Establishing technology co-heads of department
"Establishing the co-HoD role was a sensible pragmatic way of recognising that we had two established, committed members of the department who had different but complementary skills... and it was a clear signal to the rest of the school that I rated what they do."Principal Bill Adam
"Having two strong characters complementing each other has been really important... because they could have been competing. This is something other schools could take out of our development and work towards a greater level of sharing of responsibility."Mairi Fitzsimons
The establishment of Co-HoD technology roles was a key step in successfully embedding technology into the school local curriculum at Havelock North High School.
At the start of the implementation process, Carol Rimmer was HoD home economics. Doug Sutherland was HoD graphics and design technology.
As members of the original technology learning area implementation group set up by the school management team both teachers were well aware of the magnitude of the change required. Acknowledging their complementary skills and experience, they quickly recognised the benefits of pooling their individual commitment and expertise and in sharing the responsibility for managing the change process within the department.
Senior management backed shared role
The concept of a shared position was raised with senior management. They also saw the benefits and soon established the co-HoD technology roles. "If you're trying to make changes of this magnitude you have to have the people who can drive it," says principal Bill Adams. "We had two highly-regarded and capable position of responsibility (PR) holders with different but complementary skills. Making this appointment was a clear signal that we rated what they do and what they were aiming to put in place."
In establishing the roles, divisions of responsibility were not formalised. Each teacher retained their existing area-specific responsibilities – Carol in food technology and Doug in design and visual communication. Jointly they dealt with the myriad of responsibilities in the evolving learning area of technology. The PR structure in the school was re-organised so the positions were allocated three management units each.
Value from complementary skills
The value gained from the teachers' complementary skill sets was immediately illustrated in the subsequent redevelopment of the school's outmoded technology facilities. Carol's clear understanding of the requirements for the delivery of high quality technology education programmes added to Doug's architectural and workshop experience. This ensured that the needs of staff were identified and followed through in the final design.
"Doug's experience meant that he could oversee the re–design of the building," says Carol. "He kept saying to us: 'What is it you want?' and 'What can we do?'. Then he'd go away and sketch out something, and ask 'Will this work?' One thing we definitely wanted was a central resource area for all staff. Also, as co-HoDs, we didn't want separate offices – we wanted to be seen to be working together."
"Being based in a shared office next to the resources means that either Carol or I can quickly deal with problems as they arise," says Doug. "The whole department uses the same workroom and being able to work together has been tremendous for team-building."
Flexibility within the shared role is seen as a big advantage. "Whoever is the appropriate person at that time will take responsibility," says Doug. "And if one or other of us is overloaded at some point, the other can step in and remove a bit of the load."
Sharing the load
Local curriculum development, department meetings, staff and student issues, and communication with parents are all dealt with by either HoD. Carol has extensive national qualifications and curriculum development experience in technology and thrives on the written aspects of the HoD work, such as producing departmental reports.
Doug's acknowledged advocacy skills and day-to-day pragmatism are highly valued, and staff will usually go to him with rooming or equipment issues. However, the shared nature of the role means that it's the person available who picks up the next job. They make a point of meeting at least once a week to keep each other fully informed and to ensure that tasks do not overlap.
Another advantage is having "two pairs of eyes" and the opportunity to use each other as sounding boards. "If there's something we want to take to the whole department I'll always sound my ideas out against Doug, and vice versa, before we take it to the group," says Carol. "That means there are no surprises and we are always seen to present a united front. That unity is absolutely critical when you're working together."
"We often move offsite to catch up over a coffee and discuss what we're doing, where we're going, and what we need to do next," says Doug. "Sometimes it only takes quarter-of-an-hour, sometimes longer. It's about making time to discuss those little things that you've never had time to talk about in school."
Advantages for other staff and the students
Carol and Doug are confident that the shared nature of the HoD role has worked well . It is clearly evident in the enthusiasm and collegiality of the staff and in the level of engagement of the students. Staff recognise the advantages of having access to two experienced senior HoDs, and are equally comfortable in their interactions with both.
Both have been active in a professional capacity at a regional and a national level. They say that the scope of this activity has significantly influenced what they have been able to bring to the school.
The experience at Havelock North High School suggests that developing a successful partnership at HoD level centres on the ability to communicate well and to work together to achieve the goals set. Professional respect, a willingness to listen to the other's viewpoint, and being prepared to change your position on an issue are all key components. Ultimately success depends on developing an agreed understanding of where you want to go.