Home' Independence : Independence Vol 31 No 1 May 2006 Contents Independence Volume 31 No. 1 31
What makes a great
NEWS AND VIEWS
The strength of the academic
subject departments in a school
does much to determine the
quality of education that the
students in that school receive.
Subject departments are at the
coalface of the school and are
directly responsible for the core
business of schools – teaching and
learning. Here, Tim Kotzur, Director
of PDHPE & Games at Barker
College, Sydney, analyses what
makes for a great department.
The reputation of a school can rise or fall
on the strength of its subject departments
and, this being the case, schools need
strong, vibrant subject departments.
What then can make an average or
even good subject department “great”?
Whilst there are numerous elements
that contribute to the making of a great
department, there are ten key foundation
stones on which a department should
The strength of a subject department or,
indeed, any team lies in the capacity of
each individual member. Every one of the
efforts of each teacher in a department
adds cumulatively to the team’s results.
To maximize this individual capacity,
teamwork is crucial; that is, together
everybody accomplishes more.
At times, teamwork can be a challenging
and difficult thing for a department to
achieve, but is a necessary precondition
to becoming a great department. A
crucial part of teamwork is a willingness
to help colleagues, to share the workload
and to do the right thing by colleagues
and students. Teamwork also implies
being tolerant of the differences in
colleagues and respecting them for who
they are and what they have to offer.
Teamwork also involves each member of
the department having faith in the course
of action that has been chosen by the
department and being committed to it,
knowing that at times it may not always
be their preference. Finally, teamwork
involves accepting disappointments and
frustrations and overcoming them by
working together. Only by living out
these things can a subject team become
a truly great department.
With great sporting teams, quality
is evident in everything they do.
Outstanding performances on the
sporting field or court only occur because
quality is evident in the way they prepare
and train. Such a culture in great teams
is established by setting high standards.
Expecting everyone associated with
the team to have high expectations of
themselves and their own performances,
and to adhere to these, further develops
this culture. This commitment to quality
also involves not accepting second best,
or compromising these standards.
In the same way as quality is the
hallmark of great sporting teams, so too
the mantra of quality must underpin
everything that a subject department
does. While this statement seems obvious
enough, at times subject departments
settle for second best. In the busyness
of their professional lives, teachers can
easily fall into accepting the attitude
that “close enough is good enough”
and this is reflected in little things such
as using the same lesson as last time,
doing things sloppily, glossing over
things, putting things off, leaving things
to the last minute, arriving late to class,
and making excuses. Such practices are
unacceptable because they compromise
the commitment to quality. Quality – all
of the time and in all that staff do – is not
an option; it is a necessity if departments
are to offer outstanding programs.
• Continuous Learning
Great sports teams are always looking to
improve how they do things. They know
that if they are reproducing exactly what
they did last season then their opponents
will overtake them. In other words,
they are concerned with continuous
improvement. Continuous improvement
(or continual learning) implies change.
Constant and continual change is a fact
of professional life in the 21st century.
Often there is reluctance on the part
of some members of a department to
accept change. Sometimes it is easier to
continue to do what they have always
done because they feel comfortable doing
it rather then take risks associated with
change. Great departments create an
environment that has a clear expectation
that as the educational landscape in which
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