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March 10, 2020

AHISA forum – Lessons from former principals

I had the pleasure last week of being on a panel of four former principals who addressed current principals at the NSW/ACT AHISA branch meeting held at Port Macquarie.

I joined Timothy Wright, Kitty Guerin and Alan Green to reflect on our careers as we addressed issues like What I wished I’d known when I commenced my principalship; My most important learning as a principal; What I wished I’d done better and What I found most rewarding during my career.

Three take-aways from the panel discussions included:

  1. The importance of having the right school staff
  2. The loneliness of being a principal, and
  3. The importance of looking after yourself.

The notion of the necessity of having the right staff to achieve desired school outcomes is an obvious one but interestingly, all panel members pondered  whether they may have been a little slow upon their appointment to “move on” their poorer performing staff. The importance of staff empowerment was discussed and there were differing views as to how much “micro-management” is too much for empowerment to occur productively.

It was acknowledged that the position of principal can often be a lonely one, with the immediate school community not necessarily understanding the true dimensions of a principal’s role.  This situation reinforced the strong view of the panel that collegial support for each other is paramount for the professional and personal health of principals. There was agreement that networking among principals is particularly helpful for newly appointed principals.

Associated with the previous point was the suggestion that many principals can give too much to their role at the expense of personal well-being. To overcome this, advice from the panel included taking sabbatical when it becomes due; being prepared to make yourself dispensable from your role for short periods; having outside life interests so that your principal role doesn’t become your whole life and  having a post-principalship plan.

An interesting insight into the career motivations of the four principals was that all of them nominated success in turning around the life of a student who had faltered as one of the most rewarding aspects of their careers.