I wore a cape to my interview for English Chairperson. Yes, you read that right, a cape. I was convinced that I was the perfect person for the job. I had a tremendous amount of school spirit, an understanding of the curriculum, and an entire shelf dedicated to leadership books in my home library. I got the job. That’s when I realized that wanting it and having it are two completely different things.
Being a department chair involves tremendous amounts of your time. Counting books, keeping track of consumable resources, attending and organizing meetings, and many other responsibilities can suck the free right out of your time.
Here are some ‘tips from a mentor’ for you new leaders out there:
• Be a role-model-Talk in the staffroom can be downright brutal. Be careful about where you spend your time and the thoughts that escape your mouth. Your colleagues (especially new teachers) are looking to you to set the tone through your actions. You will build respect with your team if you are extra careful about judging yourself and others in the staff room.
• Leave your door open-This is a sign to all that they are welcome to visit for business or chatting anytime. Be careful about long conversations though. Everyone has a job to do and you can only spread your time so thinly.
• Don’t stay too late-Once in a while it is ok to stay late. (Past 5PM) But making a habit of this will send the wrong message to your team. You need to maintain your own life beyond the classroom. Leaving too late makes your life seem less important than work.
• Never be the Expert-You may have had more teaching experience than others in your department but never assume you know more about all things. Every member of your team has different strengths. You should help others shine.
Being a Department Chair takes special commitment and determination. You love your job or you would not be in the position. Wearing a cape may not be your cup of tea but remember, Superman always wore his blue and red outfit under the white shirt and tie.
What struggles have you faced as a leader? What strategies did you employ to maintain your cool in difficult situations?
Janet Lee has been an English teacher/Department Chair, Nipissing University Reading Part 3 Instructor, Student Success Literacy Consultant, and Nelson Literacy 7-10 instructional writer and media specialist. Janet Lee recently presented literacy resources at The Great Moon Gathering in Fort Albany, Ontario. She enjoys maintaining her blog This Side of the Mirror-A Journey Through Reflection to communicate with teachers and address current issues in education.
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