What I've learned

8th August 2003 at 01:00
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Deputy headteacher Julie Taylor on the rewards of climbing up a rung

Having new responsibilities and challenges is like an addiction - once you've tried it, you can't do without it. As head of sixth form, I'd taken on the timetable and curriculum when the head was away. I couldn't contemplate the prospect of going back, so I was delighted when I got the deputy head job.

I used to be a vociferous head of department. I was a union rep, and a poacher of good people, and when I became head of sixth form, I became a gamekeeper. Becoming a deputy is the equivalent of becoming an estate manager. I have had to reinvent myself, which is difficult when people know you well. I've been surprised by how different the job of deputy is. People come to you and say: "I need a decision on this now." Even at assistant head level, you would often say: "I need to go back to the senior management team to talk about that." The acting head gave me some good advice: if people come to you with a situation you're unfamiliar with, it's a good idea not to make a snap decision, but to say: "Thank you. Get that down on paper and I'll get back to you," to give you time.

Working with a stranger - a new deputy from outside started at the same time - has forced me to look at things anew and admit when I am wrong. An open mind is essential.

When you start at a new place, you don't instantly start dismantling things. It's a case of taking time to know the place, the people, working by example, putting in the time. But you also have to make sure you have some time out. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are indispensable. You could become useless if you didn't have the energy left to do the job.

Julie Taylor is deputy head of Debrief Aston school, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. She was talking to Martin Whittaker

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