The Life of a Deputy Headteacher: Part 1

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This is a blog about the life of a deputy headteacher.

Well, I tell a lie. This blog is actually about how ‘I am getting on’ in my new role and life at my new school.

The Challenge:

First and foremost, I am thoroughly enjoying my new challenge, and it is a challenge as one may expect. However, despite the challenges and levels of frustration any new job brings, I do see the light at the end of the tunnel. Particularly in terms of managing my workload; understanding life as a deputy headteacher; and the importance of my position in the staffing structure and its impact on students and staff across the entire school.

If I said ‘the demands of the job have at times felt relentless’ at key periods of the year, this would be an understatement; working 60-hour plus weeks, delving deep into strategic and vital school policy, the vision and day-to-day systems and personnel has been intense. Researching legislation, law and school idiosyncrasies has been a steep learning curve; especially after a tumultuous period in the school and a Requires Improvement inspection. However, following The Greatest CPD Ever and countless other celebrations i.e. moving into our new building, we are Going for Gold next half-term; we expect high outcomes and student performances to be back on track this summer.


Over the past 6 months, there has been some breathing space for me to enjoy my working day, to interact with colleagues and students; to get a bit creative and allow my thinking to reflect on priorities and long-term goals; planning future teaching and learning and staff professional development ideas to consider with staff across the school. To move forward with no-graded lessons and develop teachers; to increase our work with IRIS Connect; to develop marketplace style staff training sessions, led by our teaching staff … I have been able to take a step back and see how everything is fitting into place.

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Image: Shutterstock

The life of a deputy headteacher is very much the same for any person who works in a school, only intense in a different way. I know I must have an open door 24/5 and that much of my time is for students and supporting colleagues. Much of my work and my to-do list is rarely tackled throughout the day. Having time to be able to concentrate on a school policy or plans for a whole-school CPD session or vision requires quiet reflection and concentration. This exclusively happens before and after school hours … yet I do see this shifting next year and restoring a degree of balance to my night and day.

In October 2014, I first reflected on my new job with Looking Back and Looking Forward and shared my priorities for the year ahead;

  • To raise standards of teaching and learning, which a shift of focus towards the latter and not the former.
  • To ensure assessment is accurate, consistent and robust. Developing a formative and summative model for all staff and students that informs and supports.
  • To encourage teachers to reduce unnecessary workload that impacts on their lesson planning, marking and teaching, empowering our staff to teach, plan and mark with a focus on learning and not on teaching.
  • Implementing, developing and evaluating a reflective lesson observation culture. This will include support from IRIS Connect, IPEVO, MINT class, Show My Homework, 4Matrix, SISRA, Blue Sky Education, The Teacher Development Trust and our Teaching Alliance to name a few …
  • To develop a culture where all staff, at all levels, are engaged with their own CPD.
  • To ensure that every aspect of CPD is linked to teaching and learning and school priorities.
  • To establish a culture of action research, facilitating pathways and funding schemes for staff to commence various qualifications.
  • To raise the profile of CPD for support staff, implementing new pathways and reviewing what works and what doesn’t.

I can say that we are on track to address most of the above.


Following on from One of Those Days – Let’s Prioritise – by @LeadingLearner, I quickly adopted the Stephen Covey model for my office. What I have yet to decipher, is what information is not ‘Important and Urgent’, as I find most of my workload is … and what to place in the bottom-left hand section of the diagram below; ‘Urgent But Not Important’.

I wonder if it’s because I view/determine that all ‘my work’ is important, but have yet failed to distinguish what is a priority and what is not?



Stephen Tierney says;

“The challenge of prioritising can easily be turned into a simple ranking exercise.  What order should I do the tasks in?  There are lots of different pieces of advice ranging from tackle the one you don’t want to do first, pick the most challenging or do the most important one early in your day and so the advice goes on.”

To-Do List:

A teacher’s work is never complete. Never. I came to terms with this very early on into my career. And as I entered into middle and senior leadership, I soon aimed to address all of my workload with the knowledge assumption that leaders should be able to do everything … How foolish! Despite a significantly reduced teaching timetable and change of working habit for me – which I am still coming to terms with, as I love working with children in my subject classroom – the challenges for anyone working in schools to get their jobs done during the working day is impossible.

Take a look at this photo of my whiteboard, stuck up on my office wall below. The image was taken on 14th May 2015. It is an image of my most-important (visual) to-do list using the model shared at the start of this blog. Behind this whiteboard, sit 50-100 emails per day; red flags requiring immediate action or longer term resolutions. What I’d like to share with the reader, is two items from each section of my whiteboard and explain the context of my task and the reasons behind highlighting this job in my role.

Office Workload To-Do List @TeacherToolkit Quintin Kynaston

Let’s take a look at each of the sections and allow me to just share a sentence or two to explain what is written within them and what it means for me as a deputy headteacher. I hope to also explain the impact these simple words have on the rest of the staff and students in the school.

Important and Urgent:

  1. Stage 2 mid-year appraisal across the school – to inform performance management and pay progression in October 2015. Our Pay Policy was re-launched in October 2014.
  2. A Learning Policy which will define all-things teaching and learning across the school. This policy will dispel myths and free teachers to teach what is best for our students. The overall goal is to define an expectation and set a level of consistency.

Important But Not Urgent:

There are many important tasks for me to complete in this section. All important, yet not pressing until the deadline looms nearer. If I could choose two priorities from this area, they would be;

  1. Joint lesson observations with all middle leaders next half-term.
  2. Planning to introduce stage 3 documentation across the school to end the Performance Appraisal cycle for 2014/15.

Urgent But Not Important:

I have no idea what to place here at the moment.

  1. For the time being, I have considered the 3-5 emails I receive each week, to lead teacher-CPD across the country. There is a need to track this at home away from work, and look to consider what dates/times I can commit, without additional work impacting on my job at hand.
  2. Staples. I really need to staples from the general school office. My paper is piling high …

Not Important and Not Urgent:

I have listed all my creative projects here. Ideas that I’d like to re-visit, introduce or consider developing further.

  1. I aim to take the school through Investors in People Gold Status next half-term. This will inform our CPD and appraisal priorities for 2015/16.
  2. Open classroom development, as well as a published calendar for CPD learning-walks / bright-spots for all staff to engage in.

Insights Evaluator:

During the Easter holidays I had a one-to-one coaching session with (@IanWig) Ian Wigston from Bright Field Consulting. This week I had the follow-up session with Ian to look at my conscious and subconscious leadership and management profile as part of my  development. I have a detailed report highlighting my areas for improvement. Apparently, my report rests within just 8% of the population based on the data I submitted for the psychometric test.

This Insights Discovery profile is based on my responses to the Insights Preference Evaluator which was completed on 06 April 2015.

The Insights System is built around the model of personality first identified by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. Using Jung’s typology, this Insights Discovery profile offers a framework for self-understanding and development. Research suggests that a good understanding of self, both strengths and weaknesses, enables individuals to develop effective strategies for interaction and can help them to better respond to the demands of their environment.

There are some fascinating insights which I have yet to be read and explore in further detail. Below you can see an image of my personality profile and can see my Conscious and Less Conscious wheel data.

I look forward to challenging myself and my weaknesses and will blog about the report in more detail when I fully understand it …


Insights Profile Conscious Subconscious Brightfields Ian Wigston @TeacherToolkit profile

12 thoughts on “The Life of a Deputy Headteacher: Part 1

  1. Hi Ross, that’s hilarious; my Insights results from 4 years ago are the exact same as yours! Even down to the little numbers in the circles- 112, 153, 54. What a mad coincidence. Although 3 years ago my Myers–Briggs was ISTJ and it’s now firmly INTP. Interesting, this stuff.

  2. Thanks for sharing your insights into your new role. If you find the insight wheel helpful, all well and good, but I might be wary of jumping headfirst into the wonderful world of Jung. The insights wheel is becoming more popular with consultants as the flaws of Myers Briggs become more widely known. It has some advantages, such as not using forced questions (I guess you had 4 options to choose from for each question?) but give some thought to whether those axes are valid in the first place (e.g. Why motivate OR coordinate, can’t we do both?) because ultimately those four colours stem from Hippocrates’ four ‘humours’ (We’ve never met, but your posts don’t seem melancholic!)
    You’ll find enthusiastic proponents for and against: Jung’s model of personality either provides a powerful insight, or it just works like a horoscope.

  3. Good to read how things are going, Ross – and I hope that reflecting in this way helps you to feel good about what you’ve accomplished so far, as well as reinforcing the scale of the task ahead!

    Just a couple of thoughts.

    Re: “Much of my own work and my to-do list is rarely tackled throughout the day. Having time to be able to concentrate on a school policy or plans for a whole-school CPD session or vision requires quiet reflection and concentration. This exclusively happens before and after school hours … yet I do see this shifting next year and restoring a degree of balance to my night and day.”

    I’m not sure I ever got there in 30+ years! But a head I respected once said, “Day times are for people. Night times (and weekends and holidays) are for paper” and I always remembered that. We do need to get a sustainable balance in our lives and control the amount of work we do at home, but when the school is in session often it is people, rather than plans and policies, which consume us.

    And that leads me to the second point – the ‘urgent but not important’. Sometimes I felt that the ‘urgent’ stuff was almost all reactive. It depends on what blows up and what demands others make of us. Sometimes we find we’re dealing with it (because we’re naturally solution-focussed problem-solvers!) and this is squeezing out the time we hoped to spend on the important stuff we’d planned to tackle. Sometimes we may need the discipline not to let other people’s priorities determine our own. That’s difficult, I know.

    Thanks again for the post – always interesting to read your most reflective pieces!

    1. Hi Jill. Thanks again. I do enjoy writing about my own reflective journey. I agree. Policies et al must be left out of hours and the day left for staff/students.

      As for Urgent and not Important, I will. Keep this aside for fire-fighting… for now.

  4. Hi Ross great blog, I’ve just got my first Dep Head Position in a 4-16 special school, to start in Sept, any advice? Is there anything you think you should have read or done before you started?

    1. Hi Claire, congratulations on your new job! I’d see if I could visit as much as possible before starting; build up some relationships early; read up on essential CPD -particularly on the roles that you will be leading on- see if you can get any of your new colleagues to visit your school before you start, there may be some things they find valuable that you will need to bring. My number one piece of advice, would be to make sure you have a true rest in the summer before you start. You’ll need it.

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