I write the first part of this ‘Connected Leader’ from Auckland, New Zealand, where I am joined by over 200 Australian principals at the 2016 Trans-Tasman Principals Conference. This is a joint conference between New Zealand Principals’ Federation and APPA. The conference theme, ‘Knowledge in our Hands’, has a focus on narratives and stories of leadership.
My sincere thanks go to the organising committee, led by convener, Jill Corkin, of Auckland and also to Iain Taylor, President of NZPF, for his hosting, warmth and good humour over the week.
Without doubt, the Conference has been huge success for more than 850 delegates, including those colleagues from the Pacific Islands, Canada and the United States. My sincere thanks go to the organising committee, led by convener, Jill Corkin, of Auckland. I extend a special thank you to our Auckland colleagues for making us feel very welcome in your city and region. I know there were many new connections and networks established during the conference.
The ‘connection to speak and share our stories’ was engaged and turned on. Our presenters and workshop leaders provided the motivation for conversation and deep reflection on practice. The key conference themes, whether Excellence, Innovation and Inquiry, Curiosity, Diversity and Equity, or Ecological Sustainability, Integrity and Respect, saw a wonderful range of keynotes, presentations and workshops.
The distance between our countries might seem great but after this conference the relationship is strengthened and the willingness to support and challenge each other has grown to make us feel closer.
Let’s take up the challenge because we have the knowledge in our hands!
Now home, I would like to highlight just some of the items on the APPA radar.
Well, we have education as a key policy item for the election. Over the long campaign, maintaining the focus on education will be challenging. However, while the main themes have been announced, we can still look for additional initiative announcements. APPA has been talking to both sides and clarifying positions while at the same time reinforcing APPA’s positions. There is clear evidence that APPA’s push for leadership support is identified in policy statements. We have received commitments that both parties will work with principals associations to develop leadership programs.
Funding, too, is gaining momentum, given the difference between parties. APPA is continuing to support funding that is needs-based, sector-blind, transparent and predictable. Our push is to have the primary base higher to target early and sustained intervention for students, as well as address the demands of the curriculum and the technology and innovation agenda. APPA has three key initiatives that could support both parties’ policies: Principals as Literacy Leaders (PALL) to address the literacy and explicit teaching focus, Principals as STEM Leaders to give direction in schools for the technology and innovation agendas, and the Next Generation Principals leadership course (including the Leaders Shadowing Leaders program).
This election is about investment in education. Our opportunity, as practising principals, is to push the message that the best outcomes for education are at the primary school level and through the school principal’s direction. Primary school principals are determined to see that each child, regardless of background or school context, has the opportunity to reach his or her potential.
At the most recent NAC meeting, held before the conference in Auckland, we developed a set of Key Election Messages for Principal that is available to every primary school principal and has been sent out via state and territory associations. APPA messages are:
We are planning to meet with ACARA again before the end of term to discuss what is becoming an increasingly concerning issue. APPA is continuing to push the line that many schools would be heavily disadvantaged because of wide disparity in technology, technological support and Internet access. At another level, online writing assessment cannot be supported for year 3 because of the very likely implications on curriculum and pedagogy. We have raised this issue with a range of stakeholders and ask that every principal discuss this with his or her community, member of parliament (state or federal), and jurisdiction leaders. The decision to implement NAPLAN Online has implications not yet realised or discussed with school principals. Now is the time to be heard, as they say, before the horse has bolted.
We have been informed that the project has received funding from the Australian Research Council for the next three years. APPA will be part of the project and we will soon meet with Dr Phil Riley to explore the project’s focus and future outcomes. Our key interest with the next phase of the project is on measuring the impact or strategies that employers and jurisdictions have implemented or could be implementing.
We have released the Leaders Shadowing Leaders package. We encourage associations to take up the program and I am happy to lead a workshop or presentation on Shadowing. This program is being run through your local principals association.
APPA is supporting this worthwhile Captain Courageous Foundation event by promoting it to schools. The My Hero Day raises funds for Bone Marrow research. Stirling East Primary School (SA) student leaders are developing a campaign page on www.kidsgive.com.au for schools to access.Dennis Yarrington
Locally made ethical school wear
Through their own procurement policies local schools have the power to support an ethical Australian clothing industry and help prevent the exploitation of workers. There are local school wear manufacturers who are committed to making clothes locally the right way.
Ethical Clothing Australia is responsible for accrediting local clothing and footwear manufacturers to ensure that their workers are receiving their legal wages and entitlements, and working in decent conditions.
To find out more contact Ethical Clothing Australia to ask how we can assist your school to source ethically accredited school wear.
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Describe your current school, its students, the demographics of your school community, and any special challenges and/or strengths.
Kristin Junior School is the entry point for many students to Kristin School, a K-13 independent school, in Auckland, New Zealand. Kristin is the first and only school in New Zealand to offer a continuous IB education, coupled with the national accreditation for a dual pathway in the senior years. Of 1500 students in total, 420 students make up the Junior School. Our kindergarten offers a 48-week program for children from 3 and a half years, soon to be enhanced by Little Doves, our early learning centre, set to open in 2017; and our 74 students in year 6 make up just over half of the students entering Middle School. While predominantly New Zealand Pakeha, Kristin attracts a wide variety of global citizens, with a growing Chinese community complementing the other 17+ nationalities represented in the school.
Our challenge is also one of our strengths. Being 43 years young, the school maintains an innovative, pioneering spirit that sets it apart from its ‘older’ competitor independent schools. Promoting that disposition and encouraging families to consider Kristin School as a choice is possibly a common challenge to independent schools worldwide. Another challenge is the general strength of the New Zealand primary education system, such that families are quite likely to get a good educational offering at their local state school. For those families who are able to take advantage of the choice, Kristin offers a commitment to realise much better than ‘good’ and enjoys a culture of shared high expectations for all our children.
How many years have you been a school leader?
My first formal foray into school leadership was a Deputy Head of College position in Brisbane, Australia, in 2008, but I’ve probably been a leader since I started year 1 myself, in Canada, in 1970! I’ve always been someone who puts their hand up, who has big ideas and feels the need to act on them; as a student, teacher aide, teacher, and now, principal.
What motivated you to become a school leader (and when)?
I think I have always recognised the importance of actively fostering a positive school culture, and so leadership was a natural calling to me. It gave me the opportunity to implement programs and practices that supported staff and students to flourish in schools.
What was your first leadership role, where was it located, and what were some of your early challenges as a new leader?
I was proud to be part of a school start-up team of a school in Brisbane, Australia in 2005; all of us going above-and-beyond to make the school a success in a very competitive single-sex independent school environment. Selecting priority projects for this new school was probably an early challenge, as we wanted to do it all and there are only so many hours in a day! After that, it was personally difficult at times to take the step into leadership, which meant a step out of the teaching ranks.
NEW resilience and wellbeing program
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As a new principal, what was the most useful lesson you ever learned from a more experienced principal colleague?
‘Filter your good ideas’ is good advice. As educators streams of online resources from around the world, all of which are worthy of implementation, bombard us. For a principal, with professional research and commentary around every corner, it is tempting to try and improve every aspect of your school’s performance at once. I took this advice to mean step back and focus on what you want to achieve and go from there. Too much time and energy can be spent trying to realise every good idea we have.
What makes you smile at work?
Being able to step into classrooms where passionate teachers are engaging with children is always a joy. It is here where magic happens and I always step out with a smile on my face.
In managing your staff, what are your most valuable skills and beliefs?
Having experienced school leadership from all sides, I believe it is important to stay connected to staff, to demonstrate empathy for their role as teachers, and to show interest in them as individuals. I try to make and foster personal connections with teaching and support staff and take the time to recognise their positive contributions to the school. I also believe that the school community wants a leader they can look up to and be inspired by, so I do my best to promote the professional work that is done by teachers and the value it adds to society.
What was the best day you ever had as a school leader?
Realising the first graduating class from a school was a good day for me as a leader. Not only was I bursting with pride at the achievements of these young men and excited by the potential they held for their futures, but also I was part of a team that could celebrate all that we had achieved as a young school. On top of the curriculum, the co-curricular program, the events and other valuable add-ons, we had worked the hardest to establish a school culture we were proud of, and these first graduates were proof of that.
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What was the toughest day you ever had as a school leader?
Sharing tragedy within a school community is tough, especially the indiscriminate injuries of disease or accidents to young people. It is times like these that test us all and it can be difficult to manage the emotional responses they generate. The community looks to their leader to help ease the pain and feelings of helplessness, to demonstrate empathy and then provide an avenue for a response. We should not underestimate the amount of positive energy we can muster within a school, and the importance of guiding the community forward through dark times.
What was the funniest single thing that ever happened to you as a school leader?
My team set up a barricade to my glitter-bombed, balloon-filled office as a surprise for a significant birthday. But to be sure no one missed out on the fun; they set up a hidden camera to record my reaction. Images from the video appear regularly and I am still discovering glitter in all corners of my office.
What tips would you give new school leaders about staying positive and keeping their energy levels high?
As school leaders, we are often called to address the ‘top of the triangle’, the troublesome 5% of students, parents, or staff. That’s our job, and it is good to realise that we are there to resolve these issues for the sake of the school community. But, this can be overwhelming and you can fall into a belief that these challenges are all that exist at your school. My advice is to remind yourself of that triangle analogy, and to take time to ‘mix it’ with the other 95%.
Two easy ways to rejuvenate are to:
If you could name just one thing that kept you going to school every day, even on the really difficult days, what would that be?
I know that I am part of something that is vitally important to the future of New Zealand, and the world, and feel obliged to do my best with that opportunity.
How do you achieve (or are trying to achieve) a positive work-life balance?
I don’t get too caught up in the work-life balance equation. I accept that work is a big part of my life, so I prefer to make sure that there is some fun and down-time built into my working week – like supporting students playing sport, attending music rehearsals and sharing break times with staff whenever possible.
What special measures do you take (if any) to protect and nurture your own health and welfare?
I try to get some regular exercise outdoors each week, especially with animals. This is where living on a farm comes in handy. I also know the benefit of undertaking activities that force me to be ‘in the moment’, those that require my full attention. I love to work in the garden, but it is too easy to think about school at the same time. So, for me, regular horse riding enhances my physical and mental wellbeing and is invaluable for recharging.
What do you see yourself as doing with your life after the principalship?
After this principalship, I hope I’ve got a couple more in me at least. In the future, I look forward to cultivating opportunities to share the skills and abilities I have gained in education in other contexts; perhaps in publishing, philanthropic endeavours and governance opportunities.
Diana Patchett, Kristin Junior School, Principal
Phone: +(64) 9 415 9566
360 Albany Highway, Albany
PO Box 300-087, Albany 0752 New Zealand
Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988
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