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Subject Leadership and the Problem of TIME

One common theme that arises when I speak to subject leaders is that of TIME.

It takes time to become a good subject leader and the development of a subject is something that takes place over time. And yes, the context in which the word is always raised is that subject leaders need more time to be able to carry out their duties.

As teachers we experience more immediate success than in most other jobs: we can start a lesson with children knowing nothing about how to add two fractions and in an hours’ time the majority of them can do that – the results are almost instant, although only obtained by lots of hard work and expertise on the teacher’s part. We don’t have to wait for quarterly finance reports to know whether or not we are making a difference – we see the difference being made on a daily basis, in a myriad of ways.

As subject leaders we have to shift our expectations a little bit. The impact you make as a leader sometimes takes longer to see and you have to learn to look for it in new ways. Writing a curriculum, creating resources, waiting for your turn to deliver some training – you’re playing a long game, and that should be a comfort. There are no quick fixes, therefore there is no rush. Even if you feel like you want everything done yesterday, its clearly not realistically possible. So, you must give yourself a break, and only expect of yourself what can be done in the time you are given.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is subject leadership something that can be checked off your ticklist – it's ongoing, steady and manageable when it is viewed sensibly and done right. You won’t be going into school this week and watching lessons, delivering twilight training session and then by next week seeing the impact of that in further lesson drop ins. Take your time.

A word to senior leaders

And for the senior leaders reading this, remember that it is impossible for subject leaders to think like this if they are not backed up in this way of thinking by you.

Senior leaders play a make-or-break part in the success of these subject leaders, and in the subjects they lead: no matter how much pressure you feel you are under, you should not pass that pressure on, you must protect them from it. You must stand firm in the belief that worthwhile improvements take time, and that these subject leaders spend the majority of their time teaching. You have to match your expectations of subject leaders’ output with the investment of time: want them to monitor? They need time. Want them to write a report and present it? They need time. Want them to rewrite the curriculum... you guessed it, time.

Providing subject leaders with time clearly puts pressure on resources – and at a time where staffing is difficult - but if you want great outcomes for the children across the curriculum, it comes at a price. You must be ready to adapt, to change your expectations if you are not able to provide the resources that subject leaders need to do their job well. The last thing you need is burnt out teachers buckling under the weight of expectation – that won’t help solve the staffing issues at all.

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