. This involves a number of aspects:
• Helping to select staff
• Encouraging staff
• Challenging them
• Nurturing them
• Appraising them
• Guiding them
• Giving them Feedback
• Helping them to improve
• Disciplining them
This is, I believe, a pivotal part of the
job and perhaps the hardest one. It is a
hard juggling act to sit beside staff, to
be friends and colleagues with them, to
work together; and then also to be their
appraiser, critic and supervisor.
Fourthly, you are an administrator. You
need to ensure your department, and
you personally, meet budgets, timelines,
curriculum requirements, assessment and
reporting requirements and so on. This
is not easy – it is of course a juggling act.
Sometimes this function is the one which
slides when staff, parents and students
are in need of your time and energy.
Finally you are an implementer – of the
school ethos, its goals and policies; of
legislative requirements and so on. This
is not something which you can reject,
pass off, or ignore. It is vital to all of your
work and that of your department.
One can think of one’s role as like being
a helicopter pilot. You need to be able to
rise above the hullabaloo – to see the big
picture, to see where you are heading, to
scan for pitfalls, problems and challenges,
to maintain a sense of focus and
perspective. You also need to come closer
down to earth, to put out fires, to set
wrong things right and so on. This idea
of being at the joystick, choosing when to
descend, when to rise to see the horizon,
is a good picture to keep in mind.
The role of the
Head of Department
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