Getting that new job is terribly exciting. The adrenalin rushes as you realise you are the chosen one and gives a great buzz from the day the news breaks… and for some time afterward.

By Ben Vessey

Once the dust has settled, however, the realisation dawns that the new role means you are expected to deliver on all those spectacular ideas and visions, which you conjured up at the interview. Having spent some time in the comfort zone of your current school, you are going to be in a strange, unfamiliar environment where even things as simple as getting your photocopying done are a mystery. And all this has to be faced as a new Head of Department, where your colleagues will be looking to you immediately for leadership, support and guidance. In some cases you may have to deal with suspicion, or even hostility, if members of the department are unhappy about your appointment. It’s all pretty daunting.

Having just been through this experience myself, I have put together a checklist and a few thoughts, which might help to make your own encounter with this scenario a little easier.

The most critical factor is to ensure you secure time off to visit your new school as many times as possible before you take up your appointment. This should be the norm, but I do know people who were unable to do this, and it made their lives much harder. I would recommend two visits of a couple of days each although I am aware that most schools may be reluctant to release you for this much time. These visits will help you to feel more at ease the following September, as you will have met a few people in advance. Some smiling and familiar faces on your first day can smooth the initial nerves rapidly. It is essential that you plan what you hope to achieve on these visits, and try to pre-arrange a meeting programme with key staff.

It’s a very steep learning curve when you start at your new school, especially in a position of responsibility, and you will have to hit the ground running hard in September. Any ‘pre-season’ preparation you can get done will be invaluable to you.

Before I began my current job, I found it invaluable to hold a half hour meeting with each member of the department to discuss their aspirations and insights. This instantly built a channel of communication. It is important to keep this discussion constructive, so think up some clear leading questions in advance, and steer off the personal gripes and groans about colleagues. I also found it useful to meet as many of the key staff (academic and support) as soon as possible in the summer term before taking up my new appointment in the autumn. You will not remember all of them, but they will remember you, and will be pleased you made initial contact. Make sure you record contact details of these people, as you will need them pretty rapidly.

There is a lot to think about here, but when one works through the checklist systematically, it is all manageable and worth researching in advance. Keep notes on everything and even type them up after your preliminary visits to serve as an aide memoir.

It is easy to forget what it was like when you first started at your current school when everything is second nature to you. It’s a very steep learning curve when you start at your new school, especially in a position of responsibility, and you will have to ‘hit the ground running’ hard in September. Any ‘pre-season’ preparation you can get done will be invaluable to you.

Good luck! TEX

Ben is Head of History, Politics and Law at Millfield School in Somerset.

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