Five starters for a new Deputy Principal

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWelcome to Newbie. Population: Me.

I am 15 days into my new role as Deputy Principal, having been in other education roles for a decade. A DP role alone is a big step, but after years of being employed as a professional facilitator, it feels even bigger. It’s a weird spot to be in – I feel like I have tonnes of experience to bring, and the old school muscle memory is kicking back in, but I can’t quite start to bring it yet.

So, instead, the first few weeks have needed a good game plan….

1. Say yes to every opportunity to connect

A lesson, a meeting, a conversation, a coffee – every chance there is to escape the DP office and be part of someone else’s world in the school is accepted. I am smiling a lot, possibly more than normal, but I’m sure it will all pay off. From the hongi at my fabulous pōwhiri to the morning tea in the staffroom, all those ‘first impressions’ matter an awful lot. I hope I’ve made them positive ones.

2. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

Any leader worth their salt knows that when we put the relationships and people first, then great work is possible. Getting to know everyone in a school of 1300 is a challenge, so this is what I’ve been doing in my first two weeks:

I have shadowed a Year 9 and Year 10 class for a day. I’m getting into other classes, taking time to chat to students who have arrived at the DP office with a query or issue. I front up at each assembly to introduce myself.

I peer often at the staff photo on my desk, trying to remember the names (and ciphers! I’m SPK…) of staff, and am doing everything I can to make sure I have met everyone for a conversation in the first few weeks. This might be a chat at lunch, a shared lesson, a quick chat and introduction as we pass in the corridor — the connection matters because no school can operate without the support of the team.

3. Soak up the culture

From the school magazine ‘Flannel’, to media galleries, to conversations about why things are this way or that, every moment conveys something about ‘how things are done here’. When you don’t even know how people prefer to make meetings (Google calendar? email?) or whether it’s ok to change seats in the staff room (it is), every small detail needs nutting out and understanding.

4. Be the learner and listen

I have a growing list of questions – everything from how the post is managed to the way the curriculum is structured – don’t be afraid to keep asking – dine on the ‘newbie’ status in the early days. Everyone has been marvelous and very patient.

There are also policies and plans, charters and SMS guides – all the documentation that comes with running a school. Plenty to read and soak in. Listening and observing, more than talking, seems key right now.

5. Trust that the dust will settle

At the moment, my brain is responding rather like it’s halfway through a bungee jump – lots of moving shapes and colors. I can’t yet see how all the small wheels make up the grand plan nor can I quite see yet where my previous experiences might come to the fore  – but I know this will come clear, the list will settle, the honeymoon period will end and I will be part of the furniture.

I can’t wait.

So, what I have I forgotten? Other top advice you would add?

Image credit: Anne ‘Welcome to Newbie’ licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


12 thoughts on “Five starters for a new Deputy Principal

  1. Volunteer to take day relief to build street cred with staff and pupils – and to show up where you are least expected! Offer to unstack the staff room dishwasher (if there is one) for a whole term!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. First Karen, congratulations & all my good wishes.
    It’s a very long time since I was 15 days into a permanent DP role.
    Fortunately I’d had the chance to trial the relieving role long term with 2 very different Principals when I’d learned so much about what/not to do!
    My considerations start after your 1-5, which well cover essential new setting relationship building:
    6. be visible – for students/staff/parents,caregivers/wider school community – gives you a chance to establish yourself in full view & learn more about your new school setting.
    7. inhabit the playground & transport hubs – talking with kids is high octane learning about your new setting & depending on how supervision works in NZ, perhaps a chance to have good conversations with staff on duty.
    8. try to avoid starting conversations with anything referring to/highlighting what worked in previous roles as new setting personnel usually are more interested in what you’re doing now.
    9. suss out in house candidates for your role and include them in future directions.
    10. keep in mind next career steps & how you expect to grow into it through your time at this setting.
    11. consider how you can best add value to this school community & gently, graciously make that happen & place your stamp upon that project/program.
    12. while you’re contemplating the near & far horizon for your new setting, remember the day to day detail always matters.

    In the end, it’s all about relationships, relationships, relationships & the learning that takes place as you establish yourself as a leader in this school community.
    Please try to never forget the experience, qualifications, capacity and potential that propelled you into this role or why you wanted this position.
    Lastly smile, smile, smile & enjoy.


  3. What great news, Karen – what a lucky school they are to have you on board! A great list so far…
    I would add: Look for ways that the school culture resonates with your own beliefs about teaching and learning before you focus too much on the ways it doesn’t.
    Good luck for the journey ahead!


  4. Karen
    Congratulations… nice start. I’d add:
    Be genuine, be authentic, be yourself.

    Best wishes
    Ngā mihi


  5. This is a great read Karen! I’m looking forward to reading more as you continue to settle in. I think the thing that resonated most with me was #4 – Be the learner and listen. This is so essential when taking on a new role. And an exciting part of beginning a new job, absorbing everything that is going on around you and continually questioning what is happening and why.


  6. My additions would be to remember that this is not a stage to “get through and belong”, rather this is an incredibly important stage where you have the awesome opportunity to observe, experience and reflect, before you become part of the culture and the day to day rhythms and inevitably lose some of that awareness and perspective.
    I suggest writing down ( for you only) your observations and thoughts – but not sharing them or acting on them for at least 6 months as you may radically rethink over that time.
    I also suggest that you note in your diary each week/month the key activities that you are engaged in ( you did that and left it for me when i took over your role and it was invaluable).
    Put aside time to READ the paperwork you are provided with ( policies, planning, strategy, charters etc). We all struggle to do this, but it is critical – and a good discipline to carve out reading time in a week with no space.
    And I really like the idea that while you are busy with activity – you have a clear understanding of what you would like your legacy to be and keep that firmly visible to guide your interactions and thinking.


  7. I don’t have advice as much as a suggestion. Be kind to yourself and enjoy the ride. Would be lovely to catch up…


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