Why be a Deputy Principal?

The experience of being a Deputy Principal is often shaped by the stories we hear, and the other leaders for whom we have worked. Many times, I have heard people talk about senior leadership as ‘them (not us)’ and ‘management’ in less than complimentary tones. There is a perception that once you enter such a role, you somehow become part of an ivory-towered clique, unable to empathise with the role of classroom teacher that you yourself were once! Even the research on middle and senior leadership can frame the work as unforgiving. In a previous article, I referred to a deputy principal’s activities as “characterized by brevity, variety and fragmentation” (Cranston, 2002). Farnham (2009) points out that the Deputy Principal “holds perhaps the toughest job in…education. It is often a thankless position that places heavy demands on those who take it”.

So, why take it? Where is the joy in such work that keeps people in these kinds of roles for entire careers? I myself returned to a Deputy Principal role after over a decade in consultancy and corporate roles, and am loving it.

Let me begin with a glimpse into what I personally enjoy about the role. In a typical day, I will have opportunities to teach, engage in strategic planning, support a colleague through a question or challenge, mentor other leaders and be part of a pastoral team. I might meet with a family to discuss a way to bring teachers together for support; plan a programme of professional learning; talk with staff about an upcoming event. Slicing through all of this, ideally, is the school vision and mission that Deputy Principals need to both champion and anchor on a daily basis. I enjoy engaging in the kind of broad educational thinking that is needed at a leadership level. Certainly, the days can feel complex with ‘on the fly’ responses and reactive decisions being made — and there might be days where a lie down in a quiet dark room is needed! But in this type of work, you can also feel like you are a valuable player in a diverse, fast-moving ecosystem.

If you are considering a move into this kind of senior leadership role, it can help to hear about the positives, as well as the challenges. If we can’t see it, we can’t be it – and so I would like to set out a handful of reasons why a Deputy Principal role can be one of the best in the education space…


This article was originally published in the ‘From the Deputy’s Desk’ column in LeadershipED NZ (Term 2 2019), published by EducationHQ. The opening of the article is published here with permission.

To read the rest, sign up to EducationHQ’s Hub.

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