Saturday, 9 November 2013

Creating a departmental focus

In any book about leadership there will be something about establishing a shared ethos and sense of purpose. This needs to be something that unifies the activities of the team and allows all tasks to be aligned to this common goal. Having done a few straight Teaching & Learning posts recently I thought I'd return to the departmental leadership side and share how this shared sense of purpose has been established in my department and how we use it to shape our departmental activities.

The long term aim
In the very first department meeting I ever ran I stated my long term aim for the department:

"We are going to be the best maths department in the country."

This type of statement instantly sparks discussions about how that would be measured, and how you might know if you've got there...

However, for me the important thing is the aspiration to get there rather than the detail of the assessment. Frankly when I arrived in the department we were that far from being the best in the country the minutia of how you'd choose the best 10 out of the top 50 wouldn't have mattered. What mattered is that starting from this aim it allows us to look at all aspects of our practice and ask "what would this look like in the best maths department in the country?" From there it becomes easier to prioritise improvement actions that are all aimed at taking steps towards this "best in the country" position.

A central theme - reinforced as often as possible
This long term aim is repeated on all of the core documents I circulate around the team. It's also at the top of our departmental noticeboard.

Much is said about using classroom displays to improve learning - we're trying to use the noticeboard in departmental office/resource base to help focus our activities and develop our professional practice...
(Big thanks to Rob Williams @robewilliams79 - our departmental Teaching & Learning leader who put this board together)

Priorities first
On the right of the display you can see the the departmental priorities in yellow. A clearer view is here: 
I establish these priorities at the start of each year. They are on the front cover of our departmental handbook, and I reissue/revisit them in a departmental newsletter at least every term to clarify progress towards our targets and what our next actions are. These priorities are essentially steps along our route to achieving our long term aim. The bottom half of the sheet as seen above gives more supporting information about what a "best in the country" department might look like in terms of student, staff and school outcomes. From there I break down specific goals towards these outcomes over the next 3-5 years. From there we get to even more specific goals for the coming academic year - which are what drive the priorities.

The important thing is that all of this is coherent - it has a central purpose and everyone involved can see the how the steps we are trying to take relate to the overall aim. Everything we do in the department should be supporting one of the priorities. I encourage the team to assess any task they are asked to do against the priorities and to challenge anything that doesn't have a direct link to progress towards these goals.

Focusing in on a key aspect
Just as a classroom display should be updated regularly to maximise benefit, the central section of our departmental board changes focus during the year. Before the summer it was aimed at AFL (an area we wanted to improve), and we're now extending that towards another big push on feedback and marking in general (which still includes AFL):

Central to this display is our work scrutiny/book review sheet. The bits of string then fan out to extra information & examples for each aspect. This extra info can be a clarification of our policy:

Alternatively the extra info could be hints & tips from blog posts or similar:

Fundamentally we're trying to make sure that not only our focus is clear, but we're trying to make sure the department have the tools required to deliver on the key targets.

Managing student focus
To make sure we give appropriate focus to students we are also using the walls to track what we're doing. Having identified at-risk students (based on a combination of underperformance, potential for overperformance, or being part of a particular vulnerable group) we have picture cards made up and laminated. With them laminated we can use drywipe pens to write on key notes, groupings and actions as needed. The current focus group are posted on the resource base wall so that all in the department know what is happening.

How do you share aims, vision, goals or targets
This is just the way I've done it - but I'd be really keen to hear about other ways departmental vision is shared and common ethos established. As always - comments & thoughts are very welcome....

No comments:

Post a Comment