December 30, 2012 by Sian Rowland
I started writing this last month while still in my deputy head post. I was reflecting on the past year and what I had learnt and what I can take with me into the next phase of my working life. What with one thing and another (December is mad in a primary school) I didn’t finish and post but here it is now. Read, enjoy and feel free to comment. What have you learned from long term placements or contracts?
It’s not usual to have freelancers working in a state maintained school and I applaud the head teacher of my school for having the foresight to take me on. Everyone else has been using interim managers for years. In my case, the permanent deputy is on maternity leave and the school wanted as little disruption as possible. No one in school particularly wanted to act up in role so there won’t be any power struggles for the deputy when she returns. I work three days a week in role so I can maintain the other areas of my business during the rest of the week and during school holidays but of course also end up working in the evenings and weekends.
I’m now coming to the end of my year long contract as part-time deputy head and thought I would reflect on what I’ve learnt in the process.
1) establishing the parameters
This has been the hardest challenge. I have to remind people constantly that I’m part time so when I’m here I’ll give it 100% (if I was an X Factor contestatnt I might even go so far as to give it 110%. It’s my dream after all) but I need to be strict about how much I do outside the hours of the contract. There are loads of after school activities so parents evening and PTS quiz night: yes. Friday night in the pub with staff and school church services, no (although I have been know to attend both before now but never at the expense of other paid work). In a school you have to give your all and there’s no way round this. The children deserve it so I do get caught up in things like leavers assemblies and stage school performances just because they love it and it’s good PR for the school.
2) It’s your job!
This one goes with the above point. As a freelancer I’m don’t have an appraisal or a line manager. Phew to the first, meh to the second. Sometimes it would be nice to have someone whose responsibility it is to make sure my CPD needs are being met and that the job is running smoothly but I can have a chat with the head if needs be and my co-deputy is just amazing for that sort of thing. As an ex-public sector worker it’s easy to fall back into that, ‘I need help!’ mindset but you’re on your own out there, kids. Life is different now.
3) power struggles
It’s tough to assert your authority when you’re a freelancer. I’ve been brought in for my specific skills and expertise in the role and I do these to the best of my ability. Some people like to make sure I know that I’m the newcomer (of ‘Off comed ‘un’ as my mother in law would say.) Interestingly the teaching staff were quite relaxed about this. They understand the deputy head role and are happy to defer to the role. It’s been a harder and longer route for us all to relate to each other on a more personal level but there’s only so much you can do in three days a week and we got there in the end. I’ve had to learn to be quietly assertive which doesn’t come naturally. When someone looks me in the eye and says, ‘no’ to a reasonable request my first instinct is to back down and do the job myself. I’m still on a learning journey with this one but am getting better at it.
4) You can’t change the world…or can you?
As an interim, part time, freelancer it’s important to slot into the workplace culture. I’m not there to bring in sweeping change and new ways of doing things. I’m only there for three terms. I’ve managed to make some small changes that matter to me and my principles and if I can leave some new ideas that become part of the ethos of the school that’s brilliant. I hope the Year Three campfire evening is still going strong when I’ve been long forgotten.