So You’re Becoming a Department Chair or Grade Level Lead? Start Now!

May 23, 2013

As the school year winds to a close, many of you have reached out for help preparing to be teacher leaders. We’re so glad to hear from you! There are many things you can do now and over the summer to make your future role much easier.

We recently spoke to Julia K., an amazing middle school teacher in Washington, D.C. (and incidentally, DC’s Teacher of the Year! Go Julia!), about how she plans and prepares as a grade level leader.

The Facts:

  • Julia does not receive a reduced teaching load to lead a grade team.
  • Julia does receive a small stipend for her work.
  • Julia does have a big chunk of preparation time.
  • Julia teaches at a charter school. For those of you teaching in traditional public, private or parochial schools, please don’t let the charter language deter you from focusing on the great ideas for leadership and organization.

How She Makes Leading More Efficient—and FUN!

  • Get a head start. Set a strong tone by building culture early in the summer. Look how Julia surveyed her team in advance of the school year. We love how clear, organized, and positive this letter is!

  • Automate whatever you can. Julia created this nifty meeting template that she can reuse each week. We love how she has:

A)     Clear times on the agenda

B)     Ample space for notes

C)     A summary section for action items

  • Help others be successful. Julia writes a weekly reminder email to her busy teaching team to keep tasks front and center. Outside of the positive tone, we love the clear tables, color-coding, and CLARITY. And in case you are wondering, the title of the document rolls up to WIN as an acronym—a theme of this seventh grade team and all of DC Prep. I’d like to work with this group of people!

Of course, you are likely wondering how long this takes Julia each week. Thoughtful work like this does take time. When we broke down the preparation, it turned out to be:

  • Prep the agenda – 30 min
  • Hold the meeting – 90 min
  • Weekly reminder email – 45 min

Plus, there are other bits of work to thoughtfully build relationships with families, students, and other school leaders each week! After all, it isn’t just always about efficiency.

As a former 4th grade Leader with no reduced teaching load, I get how challenging it can be. Leading as a teacher is the best and worst of both worlds. You are now leading both students and adults—and pulled in both directions constantly. But it can also be twice as rewarding!

We hope Julia’s tips and templates help you lead with purpose and joy!

Discussion Question: For you teacher-leaders out there, any ways you’ve found to make the position more efficient?