To be a Deputy

A friend of mine, about to take up a new post, asked if I knew of any good books on how to be a good deputy head.  Well, a search on Amazon brings up this little list.  Although I cannot vouch for how good they are, I’m sure they are written with the best intentions.

I don’t think that there is any book on how to be a good deputy that would really make a huge difference to how you discharge your duties.  Rather, I would suggest reading around the idea of leadership: autobiographies, biographies, case studies.  Fallon’s “Six Secrets of Change”, Adair’s “Effective Strategic Leadership” and Lansing’s “Endurance, Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic” are three books, of thousands, I would suggest to gain inspiration on how leadership works in general.  In this way you can develop a sense of what you believe leadership to be and how you wish to use your own innate qualities to develop as a leader.

Beyond developing this sense of personal leadership style, I offer the following as a list of  what being a good deputy might entail:

  • Don’t choose sides.  You owe allegiance to your Head and the senior management team but you need to be sensitive to the mood and needs of the common room.
  • Be the eyes and ears.  Given the point above, your role is to support the staff team but also, more importantly, to support your Head in developing their vision for the school.  As long as your Head values your contributions, you will have the opportunity to discuss the direction of the school.  So when you do, speak up.
  • Remember who’s the boss.  Do your job.  Your Head needs your support to run the day-to-day operation of the school.   Speak openly with them about your aspirations and interests, set professional targets for your leadership goals but stick to your core purpose.

As with leadership at any level, there is no single or “right” way.  However, there are some key tenets that are immutable and I believe the three above, are a good jump off point for discussion on what might be needed to make a good deputy.



3 thoughts on “To be a Deputy

  1. Your friend is lucky to have you to offer them support – friends cannot be underestimated, especially in times of change. Your three points are all helpfully practical. Point 3 chimes with Aristotle who allegedly claimed, “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader”. I’ve been unable to find the context to his words, but I hope he went on to say … Be a magpie. Learn from your leader’s successes and mistakes. Tailor their effective leadership strategies to make them your own, and avoid repeating their mistakes.
    However, I think that a big challenge for many Deputies is balancing teaching and leadership responsibilities. Perhaps you can offer your friend some advice on this? Mine would be to accept when ‘good enough’ really is, well, good enough! Many teachers have a lifelong tendency towards perfectionism (myself included!). This can be great, but does adding an extra flourish to a classroom display or ensuring a wow factor in all your lessons, really bring significant benefit for all learners – or would it be better to prioritise something that supports the wider school community?

  2. JP, I do enjoy reading your thoughts. These are very perceptive comments and point to a good deal of experience. Do you run a blog? I would like to read more of your thoughts.

    Your last sentence is, I feel, a really pivotal moment in a teachers career. If one believes in the extra flourish in the classroom – wow factors and all – then that is your domain. If, however, one can see that the extra flourish is not going to satisfy your desire to lead a broader agenda in developing benefit for learners (ICT, Literacy, Safeguarding…) then Senior Leadership or beyond could be beckoning!

    Writing this, seems somewhat seditious, and I’m certain that I am open for criticism here. However it does come down to to question of energy and where you can more effectively focus it for the benefit of all and the greater good.

  3. My own blog? No. It’s been said that everyone is either a muse or an artist, and I’m more of a muse!

    I don’t think you’re being entirely seditious. Leadership is not everyone’s holy grail. And just think where we would be if it were – a world over full of leaders really doesn’t bear thinking about! Sedition would be suggesting that those who are satisfied succeeding in the background are any less significant than those in the foreground.

    By the way, the broader agenda items you chose to list intrigues me. Should ICT really be before safeguarding? Like I said … a muse!

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