Q: I am a teacher and the head of our English department. I work with many different personalities. How can I be more innovative to improve the department’s achievement?
A: Yes, it can be a challenge to work with many different personalities! Here are a few ideas that may promote your department’s success:
- Approach relationships with curiosity. Demonstrate a genuine interest in getting to know your coworkers and other employees in your school. This will open up opportunities to learn about how each person is motivated and what they can offer to improve the department.
- Identify each other’s strengths and interests. It is helpful to be curious and to pay attention to information that other people voluntarily share. But sometimes we need to intentionally ask questions to gather specific information. Take the time to ask each person in your department what their special gifts are and what interests them most. Don’t forget to share this information about you with others, too! It may be especially powerful to do this in a group setting where everyone in the department can learn more about each other to coordinate effort and promote bonding.
- Create opportunities for everyone to contribute. Now that you know how people are motivated and what their strengths and interests are, create opportunities for them to use their talent to benefit the department. When new projects come up, pull people in who will be interested and who will likely make a positive contribution.
- Let people take risks. Innovation involves risk and learning. Give your staff a little room to try new things and then evaluate, together, whether or not it worked. If it worked well, then this practice can be shared throughout your department. If it didn’t work so well, then you can either change it up a bit or try something new. Let your staff know that you trust them to try new things.
- Celebrate your department in the school. Honor the contributions of your staff by letting school administrators and other department heads know about their commitment, innovative ideas, and successes.
- Expose your employees to new ideas. As department head, you have the opportunity to shape your employee’s ideas about education and to expand their horizons. When you find examples of practices that are working well in other environments, share them with your staff. You can do this verbally, in writing, or at meetings. Set up a system to regularly share new ideas with your staff.
- Define success. What is your department trying to achieve? How does it define success? Have this conversation with staff to create a working definition of success. This will guide the department’s efforts and can serve as a reminder of what the group thinks is most important when decisions are made.