During Term of 2014, I applied for and was appointed to the acting position of the acting Head of School (Deputy Principal) here at my school, after our previous HOS took up a new appointment as a principal at the end of last year. I thought it would be good experience, although I felt quite daunted by the role, which was very different from my usual role of Assistant Principal. The areas of responsibility were different, the line management was different and the way my week unfolded was a big departure from my regular work patterns. As an acting position, my principal did not give me the full blown role, hanging onto some components that he felt he could manage, and likewise, I kept some aspects of my regular position instead of handing it all onto the colleague who also “acted up” into my role for the term.
About a month into this change of responsibilities, I knew that I wouldn’t be amongst the applicants to take on this role more permanently. I learned a lot in my term, but the role really felt daunting to me at times so deep down, I knew that at this time of my life, I wasn’t ready professionally to make the big “jump up” beyond this acting stint. But I learned a lot during my tenure, and I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on that time before my memory becomes foggy, and familiarity with my current role becomes engrained again.
Being a Head of School meant that colleagues did treat me differently. Some came by to talk to me and feel me out to see if I would be an ally in their part of the school picture or whether I would be someone to bypass. Instead of being a person to help pitch and help out with behaviour management, more serious issues were brought to me to deal with. I signed my first suspension letters in this role. It meant that I had to be ready to have hard conversations with colleagues about their work, and that I would provide them with what they needed to turn things around or to mend bridges.
I really found that this is a big people role, while my AP position focusses more on programs and resources. My AP role is about influencing classroom practice, while the Deputy role was more about driving school priorities, and in some ways, there was more of making colleagues accountable. Being a Deputy was definitely more about people looking to me to make decisions that they couldn’t or didn’t want to, while I do some of that deferring up or across in my current role. I had to draw a lot more on my skills of diplomacy both with colleagues and parents, and the role brought more in contact with our more challenging students. I also had to let go of some aspects of my AP work that are driven by my own innovation, and trust that the acting person would be fine without my direction.
Frank, my boss, invited me in for a chat on my last day in the role and asked me straight out what was the best part of being a Head of School at our school. I really had to stop and reflect because it had felt so much like putting one foot in front of the other that I wasn’t sure how to separate out various parts from each other. But then I recalled the weekly senior leadership meeting where it would be just the principal, the other permanent Head of School (Early Years) and I gathering to align diaries, make plans and decide on solutions and directions for the school. I said that while I thought it might sound silly, it felt good to feel important and that my input at that level was important, and that I was making a difference. Frank graciously said that no, it wasn’t silly and thanked me for my efforts and contributions.
I work at a very complex, quite challenging school where something is always happening. We have a new Head of School now, and luckily, it is a colleague that I knew previously through ICT networking connections and who I respect enormously. Our school has a large leadership team, far from the norm in South Australian schools, and each member brings a unique skillset and perspective to the running of the school. My principal has to delegate a lot – micromanagement just wouldn’t work in our school situation – and he has to trust that the leadership team he has constructed is in unison with the school’s chosen directions and that we present a united front to our even larger team of teachers and support staff. I am proud to be part of that team and happy that I got to “test drive” a more senior role within that team for the term. For now, I can go back to my weekly blend of Learning Technologies, Admin and Data with a better idea of what happens when I pass an issue up the chain of command.