The start of a new academic year can be exciting; a fresh new start, a clean slate. However, it can also be a tricky time for subject leaders getting to grips with their new class, supporting new staff and pushing ahead with their plans to strengthen the teaching of maths across their school. With so much going on, this blog outlines seven key considerations to support maths subject leaders to prepare for an effective year ahead.
1. Consider termly action plans:
Whilst it is tempting to focus solely on the future, it is crucial to consider and evaluate the impact of actions taken in 2017 – 2018 to inform your strategy for the year ahead. Taking into account your school development priorities, and feeding in next steps from the previous action plan, it is important to set out your strategic monitoring timeline for the whole year. However, action planning in detail on a termly basis enables leaders to tailor strategies to meet the needs of the school based on outcomes from this ongoing monitoring cycle and will allow a clear focus on what is really possible in the next 12 weeks.
2. ‘Treat implementation as a process not an event’ (Education Endowment Foundation, 2018:1):
Having carefully planned and delivered a staff meeting, it can be very satisfying to tick it off on your action plan and think ‘thank goodness that’s done and dusted’. In reality, implementing change within schools is rarely that simple, as recognised by the Education Endowment Foundation (2018) who assert that there are four well-established stages of implementation – explore, prepare, deliver, sustain. Due to the pressures within school, the ‘sustain’ stage can be particularly challenging to focus on but crucial to ensuring that long term change can be secured. For example, a staff meeting on daily fluency sessions will provide a good starting point, but effective implementation may involve support for planning, modelled sessions or team teaching.
3. Effective actions or just endless monitoring?
The proverb ‘continuously weighing the pig doesn't make it fatter’ is well known and can be applied to the role of subject leader. In an attempt to triangulate evidence, there is a risk a subject leader’s precious time can be reduce to ticking off endless monitoring processes. Ensure your action plan is exactly that, a plan with actions that are focused on improving maths rather than just a list of monitoring activities.
4. Tap into what pupils really think
We all know that most pupils are keen to please and that questions such as ‘do you enjoy your maths lessons?’ typically can result in pupils dutifully nodding for fear of being disloyal to their teacher. A more successful strategy can be using questions which are less loaded towards them judging their teacher. One great example is ‘what are you most proud of in your maths books?’. This often can provide a great insight in their attitude towards maths which they have picked up from teaching staff, their peers or their families. What is valued most? Do pupils value correct answers, neat work or work completed quickly above work that challenged them? How are making mistakes or the use of concrete resources perceived? Pupils will find it much easier to discuss their learning if they have their books with them to point out examples to support their answers to your questions.
5. Impact, impact, impact
If there could be only one thing for subject leaders to consider at any point in the year it should be: What impact will this have on the quality of maths teaching? Time is the key challenge for teachers and leaders alike. Having a maths cupboard with triple colour coded, freshly laminated labels on matching baskets, which are cross-referenced by domain, year group and resource type sounds great! However, the impact of this on pupils’ learning is likely to be far less than planning alongside a less confident colleague, team teaching with an NQT or using data analysis to inform actions. There is no avoiding some administrative tasks but always coming back to ‘what impact can this have?’ can help subject leaders to make smart choices and, when needed, justify their strategic prioritisation to others.
6. Identify support for yourself:
Finally, middle leadership can be a lonely place, with some reporting they can sometimes feel a little trapped between SLT and their classroom peers. Making time to catch up with other subject or phase leaders in your school can be an invaluable informal opportunity to provide support and discuss issues which could also be occurring in English or other areas of the curriculum. Making links with other maths subject leaders in your local area or via social media can be invaluable in keeping up with developments, sharing good practice and discussing successes and development areas within your school. We use our @hertsmaths Twitter account to share the latest news and share good practice from the schools we work with.
7. Consider your own development needs
Part of your role is developing and supporting other staff, so it is important you are well placed and feeling confident in your role. Our five-session training program is designed to support new and existing maths subject leaders both within and beyond Hertfordshire looking to enhance their contribution to improving maths across the school. ‘Becoming a highly effective mathematics subject leader’ begins on Thursday 27th September 2018, with four additional dates across 2018/19). Delegates will develop their capacity to evaluate teaching and learning across a range of evidence to drive improvement throughout the school. There is also a parallel five-session course for ‘becoming a highly effective English subject leader’.
More information on all of our training events is available at: http://booking.hertsforlearning.co.uk/
Education Endowment Foundation (2018) ‘Putting evidence to work: A school’s guide to implementation guidance report’ available here.