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Advice please - new HoD dos and don'ts

Discussion in 'Heads of department' started by tb9605, Apr 30, 2017.

  1. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    Dear all

    I have just been offered a HoD post (core subect). It's in a new setting for me and I am unlikely to have much chance to visit or get to know existing staff before I take up the post in September.

    What would be your advice for a new HoD? What are the things I should do and the things I definitely shouldn't?

    Blindingly obvious statements extremely welcome. I'm often amazed by how things that seem obvious to me are not to others, so I am sure the reverse is true too.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Snorkers

    Snorkers New commenter

    Talk to your team about what they think should be the priorities - see if it matches your own observations once you're in post.

    Don't make any changes until you know the context - start working with the team and then make your decisions: there's nothing wrong with a watching brief to begin with.

    Work out which bits of paperwork/admin are most crucial - prioritise schemes of work for any new exam courses where current schemes don't exist (depending where you're up to with GCSE and A-level changes!)
  3. pianopete

    pianopete Occasional commenter

    Agree with all of the above. I was lucky enough to take over a department I had worked in so the context was a little different but I think openness is the way to go. I started by setting out that any changes I planned to make were for the best interests of everyone: student achievement and teacher workload. I used some budget to get everyone some stickers/posters for their rooms etc. I bought biscuits etc. to meetings. We share book recommendations each time we meet as a team. I made sure the department office had all the key info on the noticeboard. When writing the exit timetable I took more than my fair share. I popped in and spoke to people rather than sending emails about minor things. You also need to have their back if leadership come hunting - and they need to know that.

    Small things but easy to do when new in post and you're still finding out how the team ticks and what things need to be done.
    j_pink and zippygeorgeandben like this.
  4. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    Thanks for the advice both of you, and for taking the time to give it. Much appreciated!
  5. dookiedaveuk

    dookiedaveuk New commenter

    This is all great advice!

    • Listen a lot, particularly in the beginning
    • Don't assume to bend the department to your will from the beginning - they will have established working practices that you will need to understand. You can replace and refine over time, but I really would avoid charging in and changing loads right at the beginning.
    • Be open and honest
    • Talk to people instead of emailing
    • Schedule meetings to include sharing best practice, don't always have meetings in your room - circulate around the department.
    • Be dependable, answer emails in good time, if you say you will do something - do it. Create belief.
    We all have experience of poor managers - don't do whatever annoyed you about them. If you have experienced good managers - emulate what they did, if it matches with your beliefs.
  6. dookiedaveuk

    dookiedaveuk New commenter

    PS - cake, lots of cake...
  7. nervousned

    nervousned Lead commenter

    Make it a priority to get to know your team. Take any opportunities you can to make their lives easier so that they can focus more on what matters.
    wassurfbabe and wanet like this.
  8. wanet

    wanet Star commenter

    A long time ago now, and probably harder to achieve now, a HoD described his role as to filter out all of the rubish coming down from onhigh, and allow those at the chalk face to get on with their job.
  9. pianopete

    pianopete Occasional commenter

    I think there is still an aspect of that. I call myself the ****-umbrella. My job to take all the **** from leadership and then only filter down to them what is needed.
    emhinch, wassurfbabe and tosh740 like this.
  10. tosh740

    tosh740 New commenter

    Agree with all of the above, some great advice. The fact that you have asked the question suggests you will do well. Remember though that the teaching element will be harder than you might expect- new school, reputation to build etc. Easy to underestimate this aspect of the job when your focus is obviously on management and leadership. Ask for help from your department and rely on their experience, a good way to build trust. Never ever say "in my previous school..."
    Cake for meetings! The umbrella can be deployed in the second term.
    wassurfbabe likes this.
  11. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    Thanks again everyone. Great advice. Happily, I enjoy baking! Really good point about the teaching too...
    wassurfbabe and freckle06 like this.
  12. unfoggingblogger

    unfoggingblogger Occasional commenter

    Be supportive of discipline. Don't make too many changes, just make a couple -- have a clear vision. Don't be a Hitler. Actually celebrate and praise your staff.

    Don't be "too busy" to talk to your staff, that really irritates them!
  13. unfoggingblogger

    unfoggingblogger Occasional commenter

    Also, don't be a total wimp with SLT. If you think their ideas are damaging the results/ department, tell them. The whole reason there are middle managers is to communicate how things are going at the chalk face.
    wassurfbabe and zuba102 like this.
  14. zuba102

    zuba102 New commenter

    Don't change lots straight away- observe the current way of things and then introduce change gradually. As a general rule people hate change so going in all guns blazing will rub people up the wrong way. And don't be a cliche! Nothing worse than looking like you swallowed a how to be a hod manual on day 1.
  15. wassurfbabe

    wassurfbabe New commenter

    Very interested in this thread as the same applies to me! It feels very odd to be 'winding down'' in one school (well...I say that, there is still all the prep for the next year which feels odd as well) and trying to 'wind up' for another school yet not being able to really do anything
  16. rich_m

    rich_m New commenter

    My advice having been a core HOD for this year (promoted from within however so slightly different) is to figure out what the department do well and what they don't. Keep what works (making a point of emphasising current strengths) and change gradually what doesn't. Try to streamline things and if you are adding to workloads try to remove something else (yeah, hopeful I know), otherwise it will probably set staff up against you. Talk to your staff and try to get a feel for what they do well and ask what they want to see change.

    Don't blindly introduce change for change sake, for things you do want to do but feel may be met with resistance sow the seeds slowly and subtly before diving in. Get people talking about the things you want to change first, asking for opinions and involving them in the process and be prepared to adapt what you want to make it work (if that is an option, somethings you'll have to change regardless of opinions).

    Stick to your guns when you feel you are right and have a feel for the school. Don't put up with everything from above and filter both up and down. Fight for your staff when you can and make sure you let them know you have done so.

    The list is endless. I'd also recommend hunting out the other core heads and see what they say, they'll give you a good feel for what it's like to be in your position and the challenges you'll have, than just listening to those above and below. Talk to the kids about staff as well, they'll probably give you some very useful info on staff which you won't get from anywhere else.
  17. geographyrox

    geographyrox New commenter

    As someone who is stepping down from HoDship after a few years (for context not because i hated it but because another opportunity came up), my advice would be as follows:

    1) care about the members of your department more than the approval of your line managers. Whilst it may be tough at times, on leaving the role I am most proud of the times I stood up to SLT with regards to their (in my view incorrect) perceptions on performance of members of my department. It may not have always made me popular above but when your department know that you have their back, things run so much more smoothly.

    2) allied to 1), focus on the job you are doing not your next job. The most miserable departments are the ones where the HoD is looking for a deputy headship within he next couple of year. Staff members know when they are your priority

    3) focus observations on improvement not judgement, and you will find staff much more willing to take and act on feedback, as the sense is that we are all in it together

    4) despite your tough workload, dont burden your department with tasks that you are not willing to take on yourself. When a class is a teacher down due to illness, volunteer the first cover. When setting communal planning work, make sure you take on your share.

    5) when making any changes, make sure to get people's opinions before imposing diktats. It may be that in the end you disagree and make the call, but peoplw should at least be consulted.

    6) don't reply to parental complaint emails until the next day. My blood has never boiled as much as on receipt of some incredibly rude emails from parents. You need to leave it to the next day to calm down, and ideally if the issue is a major one meet face to face. People tend to be a lot more reasonable in person than over email!

    I hope that advice is at least somewhat useful.
    lotuslilly, j_pink, steely1 and 3 others like this.
  18. zippygeorgeandben

    zippygeorgeandben Occasional commenter

    HI @geographyrox thanks so much for all this advice. I'm leading a team for the first time this year and this is really useful. If anyone else has advice to pass on, id appreciate it!
  19. Trendy Art

    Trendy Art Star commenter

    Be visible.

    There has been many a time I've picked up on colleagues not feeling happy simply by passing through their classroom every day or so to note the morale of the team. By looking after the small things, it can anticipate bigger issues from escalating and ensure your team is supported.
  20. Tangalle

    Tangalle New commenter

    This post has been really useful. Does anyone have any advice about the first department meeting of the new term on the inset day? How Much time on results? How much should we look at data? Should a new HOD set out their vision/ way of working straight away, even if it's just to reassure people you're not going to totally change everything? Should it be mainly logistics and organisation? How do I check they have everything they need when I'm new to the school?

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