As a new middle leader, it can be a nerve-wracking time given that you could now be leading a team you were previously a part of or starting in a new school where you’re unfamiliar with its systems. Luckily, for me, I was already a part of the school when I was passed the middle leadership baton. The nerves set in once I realised the size of the task at hand. However, once I got going it all paled into oblivion as there was and still is, much to be done. Tread carefully, I remind myself, while I am bursting for changes, too much can be damaging and a hard task to maintain.
Nevertheless, the opportunity came knocking, so time to start the journey sculpting my vision for the new department. A challenge I felt ready for and really had secretly wanted for a year or two as my predecessor was counting the days down to retirement and not really adding any value to my beloved subject, pupils now saw us as a technical subject that was ‘too difficult.’ I envisage a department where pupil effort and independence of thought are celebrated just as much as progress, with a team who are creative, skilled in their delivery and value their own progression.
Where to start? The more mundane, yet crucial areas which need urgent attention, such as policies, schemes of work, updated lesson planning, raising standards or the equally needed, and more personally exciting, options of embedding investigations, developing pedagogy to allow for creativity and incorporating educational technology into more of our lessons.
Too many changes were running through my mind, especially given that we were still not done with the current term’s teaching. I’d exhausted two sides of paper creating my ‘to do’ list and quickly realised it was time to resort to the urgent and important matrix to get a clearer picture of everything I wanted to accomplish and promote.
A few quick and easy wins later, such as new displays in the corridor and classrooms, new clubs, an expectation of success (I reserve the right to call it this rather than a behaviour policy), and the general feel of the department is improving and pupils seem more engaged and excited about the subject.
The next challenge will be to get the team using technology to aid their pedagogic innovation and more practical investigations for the pupils; the pupils asked for this in a survey I took and they had a point as we had been a little stagnant at times in a subject that has an investigative element at its core. Time to get everyone rowing in the same direction!
What I wish I knew at the start was not to try and do everything all at once, as I have done in the last few months, but rather pick a few things and ensure measurable success in those areas: that’s where the real value is added. In the meantime, I will continue to make sure the basics are being done well, and consistently, promoting a creative environment for both the staff and pupils so that change naturally evolves. I remind myself to water that thought, daily, so that the prevailing culture I am aiming for forms a part of their learning process.
Back to my original thought on change; one of the joys of Twitter is having a network of fellow educators sharing great initiatives and commenting on their successes on an hourly basis, I wish I could implement them all at once but I would need to be leading a small army of teachers for that to happen. Alas, we are a small department so choose wisely I must as we forge ahead hopefully developing the next generation of engineers and science enthusiasts.
This article originally appeared the April 2017 edition of UKEdMagazine The online version of this article was updated in 2020 by the UKEd Editorial team in accordance with website and policy changes.
Olly Lewis is a Physics head of department and head of year in the south-east of England. Find and follow him on Twitter