Developing The Role of Deputy Principal

The role of deputy principal is multi-faceted but is known to vary greatly between schools. Recognising the demands placed upon principals, Ciaran McMahon believes the deputy principal role requires development including greater responsibility and recognition that it is crucial to the success of a school.

Shoulder to shoulder

With the present demands being made on principals, it is now more important than ever that the role of the deputy principal be properly defined and utilised. It is not the place of deputy principals to stand behind principals but alongside them. The creation of a list of effective duties for the role of deputy principal is important, but this does not outweigh the importance of creating a school climate where the position of deputy principal is recognised as a senior management position that carries with it similar accountability and status as that of principal.

Stephen Covey


‘Trust in any relationship is absolutely indispensible to success.’  Stephen R Covey

A learning opportunity

Deputy principals should not be perceived in a heirachical context as number two in the chain of command of the school organisation, but rather as co-principals who have to maintain a high visibility in interacting with teachers, students and parents. They also have a part to play in promoting the concept of a learning community. Before they can do this effectively, the school climate has to reflect a relationship of trust between principal and deputy principal. Principals are responsible for the creation of such a school climate.

Deputy principals are decision-makers and, as such, need to fulfil their own goals within the organisation. They must do this competently, being well-intentioned is not enough. Similar to the role of principal, the role of deputy principal should carry with it the opportunity to resolve problems. Where this proves to be problematic, a professional conversation between principal and deputy principal is crucial in establishing a problem-solving process that is appropriate to the school and in planning to address the specific issues. This is in keeping with a principal’s professional leadership role. Learning on the job and responding to the expectations of others is a reality.

Trust Matters

‘Successful leaders learn from their failures as well as their successes.’ Megan Tschannen-Moran 

Partnership and responsibility

The relationship between principal and deputy principal is key in providing leadership to the school community and should, according to the collective wisdom, be reflective of a partnership model. This partnership model, however, must be equal in its parts and must share all duties attaching to leadership of a school community. These duties can be categorised as instuctional, managerial, human resources and strategic. Deputy principals must be empowered to lead but they also in their turn must want to lead. Likewise, principals must be willing to share the leadership role, and to an extent, relinquish control of some aspects of school leadership. Deputy Principals, like principals, must initiate and not merely wait to respond. They also must reflect on their own practice and seek to improve. Duties should not be differentiated at this level of management but merged. Deputy principals should be encouraged to act. They must be allowed to make and recover from their own mistakes.

Creating leaders

In conclusion, deputy principals will succeed in their role when they are treated by principals as equals and co-leaders. Their duties should, like those of principals, evolve and flow with the tide of educational change. Deputy principalship can be a rewarding role in a school organisation and many deputy principals attest to this. If they wish to contribute more to the school organisation and learning community, they should not be confined to a list of duties from which to operate. The emphasis in schools should be to create leaders, not restrict and confine them.

73941313681514‘The best advice I ever received as principal was that you do not have to prove who is in charge, everybody knows who is in charge.’ Todd Whitaker






CiaranMacMahonCiaran McMahon, Principal of Scoil Bhride Boys NS, Kilcruttin, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

If you would like to get in touch with Ciaran in relation to this piece, you can email him at






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