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1 September 2015

Keeping the established department moving... this year's historical theme of the term!

As a Head of History, I am very lucky to lead the team I do.  Staff turnover in the department is low, so it is a stable and highly professional team of colleagues and the department ethos is characterised by a high degree of trust.  As an established team, we have built up a wide catalogue of tried and tested resources and lessons which are in place across the department.  As committed and capable professionals, staff in the department have all gone on to acquire additional positions of responsibility within the school.  

Two years ago, this raised some two issues for me as Head of Department. Firstly, in a department with such a broad base of existing materials and lessons, how to foster continued creativity and experimentation among staff and avoid teaching and learning from stagnating. Secondly, in a department where staff have whole-school roles which so often require their focus, how to facilitate their continued development as subject specialists.

With these goals in mind, I introduced a termly focus, which I called 'Historical Theme of the Term'.  In the first year of this project, I asked staff to take responsibility for developing a new lesson based on the theme of using of visual sources in History.  Staff were asked to present their lesson materials to the department later that term.  When this came to pass, there was llively discussion. Materials were then distributed across the department for delivery in colleagues' classrooms. 

The focus for 'Historical Theme of the Term' changes each year, according to the development priorities of the department. Last year, there was a need to develop provision on new areas of content as a result of the implementation of our new Key Stage 3 curriculum.  This time, staff were asked to create and deliver a series of model lessons on one of the new units of work. It is important to note that staff were given considerable freedom over their chosen unit of work, allowing them to develop their own overarching enquiry and structure their unit of work freely. The returns from staff were even better that year. 
Having focused the team on developing new areas of content last year, this year I'm keen for us to return to the procedural concepts which underpin the subject.  So in this year's 'historical theme of the term', I'll ask department members to engage with academic research on their choice of second order concept or process and prepare a short paper to present to the rest of the department outlining what shapes progression in that area, together with common misconceptions and barriers faced by pupils and some suggested teaching strategies for overcoming them.  This is to be accompanied by a model lesson built around that particular concept and which can be shared around the department.
You can see the brief for this year's historical theme of the term below. 

The outcomes of running a project like this are positive all round. For the department, it promotes a culture of sharing resources and practice between colleagues, and a culture of working 'for the team'. For individual staff, it promoted creativity and engagement with teaching research, keeping staff practice and planning fresh.   As Head of Department, it helps ensure the team have a degree of ownership over what is being delivered and how and maintains their focus on being subject specialists, among the other hats they wear around the school.

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