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The Benefits of Being a Subject Leader

So, you’re a subject leader now. Not a coordinator. Not a manager. A leader. That sounds like some heavy responsibility.

Gone are the days of subject coordination where your role amounted to making sure that there were enough batteries in the box of stuff for circuits, or hunting down the Menorah so that year 4 can have it for their Judaism unit, or putting up displays in the corridors. Or, if you drew the short straw and were the PE coordinator, your job was to tidy the PE cupboard, stand on the sideline of an endless stream of afterschool matches, and then to go back to school to tidy the PE cupboard again.

My first subject coordination role was in my second year of teaching and I led art across my school. In that year, my main job was to fill out a 62-page form to apply for the Artsmark Gold award – we were successful, but I did nothing with regards to curriculum, pedagogy, monitoring and evaluation, and so on. I just filled in a form. Oh, and I probably ordered resources: enough clay and powder paint to last the year.

A leadership training ground

Subject leadership now is a whole different ball game. And to be honest, it’s a much more exciting ball game. There is so much to get your teeth into, and for those of you with your eye on senior leadership positions at some point in the future it is the perfect training ground.

Whilst still art coordinator I fancied something a little more – I wanted to test out the next rung on the ladder. I applied internally for the role of key stage 2 leader but lost out to the eminently more experienced year 6 teacher – an appointment which in many ways made way more sense than a green behind the ears upstart with only a handful of years’ experience. However, by way of consolation prize I was handed TWO extra roles. Please don’t laugh when I tell you what they were. I was to be Children as Leaders Coordinator and, more excitingly, I had the illustrious honour of being Displays Coordinator!

I inherited a folder of all the possible accepted border/backing paper combinations, a map of the display boards in school and proceeded to spend the year sending out constant reminders to busy teachers that it was time to change their allotted corridor display.

My other role was a little more exciting with our crowning achievement being an enterprise project in which we went in front of a local dragon’s den of business people and pitched our idea of making recycled bird-boxes out of wooden pallets (we were very much ahead of the curve). We then proceeded to make them, selling them at a market event in the town, even meeting series 4 apprentice runner-up Claire Young. I also got sunburned that day and we sold out of the bird boxes in an hour, leaving us with a rather empty stall and some disappointed customers – Deborah Meaden and Sir Alan would not have been pleased.

I have to admit I was sad not to get the key stage leader role – I really thought I had the people skills necessary – but I decided to make the most of the roles I was given, using them as an opportunity to begin to learn how to be a good leader.

Your subject leadership role gives you an even better chance than I ever had to do just that. Subject leadership is now a crucial role in the primary school. One that is held in high esteem and invested in by senior leaders – it is no longer a perfunctory role, it is integral to everyday life in your school. The fact that we are gathered here today to talk about subject leadership is proof of that.

An extension of your class and teaching role

And even for those of you who have the very noble and absolutely crucial aim of staying firmly in the classroom with the children, there are benefits to subject leadership too. That's because it is all about the children.

The children of the school become your extended class for the subject that you lead – you get to impact on their learning in your subject, watching them develop new knowledge and skills, albeit from a slightly different viewpoint than you have of the ones in your class. And, if it’s a subject you really love – and let’s face it, us primary teachers are actually polymaths who love all the subjects – well, nearly all: we all have those one or two we’d rather not have to teach... If it’s a subject you really love, then it's an absolute joy to lead on innovations and improvements in something that you are really quite fond of. You get to see the joy of learning unfolding around the whole school, not just in your own classroom, and you have a chance to shape what happens in your school, without the heavy responsibility of senior leadership. It's also another chance for you to work creatively as you bring the curriculum to life for your subject.

My first subject coordination role was a happy happenstance in that the previous art coordinator retired at the end of my NQT year and that I had just completed an art degree.

Not every subject leadership allocation is that well-matched – many of you will be leading subjects that are outside of your area of expertise and that can be quite daunting. However, help is at hand! All over the country there are teachers who are also leading on your subject. Reach out to local schools, build a network, find your fellow leaders on social media groups, join a subject association, check out Mary Myatt's subject leadership online meets - there are plenty of ways to find the information and support you need.

It's a learning opportunity

If being a subject leader does feel big and scary, take heart: subject leadership is a learning journey. What you know today will be far less than you know by the end of this year. Be ready to learn. Be ready to act, reflect, and then act again based on what you have found out. Try things out. Make mistakes. The only real mistake is not learning from your mistakes.

Just as we believe that learning can be intrinsically enjoyable for children, so it can be for us as adults. We are clearly a species that thrives off learning, and it may just be the case that subject leadership is your next personal learning challenge. Think forward from today, knowing that you have an opportunity before you which is going to be good for you, which is going to equip you with more, which is going to add to your experience of life. This might sound trite, but after having led several subjects, and on curriculum overall (at a school where there were few subject leaders and so I essentially led most of them), I honestly think these things are true. Subject leadership is exciting, and it is a privilege.

If you would like Aidan to work with your organisation on subject leadership, use the 'Contact' tab above, or the phone or email details at the top of the page to get in touch.

To read what other school leaders and teachers think about my work, head over to my Testimonials page:

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