I don't have time to write about everything I experienced at this excellent conference, and I see that other blogs have provided good summaries of the various workshops. Instead I will focus on where my own thoughts have travelled after some of the workshops. In this first post I'll focus on the excellent leadership session offered by @mrbenward.
"Lead in your sphere of influence. Manage what is outside."
I didn't realise that this was something I've been doing already. Hearing Ben say the words drew my attention to a skill I didn't know I had! I could allow myself to become frustrated by antiquated ICT provision, by the lack of free time for colleagues to work collaboratively on development or by the bureaucracy involved in gathering and tracking internal assessment evidence for SQA courses. However, I have to decide to manage these things as best as I can as all of these issues are outwith my sphere of influence. I have to implement low(er) tech compromises, employing the ICT we do have to it's greatest potential. I have to plan collegiate time wisely. I have to develop departmental systems for gathering assessment evidence in a rigorous, organised, but simple way which isn't onerous or time consuming for colleagues or myself. These are management tasks.
Having the remit of providing leadership within my sphere of the mathematics department is the exciting part of the job. The management scenarios discussed above are simple in comparison to leadership. In those cases, concrete, well defined problems exist and as such it is relatively straightforward to put in place solutions. Leadership, on the other hand, is about trying to understand complexity. Complex issues do not have a simple solution. Ben used the following quote:
'Leadership is not mobilising others to solve problems we already know how to solve, but to help them confront problems that have yet to be successfully addressed' Heifetz
Nobody has education cracked. I want to work with my team to confront the complex problems. The curriculum, the quality of learning and teaching, the learners experience, the quality of resources, whether we are meeting learners needs, the professional culture and professional learning - all of this is within my sphere of influence! I.e. all of the important stuff! As a head of department I have an enormous opportunity/responsibility on my shoulders to do the best for every pupil who studies with us.
My conclusion: there are a few minor hindrances. There always will be. None of this is an excuse for not doing the key stuff well.
"Know your staff, know your data, know your key docs"
Ben made the point that a head of department should know the strengths and weaknesses of his department. Ben asked the question that "as a head of department are you able to list a major strength and an area for development for any member of your team?" I've only been in my current department for about 7 weeks so will excuse myself for not being able to answer this. I've obviously been building up a picture based upon data, observations and views. I plan to track data closely across the department - this will highlight teacher capacity in certain areas. I aim to do formal lesson observations over the coming month for all staff members. This will also improve my picture of the individuals on my team. I have been listening to the views aired by all stakeholders. I listen to my teachers. I am beginning to know them as people and as colleagues. All of this, in combination, will help me to understand my team's capacity better. However, I am not sure if it is enough. I feel that this is perhaps an area where I could improve as I don't know that even in another 7 weeks that I'll be able to answer Ben's question.
I love data - no surprise for a maths teacher. I am working hard on building up a COMPLETE picture of our department. Not just the obvious such as % A-C grades at Higher. I am looking deeper down than this. What percentage of our EAL pupils make it into the top sets and how do they progress relative to their peers? What is the impact of socio-economic indicators such as SIMD against attainment? Do our pupils with additional support needs progress as well as other pupils who arrive at us with a similar knowledge/skill base? Data is only as good as the questions which you are asking/answering with it. For me it boils down to two fundamentals. Are we helping every pupil achieve his/her potential? Are barriers to learning holding pupils back from attaining in our department? I want every pupil to be included, engaged and attaining. I am not a slave to data but feel that it is my duty to know the data and to try to understand what it means. It should help us to make a case for improvement and identify exactly where it is needed.
In terms of key documentation , I feel well informed of the current state of key curriculum documentation and what it implies. I need to maintain my level of knowledge of what is going on at a national level. Ben made the point that if the head of department doesn't know what is in the latest policy document then how can he expect his department colleagues to know, let alone implement the recommendations? The latest instalment of 'How good is our school?' was released last week. I have it favourited on Twitter to remind me to have a proper look at it soon. Ironically, where I feel less secure is with some of the new qualifications in maths. Higher, Nat 5 and Advanced Higher I am confident with as I have worked hard in the implementation of these courses. I have little or know knowledge of the requirements of the National 4 maths or National 5 life skills courses, for example. I don't have these on my timetable, but can't afford to wait before becoming familiar with them. This is a very short term development goal for me. I should understand the specification and assessment requirements of every course offered in our department.
"Teachers don't develop in isolation"
I agree with this 100%. A lot of my values and opinions about mathematics education have been shaped by others either through direct conversation, through reading, conferences or social media. I have developed my reflective capacity as a result of reading thought provoking blog articles from others. I have improved my knowledge by reading Chris Smith's @aap123 excellent newsletter. I have developed understanding of standards by going to marking meetings. Most of all I have developed by having long and winding conversations with excellent teachers, usually over a cup of tea at the end of a manic day. I want my department to be a place where learning and teaching is central to the agenda. I aim this year to dedicate half of every 2nd department meeting to L&T (no admin). This is an increase on what a lot of depts do. However, longer term, I want less and less admin on the agenda. Ben had the wonderful idea of putting out a regular sheet with admin tasks required of staff. This freed up his very limited department time to talk about their core business of L&T. I want a culture where we are open and supportive but also able to challenge each other.
Overall, I really enjoyed Ben's workshop. He talked a lot about Michael Fullan @MichaelFullan1 and his often referenced publication "Leading in a culture of change". I have read this cover to cover and am quite famliar with the content. It was interesting to hear how another colleague had interpreted Fullan's words.
I'd like to finish on a quote from Fullan which I recently posted on Twitter. 'Focus on fundamentals: curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional culture.' This is, for me, the key.