How do you have those difficult conversations that you sometimes need to have as a Head of Department?
I’ve been a Head of Department for only 1 year and 1 term, though until Christmas the department was just myself. However since moving to my new school my department is now made up of myself and 2 other members of staff, one of whom I directly line manage and appraise, and I would say that this has been the greatest learning curve and challenge over the last term in my new school – learning how to formally line manage someone and be a leader!
Leading myself I’ve always found relatively easy because I can be pretty determined and focused, but leading and appraising other people, especially those who are more experienced and older than you, can be bit of a challenge (and is made even worse when you’re in a new school and learning the ropes yourself!)
This term I’ve had to do my first formal lesson observation as part of an appraisal cycle and give formal feedback and whilst there were some good points to the lesson, both myself and another member of senior staff felt that it wasn’t as good as it could be and was of concern.
Having that conversation with a more experienced and older member of staff was difficult, especially when they may not agree with it, and whilst we discussed it and I used some coaching skills that I had learnt previously, it still felt immensely uncomfortable for both of us and rather awkward, and led to a little bit of awkwardness and tension over the following few days.
Now any other advice to improve this would be great! However the other night, whilst driving home listening to Simon Mayo on Radio 2, he was talking to Clare Balding about a book that she had written, “Walking Home”. As they chatted Clare shared that she had discovered that the simple act of walking alongside someone for a prolonged period of time (not just walking to the staffroom) causes them to open up more deeply than they might have otherwise (especially sat in a classroom!) because not only the lack of eye contact involved helps reduce any sense of awkwardness, but more importantly the act of walking together to a shared goal or destination as opposed to walking alone.
And this got me thinking…whilst I was at Uni I was President of the Christian Union and was leading a committee of 5 other people, alongside jointly running a small group, and that whenever I wanted to talk to someone in depth about something, which sometimes may be uncomfortable for either of us, we use to go for a walk along the seafront in Pompey.
Now I'm a keen mountain walker, and love heading to the Lake District, donning a rucksack and books and heading off for the day exploring and getting lost on the hillsides, but I've always walked alone (except for the trusty ipod) and whilst this is great sometimes, you can get a sense of loneliness. So at Christmas I took my girlfriend up to Keswick for a few days and even just us, walking side by side around Grasmere and Buttermere led to us chatting about things that we have never done before and the shared goal spurned us both on, and even more recently me and my dad have completed the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk, and walking alongside each over for 2 weeks led to us both opening up and sharing more than what we might otherwise have done.
So the question is this, would lesson observation feedback and discussions around that, rather than being given in a rather awkward, fixed, staged classroom sat on school chairs at a desk or table, be more effective if we went for a walk? Can that uncomfortable walk out after sometimes an awkward meeting and possible sense of loneliness actually be changed to one of walking together towards a shared goal?
Now I haven’t yet tried and experimented with this yet (I mean what happens if you go too far, it still gets awkward then there’s a long walk back!) but certainly am going to over the next term, and will share my findings. I'm very fortunate in that despite working in inner Lewisham we have a woodland walk located directly behind our school so can get away from the hustle and bustle.
But I wonder if we make this wider and if other people give it a go what would the effect be? Even if it is just round the local housing estate. How might going for a walk for line management meetings and coaching conversations and feedback, change our departments, and schools, if we all just simply took a walk together, as opposed to going it alone?