A Beginners Guide to Being Second in Department

Once again I have left a huge gap between my last post and this one… this time my excuse is my new job at a new school. At Easter I took on a new position as Deputy Faculty Leader in Maths. It has been a huge change, and a huge learning curve. I got lost in all the new names and faces for a while, and then the massive to-do list. Now that the summer holidays have finally come along, I’ve found myself reflecting on what I’ve learned this year… as an RQT and as a very-new Second in Department.

This post is more about my recent TLR position and what I have learned. My teaching reflections will come later. Please bear in mind as you read this that I am reflecting on only my experience of the role in my new school, and it is a limited experience having only had the TLR since Easter. However, I know from Twitter that a fair few people are in a similar position to me now, or will be in September, and so I hope my thoughts can be a little helpful like my PGCE/NQT posts were for some.

For context, my new school was inspected by Ofsted last year and was graded RI, though with many positive comments about the work being done to move up towards Good and beyond. There are about 230 students per year group, and generally their entry scores are high, thus leading to high target grades and outcomes. Our ‘Set 3’ is not a typical ‘Set 3’ – many of these students would be in a Set 1 in many other settings. We also have a rolling timetable; after Year 11 leave for their GCSE exams after May half term, the other year groups ‘Graduate’ up and we get our timetable for the new year. This means I have had 2 timetables since beginning at Easter, and have got to know a lot of the students very quickly!

The school has had a number of leadership changes over the last few years, and staff turnover has been high within the department, coupled with employment of long-term supply and non-specialists. This has impacted teaching and learning in Maths for many students, and the aim for us now is to provide consistency and implement pedagogies that give students greater depth of understanding. My HoD had already started these changes and training with the current TLR team before my apppointment, and has made huge gains already. We’re working hard to keep up this improvement.

My big takeaways from this term are as follows:

  1. Your time is often not your own in school hours
    I think this is my biggest takeaway. I expected that after having taught most topics once through, the routines I had built up over the past two years would stay the same. This would mean generally I would be able to do some planning and marking within my frees and a little at the end of the day, and I envisaged the TLR work taking up some more time with admin and meetings, but generally with my work structure staying as it is. Not the case…
    This may be different in other settings or with another responsibility but I have found that I am often in demand at the start of the day, in my frees and after school. This can be with meetings, school events, questions from the team or tasks that need doing before my ‘teaching’ tasks can get done. I expected this, but I was definitley over optimistic with the time it takes to get a thorough answer to a parent query, reword some of the SoL, or speak to 5 people before lesson 1….
    Organisation is key to overcoming this. Often these things can’t be explicitly planned for, so I have taken to making sure that I am mostly planned for the week on a Sunday. This goes hand in hand with my new planning strategy of planning entire topics whan I have the time, but I’ll write some more about that in my RQT reflections. This then frees up my old planning time in school hours, and so in terms of ‘teaching’ work I’ve only got marking to take care of there – this is much more easy to put down if something comes up last minute.
    I also get in an hour before lesson 1 to allow myself some time to do admin, set up my classroom and catch up with the team. I often ask people to email any questions or requests to me if I can’t answer them straight away. My filing system in my emails means if its in my inbox it is yet to be done, and this helps me to prioritise in my frees and after school.
    This has taken some adjusting to, but I am adapting to a new way of working that fits for me, and for the school… but I did put in a lot of late nights to start with and myself and my HoD worked hard through May half term (thanks to the rolling timetable!) I’m hoping this gets easier over the coming year – I’m ever aware of the importance of work-life balance and am working hard to achieve it in this role too.
  2. Communication
    This one is multi-layered – there are SO many people it is important to be clear with. Your HoD, the TLR team, the wider team, SLT, suport staff, students, parents…. For me, the important thing has been to vocalise anything that I haven’t been sure of. This can be asking your HoD for clarification of the assessments needed, asking the other KS co-ordinators about specifics in their SoL, asking another teacher about the ins and outs of the behaviour policy… Being open to asking has freed up so much space in my head and helped in making the decisions that are needed in the role.
  3. Continuing to be the best teacher you can be
    As mentioned in point 1, sometimes it can feel like your actual teaching life is sidelined as a TLR holder. But that is a hard thing to cope with when holding the TLR means you are regarded as a role-model for others within the department.
    When I first started teaching, my level of ‘good enough’ was insanely high. I came to terms with the fact that as my timetable increased on my PGCE, this needed to be lower, because I could teach amazing lessons but not always be perfect – noone is. That happened again in my NQT year, and has again in my new role.
    This is NOT me saying my lessons are now terrible. Infact, this is me saying that I have accepted that as a mathematics specialist, so long as I am thinking carefully about my examples and how I explain a topic, I am doing the right thing. If I am also thinking about how the students are going to use and build on this knowledge, I know my teaching is the best it can be. My lesson planning, though still making use of SMARTNotebook, is an outline and sets out these examples and explanations much more carefully. I have begun to trust myself to use this to best effect, instead of having something all-singing and dancing on the screen.
    As such, I am still happy with people observing my teaching and using me as a role-model because I have put the time and effort into my lessons for them to give students a great teaching and learning experience.
  4. Love of Learning & Improving
    I don’t think I will ever be a perfect teacher. But I do think that I will always be striving to improve myself. As Dylan Wiliam said: “This job you’re doing is so hard that one lifetime isn’t enough to master it. So every single one of you needs to accept the commitment to carry on improving our practice until we retire or die.
    I am a huge believer in this, both for myself and my students, but now I also believe in this for my department. I am now using Twitter to help me to find a good way of structuring the SoL, to talk to other leaders about their assessment approaches and their CPD… I am reading about mathematics teaching and thinking about the things I can trial and introduce to the department… I am reading about leadership and thinking about how to have productive conversations about observations… I have gained a place on the Secondary Mastery Specialist training in order to gain a greater understanding of it and help us to roll it out in the department and then wider…
    I hope that being research-informed and motivated to improve will help my colleagues to do the same.
  5. Having a Plan
    My HoD was also my PGCE tutor, and the prospect of working with her again was a huge draw in applying for the job. We get along personally and professionally, and share the same outlook on many aspects of education. In fact, we always said we’d work together again as the ‘Dream Team’ and run a department.
    Now we have this chance, we’re very aware of the things that need doing to help the department grow and go from strength to strength. There are clear priorities for what we want to achieve in the short-term and they are set with our long-term goals in mind. We are honest with eachother about what is working, what isn’t and what needs doing. There’s a lot of work to be done, but having the plan (and each other) is key.
  6. Knowing the Students
    This sounds like one of those wishy-washy statements that every teacher is told at every turn. But I don’t mean it in a “know the SEND requirements of your class, and if they are PP, and what they do at the weekends to shoe-horn that into your lessons” way…
    As Second in Department I am responsible for KS4, and so knowing the students reaches far more than to the 30 students infront of you in the classroom. You have to be aware of every child in the year groups you look over. This hit me most when we did our first meeting about New Year 11, and covered many students individually – looking at their progress, invervention, attendance etc.  This means me knowing at least 230 students in Year 11 in depth; targets, current attainment, bateachers and any reasons they may be falling behind…  At the same time I need to work hard to get to know the other 460 in Years 9 & 10 too.
    They also need to know you. They need to be aware that you are there to support and help them through maths, as they (or their parents) are often directed to you for suport and complaints. They also need to know you to respect you and recognise the authority of your position – quite often TLR holders are required to deal with behaviour issues within the department so it is vital that they are aware of who you are.
    But obviously, I lead by example knowing which of them are PP/SEND/G&T…..
  7. Taking time away from ‘Teacher You’
    Again, I’m going to bang on about work-life balance. But taking on extra responsibility at work means there is a greater responsibility to balance it out. I still try to leave as much work as possible at work, though there have been some nights where I have stayed in my room to 6:30 or where half a set of books has had to come home with me… I also have Saturday off in its entirety every week. Sunday is reserved for a lazy morning and a little planning to set me up for the week.
    My aim for next year is to book in exercise classes a couple of times a week to force me to leave before the ‘loser bell’ (This is the bell that rings at 6:10 to tell you to get your priorities in order and go home  pack up before they lock the doors!)

 

This all sounds incredibly overwhemling while reading it back, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the new school since Easter – it has just been a whirlwind! Having to hit the ground running certainly did not help with acclimatising to a new role and a new school. That being said, I adore the school. I love the department and the chance to work with my PGCE mentor again, the suport staff are phenomenal, and the students have been very kind and welcoming.

I’m excited to go back refreshed in September already – my Head of Department and I have so many ideas and are excited to put them into action, with our new and existing members of the team. We’re going to kick-start the life chances of lots of students – and it all starts here!

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