Diary of a subject leader
Real issues in the life of a fictional Subject Leader
Standing in Monday morning briefing this week, I listened to the headteacher reel off the usual reminders and lists – make sure every student has their top button fastened and seven stripes of the tie showing…at which point I begin to wonder how the ensuing confrontation is going to help me hit the targets next August. My eye wanders to some other team leaders in the room and I know they are thinking the same.
When we are done, I check my pigeonhole. On top of all the flyers is a memo from the head asking me to list all units of work where students have the opportunity to use workplace skills, all units where they…?? (Return by end of tomorrow!) It is apparently part of the all-new, shiny self-evaluation form (SEF).
It gets me thinking about my department SEF and eventually back to a conversation I had with a head of mathematics in a neighbouring school. She had taken on the challenge of leading a totally new team in a fairly challenging school where mathematics was the objective in the School Development Plan. Starting the year with a completely new team of mathematics teachers, and with 75% of Year 11s commiserating on their Grade U’s in the most recent module examinations, I had often admired her courage but also felt for her partner. With a small cohort of about 120, every borderline student mattered. Her team were really focussed on the 18 students that were nearest to the D/C line. They were clearly making a real effort, more perhaps than their students.
I’d met up with her after the results. She missed her target of 54% by 2%, and was quite deflated. She explained the impact that maths was having on the whole school 5+A*-C inc. Eng/Ma. I commiserated with her but in the next five minutes she revealed that her team had a positive residual, and had been successful with 8/18 borderline students. I quizzed her on her deflated feelings. It appeared that her headteacher had been hoping for more, and she had really followed that emotional lead. I bought her another drink and told her that her headteacher was lucky that she stuck the year out (the furniture in this particular watering hole had previously been party to some fairly eyebrow-raising tales).
Going back to my own team after that rather deflating briefing, I was ready for a full whinge from both barrels. But…I remembered how my colleague had picked up on that emotional lead from her headteacher. Was I falling into the same trap? In the second week of the term, did I really want my own team to focus on the negatives, or did I want them to maintain their buoyant, enthusiastic approach, which had already been noticed by students?
From a wider perspective, how does my emotional state and how I react to the stress of my role help my team to improve their game? Yes, I support them when they ask, and I try to bring out their positives when it comes to performance management. However, if I want them to get more from our students, perhaps I need to contain my own negative reactions and make an effort with my own emotional leads. Will I be happier next September if I worry less about my own negatives and focus more on supporting my team everyday, by looking for the best in them and the best in their students? I’m not sure, but I won’t feel any worse!