I've had department chair on the brain lately because it was recently announced that my current department chair has stepped down for next year. He is smart and he will be missed in that role, but I think there are multiple good options in my current English department to fill his shoes. In my career so far, I've had the opportunity to be a department chair and to work with department chairs that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Some inspired me, some frightened me, and some gave me all the rope I needed either to soar or hang myself. Although it sometimes works out despite the process, in my experience, department chairs are chosen for silly reasons like seniority, admin favorites, or by default because no one else wants it. If done well, department chairs can positively impact fellow teachers, which in turn raises the bar for students, parents, and administrators, so here are some thoughts about what teachers really want in order to be supported in the classroom.
5 Simple things teachers really want from their Department Chairs:
- Real and Creative Collaboration: I don't mean this in the sense of the sometimes useless buzzword that is thrown around. Teachers need department chairs that will facilitate collaboration that doesn't take more time than absolutely necessary! We do not have time to spend in hours of documentation in collaboration meetings. We also need collaboration that actually helps us in our best practices in small, actionable ways! Most teachers do not want or need to reinvent our whole class by committee. Collaboration does the most for us, when we can quickly take in bits of best practices and add them to our current routines and tool box. For me, creative collaboration would look something like:
- Setting up a blog, Facebook group, or some place online where teachers and the chair can share quick tips, accolades, questions, suggestions, etc. in an asynchronous forum so everyone can contribute and learn when time permits.
- Doing a lot of the work of documenting some of the awesome little routines, activities, strategies, and practices of teachers. After clearing it with the teacher, department chairs should write-up, share, video record, or otherwise disseminate the best practices so all teachers in the department can benefit from them. Teachers are humble and busy. Many don't have the time or the inclination to share and some might not even realize that they have struck gold with a particular strategy because it has become routine and doesn't feel novel enough to share.
- Keeping in mind what teachers want to learn or collaborate on. Collaboration is a means to an end for teachers. We don't want to just meet for the fun of it! Department chairs should regularly communicate with teachers so they know what strategies, professional development, or in-house training sessions to research so that teachers are fulfilled in whatever specific needs we have.
- Accountability: In my experience, nothing irks a teacher like the feeling that other teachers at school are not doing their jobs. Department chairs have the unpleasant responsibility of trying to keep up the standard, which sometimes means that they have to figure out appropriate, professional solutions to motivate those slacker teachers! This one is the hardest in my opinion, but lack of accountability is a real morale killer so we have to keep working on solutions here.
- Positive Support: As chairs are keeping us accountable, they also need to pick us up and boost morale. Here are just a few free or inexpensive ideas for showing teachers some love and appreciation:
- The occasional coffee run (the way to my heart for sure!).
- Post it notes on teachers' desks telling them specifically what we are doing well.
- A shout out to admin about things we are doing right.
- A simple, sincere compliment when warranted.
- Voice: Department chairs have to listen to the concerns of teachers and then actively bring them to administration or parent meetings. We know that it is not fun being the messenger and we know sometimes it makes you the squeaky wheel, but it's the job and it is necessary.
- Happily show up to parent meetings when the teacher needs backup.
- Make the suggestions for budgets or books as passionately as if they were your own.
- Report back about the results of that admin meeting. Even if we don't get our way, we still want to know how it all went down.
- Give us exact dates for goals, deadlines, upcoming events, etc. The more specifics teachers know, the better we can deliver and the less complaining we are likely to do!
Do you have an awesome department chair? Are you an awesome department chair? Let us know in the comment section what other tips you have!