To HoD or not to HoD? It’s no longer a question

When I started teaching, I soon realised that I wanted a leadership role as I wanted to have a bigger impact on the lives of our students; I wanted to be able to make a bigger difference to their experience of English at secondary. I worked hard to gain experiences and promotions, but always had my sights set on a head of department role.

But in February 2013 I was given a new leadership role at a local academy and saw a truth to the head of department job I’d never seen before. Wellington Academy was very quickly thrown in to turmoil in the summer of 2013, although on our arrival we’d noticed that the English department should have already been feeling that turmoil. I was lucky enough to work closely with, and develop a friendship with, our amazing Head of Faculty. Anyone who follows her Twitter account, @fod3, will know that she is hardworking, dedicated and a teacher to the very core of her being but through our car sharing I saw the toll this job placed on her. I listened, counselled and consoled whenever I was needed and all the while learning so many things from watching this Wonder Woman of a teacher work tirelessly for the school and department she had fallen so deeply in love with.

Sadly, during my time at The Welly I began to question whether I still wanted to run a department of my own. Did I want to give up so much of my own life to what is, in reality, just a job? I had to keep reminding myself that these were exceptional circumstances; this was a school fighting a legacy of poor leadership and multiple mistakes. But I couldn’t help wonder if I could work so selflessly and so relentlessly all day, every day.

But, as ever, life came along and changed my plans without warning. A little over a year after arriving, I found myself at the wrong end of restructuring and started looking for jobs elsewhere. I was lucky enough to be appointed as second in department at a fantastic school and I relished another new challenge. But more significantly, I was looking forward to watching another head of department and seeing if this was still a path I wanted to travel down when the school wasn’t fighting for a grade 3 from Ofsted.

Again, things didn’t quite go to plan!

3 days after starting my new Head of Curriculum Area took me to one side to let me know that she was pregnant and would be going on maternity leave half way through the year. I was then asked if I wanted to take on the role of Acting HoCA in her absence. To be honest, I feel it was a risk to ask me. I was still unknown in the department and had barely started my current role: it was a gamble to ask me to look after the department which she had nurtured and grown to it’s current strengths over years. To her and the head’s credit no pressure was put on me and I was allowed to think it over in my own time and ask all the sensible (and stupid) questions I needed to. As I’ve blogged about before, I still felt exhausted and bruised from my time at The Welly and was really looking forward to this new job being the revitalising breath of fresh air that I so desperately needed.

After speaking to friends, family and colleagues, I decided to take on this challenge. Once I’d agreed to this, temporary, job change, I took every opportunity I could to learn the ins and outs of this challenging role. With the unending support and guidance of my HoCA, I felt my desire to run a department return. But more than that, I felt my passion, energy and creativity return. Without wishing to sound cliché, I felt myself come back to myself. I don’t know if it’s taking on the HoCA role, or if it’s having a new challenge to focus on which has refreshed me, but I’m so glad it has. I’m not naïve, I know this new role will be hard and I know it will be exhausting and involve some long hours but I am honestly excited about it (and a little scared!)

So, come 23rd February I will be running the English department and dipping my toes into the future career I had initially envisioned for myself. I have been preparing for this moment for the past few months through attendance at meetings, asking questions about EVERYTHING and building a strong support network for myself. I still feel an element of trepidation, but it feels the same as it has for every new job I’ve taken on. Although this will be a temporary position and I will hand the department back in September, I am determined to do a good job for the team and the students. But most importantly, I am determined to do well for my HoCA. She had faith in me when my faith in myself had been damaged; she put her trust in me when she knew how bruised I felt from past experiences; she saw potential in me when I was struggling to see it in myself.

And as I sit here reflecting on how I’ve arrived at this moment, I realise I have everything possible to be successful: I have trust and faith in myself again and I have trust and faith in my team. I do genuinely feel that I am ready for this.