The secondary head of department : professional development requirements, expectations and directions

  • David John Mulford

    Student thesis: Professional Doctorate


    The study sought to hear the voice of the Head of Department (HOD) in independent, non-government secondary schools in the ACT Region on their changing leadership role and their recommendations for targeted professional development. Heads of Academic Departments (HODs) face significant challenges by being in the middle of the organisational structure of a secondary school. They are required to be competent change agents for whole-of-school "macro" initiatives on one hand, yet on the other hand foster "micro" initiatives that support effective learning and teaching in individual classrooms. HODs deal on a daily basis with a broad range of important school issues that include influencing people; management; departmental structures; administration; leadership; student success and progress; educational theory and practice; department and school culture; communication; parents; external educational bodies; professional development; up-to-date pedagogy; and their own teaching and learning. There is frequently a lack of clarity of expectations about their role in a rapidly and ever-changing school system. The incumbents have rarely received targetted professional development for this crucial middle-ranking leadership position. The study describes and analyses the findings of detailed research with 24 Heads of Department and six Professional Development Coordinators at six independent, non-government secondary schools. The prime focus was on the changing leadership expectations of Heads of Department and, as a result, the professional development required to support the emerging requirements and expectations of and the directions for the role. The study followed an earlier Dinham et al. (2000) research project, of which I was one of the researchers, into the roles of Heads of Department in independent, non-government secondary schools. The study used analysis of existing job descriptions of Heads of Department, structured interview questionnaires that required quantitative categorisation and analysis, and open-ended interview questions requiring qualitative analysis. The respondents were all leaders of a major academic department within an independent, non-government secondary school. The five major themes that developed were the forces acting upon and tensions experienced by the Head of Department whilst maintaining credibility as an excellent teacher; the relatively newly developed Professional Development Coordinator role; the definition of the leadership approach, resultant implications and, as a result, the alternative structures that secondary schools are examining for academic leadership; communication between the middle ranking subject leaders and their senior executive; and the targetted professional development required for the changing role of a HOD. In independent, non-government secondary schools, the department structures and leadership quality can be powerful forces to assist or resist any reform agenda. Effective leadership of these academic departments becomes important to secure a constant quest to improve the quality of learning and teaching; to improve student outcomes; to nurture staff for more senior leadership positions and to transfer the benefits of a distributive leadership to more staff.
    Date of Award2007
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJohn COLLARD (Supervisor) & Denis Goodrum (Supervisor)

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