Australian Primary Principals Association - Connected Leader: The APPA e-journal for Australian primary school leaders


March 2018

Dear Colleagues,

APPA’s National Advisory Council (NAC) met recently in Melbourne. The NAC was the venue for AITSL’s launch of the Australian Guidelines for School Leadership Development. AITSL CEO Lisa Rogers and Sarah Henderson presented a workshop on the guidelines for the council. The guidelines will provide support for employers and principal associations in the development and implementation of professional learning for leaders. APPA has worked closely with AITSL in the development of the guidelines.

The NAC also held a discussion with Tony Cook from the Commonwealth Department of Education on key national topics including national assessment, the release of the Gonski reforms report, NAPLAN online, leadership development, and principal health and wellbeing.

The NAC has reaffirmed APPA’s position on NAPLAN and is supporting calls to review the reporting of NAPLAN results and the use of the My School website. Education policy based on competition will have winners and losers but in policy based on collaboration every school is a winner. APPA is not supportive of a ‘one size fits all’ National Year 1 Check.

We will be sending to NAC members a short communique from the meeting for sharing with school leaders. At the meeting, we discuss the release of the National Principal Health and Wellbeing Report in February. This report received major media attention and we thank the many principals and leaders involved. We were also informed of the many initiatives being undertaken across Australia to address principal work demands and pressures. APPA’s media release highlighted the need for action. (Notes on the report are below.)

APPA welcomes a new business partnership with Woods Furniture. Ross Scannel (pictured with Dennis) spoke to us about the company and the services it provides to schools. In a visit to the Woods Head Office late last year, I could well see that Woods, founded in 1953, is ‘Australia’s leading designer, manufacturer and supplier of high quality educational furniture.’ Mention APPA if your school speaks to Woods.


Research quoted in The Mindful Leader, by Michael Bunting (2016), shows that, next to honesty, being ‘forward looking’ – in other words, visionary – is the second most admired characteristic people look for in leaders.’

People have a desire to make a difference – there is purpose and connection. Leaders who can communicate a shared vision will enable those who work within. Principals, in leading a shared vision, engage people in the clarity of the vision. The vision has to relate to the people and community. Therefore, one must know the community and their needs. This will be a vital starting point to making a difference. From this knowledge comes direction, goals and then a plan. This leads to motivating the people within the organisation. A critical aspect of leadership is being able to read and understand the community. This ability is crucial to establishing the learning culture – ‘the way we do things’.

We know learning needs motivation. Students and staff who feel motivated have trust, connection and purpose. Michael Bunting cites work by Daniel Pink, who identified three things that motivate and engage people:

  1. Autonomy –our desire to be self-directed;
  2. Mastery – the urge to constantly improve any skill we develop or project we undertake; and
  3. Purpose – the determination to make a positive contribution.

When leaders tune into people they connect and engage: they have a consciousness of the words they speak and the actions they take to lead. The goal is to have everyone in the school community being able to know, articulate and demonstrate the purpose. The vision has to connect everyone. A vision for one community will be different from another. This means that when the purpose or goal is not owned by all, the impact will be lessened. Highly effective and mindful leaders align vision with purpose, and focus resources and effort to inspire and sustain all in making a difference.

A school community’s purpose is for learning and development of the whole child, not just the academic score on a test. It is time to realign our purpose in schools and realign with the original decision many join the profession – to make a difference.


Associate Professor Sharon Fraser and colleagues from the University of Tasmania, Professors Beswick and Turnbull and Dr Fitzallen are conducting a research project entitled: Where is the Data: Supporting Principals and Teachers to use data for decision-making. Principals are invited to participate.

The aim of this project is to investigate the understandings of school principals about the data literacy needs of their schools and their teachers, and the support that helps teachers to access and use data. The project begins with a short online survey of approximately 15-20 minutes, with the option to participate in a follow-up interview lasting no longer than 45 minutes.

Approval has been received from the Tasmanian Social Sciences Human Research Ethics Committee [Ethics Reference number H0016904] to undertake the research.

In order to read more about the project, provide your consent to participate and complete the survey, please click on this link: Your time and support are appreciated.


Developed in response to growing concern about principals’ occupational health, safety and wellbeing, the annual Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey has run nationally since 2011. Over that time, 5580 school leaders have participated with many having completed over several years. The full background information is available in both short and long form at:


Using existing robust and widely used instruments, the survey captured:

  • Comprehensive school demographic items; and,
  • Personal demographic and historical information.

The survey also investigated principal and deputy/assistant principal quality of life and psychosocial coping. This year, it also measured individual levels of passion (its presence, or absence, and harmonious vs obsessional) as it links to both job demands and resources.


Who responded?

In 2017, around 70% Principals and 28% Deputy/Assistant Principals responded with the break-up being 74.2% Government; 14.1% Catholic; 11.2% Independent school settings. A small number of respondents held other positions or were from early childhood settings.

As an increasing number of principals reach retirement, the average level of experience has dropped across the life of the survey, from 5.2 to 3.8 years in current role.

What hours do they work?

Average working hours have remained relatively stable over the 6 years of the survey. That said, hours worked remain too high for a healthy lifestyle to be maintained. On average, 53% of principals worked upwards of 56 hours per week during term with ~27% working upwards of 61-65 hours per week. Even during a principal’s holiday period, ~31% work upwards of 25 hours per week.

How healthy are our principals?

Self-reported health maintenance of exercise, diet and weight control raises concerns. In 2011 ~49% of participants were taking prescription medication for a diagnosed condition. This had dropped to ~40% by 2016 but rose again to 49% in 2017.

Self-rated health, a single item in the survey, accurately predicts long term health outcomes. Participants’ self-ratings have fallen during the survey period and remain at ~10% below the population average.

Despite having many predictive attributes for high scores on health and wellbeing, collectively, principals and deputy/assistant principals score below the general population average. All negative measures are higher than the general population – burnout (1.6 times the population); stress (1.7 times); sleeping troubles (2.2 times); depressive symptoms (1.3 times); somatic stress symptoms (1.3 times); cognitive stress symptoms (1.6 times).

How demanding is the role?

Principals experience high levels of job demand (1.5 times the general population), emotional demand (1.7 times) and emotional labour (1.7 times) being the highest demands when compared to the general population. This correlates with higher levels of burnout (1.6 times higher), stress symptoms (1.7 times higher), difficulty sleeping (2.2 times higher), cognitive stress (1.5 times higher), somatic symptoms (1.3 times higher), and, depressive symptoms (1.3 times higher).

The two greatest sources of stress that have remained consistently high (~8/10) over the length of the survey have been the sheer quantity of work and the lack of time to focus on the core business of teaching and learning.

A most concerning trend over time has been the increase in stress caused by the growing mental health issues of students (5.5-6.5/10) and staff (5.2-6/10). See Figure 2.


What employers can do…

High levels of Social Capital support school leaders. Reducing job demands and increasing resources will help increase the level of social capital in schools. Trusting principals and educators in schools will help them make informed choices about what works in their school. Allowing the best educators to guide and nurture the educators of the future will build professional capacity. Long term increases in social capital helped Finland become the world leader.

What Governments can do…

Constant change and ‘new’ programs or initiatives have seen little improvement in educational outcomes for students yet created unrealistic demands on schools. With a whole of government approach to education, governments should stop looking for short-term quick fixes and concentrate on getting a better grip of the fundamentals (collaboration, creativity, trust-based responsibility, professionalism and equity).

What the professional associations, educational bodies and unions can do…

Where possible, peak bodies and stakeholder groups should discuss issues robustly and then speak with ‘one voice’ to Government and the community about government policy, the role of schools and the standing of the profession. Collaborating and speaking with one voice can only strengthen the profession, our schools and the education received by students.

What the community can do…

Supporting the local school and recognising that schools play an important role in the community means that offensive or threatening behaviour directed towards principals, teachers and all school staff cannot be tolerated.

What schools and educators can do…

Increasing the social capital of the school is best achieved by studying those schools that have achieved high levels already in spite of the current conditions. For the individual, increasing personal capital (social, human and decisional) is best achieved by exerting influence through decision-making processes based on sound values and moral judgements.

Other measures include taking personal responsibility for work-life balance, having the courage to address difficult issues and ‘speak up’, and ensuring that passionate dedication to work is not dominating life.

What the research community can do…

There is a need to provide better longitudinal evidence of the differential impact of all the forces that come to bear on education. One course could be to adopt the EMU methodology (Ryan, 2015) – rapidly identify Exemplars of best practice, accurately and fully Measure the determinants of success, and Utilise the knowledge in the most efficacious way.


Strategy A: Improving the wellbeing of principals and deputy/assistant principals through Professional Support

Principals and deputy/assistant principals mostly learn how to deal with the demanding emotional aspects of the role on the job, rather than through systematic preparation.

Professional support is a strong predictor of coping with the stresses of the role. Therefore, policies need to be developed that address this issue directly. In the 21st Century, no principal or deputy/assistant principal should feel unsupported in the face of growing job complexity, increased scrutiny stress from public accountability and decreased control over the ways in which the accountability targets are met (Riley & Langan-Fox, 2013).

Providing opportunities for principals and deputy/assistant principals to engage in professional support networks on a regular basis is necessary. Networks would need to be determined locally, contextually and formally, and provide opportunities for informal support alongside formal support.

Strategy B. Professional Learning

Systematic attention needs to be paid to the professional learning of principals and deputy/assistant principals, as targeted professional support.

Targeted professional learning is likely to make principals and deputy/assistant principals feel better supported than they currently report.

Strategy C. Review the work practices of principals and deputy/assistant principals in light of the Job Demands-Resources Model of organisational health

Stress and psychological risk at work can be viewed through the balance of job demands (e.g. workload, time pressures, physical environment, emotional labour) and job resources (e.g. feedback, rewards, control, job security, support). The Job Demands- Resources model posits that work demands and available resources need to be in balance for good psychological health at work. The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey highlighted the demands of the role.

Research has found that the costs of working long hours include:

  • Working >10 hours a day led to a 60% increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Working >40 hours per week is associated with:
    • increased alcohol and tobacco consumption
    • unhealthy weight gain in men
    • depression in women.

Little productive work occurs after 50 hours per week. In white collar jobs, productivity declines by as much as 25% when workers put in 60 hours or more. When job demands are this high, they need to be balanced with significant resources to buffer the demands. All stakeholders need to be consulted about ways in which principal work demands can be addressed.

Strategy D: Address Bullying and Violence

There is an urgent need to establish an independent authority to investigate three types of offensive behavior identified as consistently occurring in schools:

  • adult-adult bullying
  • threats of violence
  • actual violence.


Principals, deputy/assistant principals and teachers deal daily with parents’ greatest hopes and deepest fears; the lives and potential futures of their children. This means high levels of emotion are attached to almost every aspect of a child’s schooling and the school itself. The difficulties that exist between the adult stakeholders in schools have been consistently reported in every year of the survey. The unfortunate reality is that principals and deputy/assistant principals must learn how to deal with this on the job, rather than through systematic preparation.

Experienced in too many school settings are high rates of violence and threats towards principals and deputy/assistant principals. Challenges and difficulties should be acknowledged and dealt with on a more systematic basis.

Professional learning of principals and deputy/assistant principals, and presumably teachers, in the emotional aspects of their roles and the emotional investment of parents in their children would be helpful. In-service provision of education on the emotional aspects of teaching, learning, organisational function, emotional labour, dealing with difficulties and conflicts in the workplace, employee assistance programs, debriefing self and others appears to be urgently needed.

Possibly more helpful is the position that threatening or violent behaviour directed towards any member of the school community is never tolerated and will always result in strong action against the perpetrator.

Best wishes,

Dennis Yarrington
President, Australian Primary Principals Association


Are you a Masters student looking for a research project to help principals?

Michael Hawton, psychologist and teacher, who runs the Tough Conversations workshops nationally (see registration form) is seeking an educator who is currently undertaking a higher degree to evaluate the impact of professional development in reducing principals’ stress levels. The research would need to be done ‘at arms’ length’ from the programme developers. There is good anecdotal evidence from the 200+ school leaders, who have already completed the program, that it is benefiting members of our association. But, it is important to build the evidence base. There may be some opportunity to liaise with Associate Professor, Phil Riley, who is willing to discuss any design issues. So, if you’re looking for a topic and you want to do some applied research, please contact Michael Hawton on 0422 214 430. Michael can describe the topic and its parameters.

INSPIRING STUDENTS TO READ MORE, and helping them find the books they will love to read, takes a combination of dedication, inspiration and engagement. We know you bring the dedication to work every day and with our ‘Reading Leader’ portal we hope to help with both the inspiration and engagement to get more kids reading and kids reading more.

At Scholastic we encourage the borrowing of brilliance and through our “Reading Leader Award’ we are seeking out the very best for you to borrow from. Scholastic and APPA are providing a platform to recognise Reading Leaders across the country, so that their ideas and efforts can reach more students, and remind us all to help children every day with their reading journey.

Visit our “Reading Leader” portal for reading programs, professional resources, brilliant book suggestions and more. NO COST offerings, all designed to help you be a better reading advocate and connect your students with books they will love to read.

Meet Our Inaugural Recipient -

Recipient: Jane Moore       Principal: Mark Hansen

Ardtornish Primary School, St Agnes, SA

“Engaging in a discussion about reading and the joy that they can find in the right book has been key to students becoming self-motivated readers” – Jane Moore

“While Jane has championed amongst students a love and excitement for reading, it is the work she has done to assist teachers to promote regular reading that has been the x factor in underpinning successful learning across the curriculum” – Mark Hansen


Under the spotlight

March 2018

Tim Berryman

Here, the principal of Fitzroy Primary School is featured in the ‘Age’ newspaper urging parent to ‘be brave’ and let their children off the leash so they can experience the level of self-respect that comes with a little more independence.

Mark Thomas

Woodland View Primary School, in England, recently announced a ‘snow day’ in the most creative way. Principal Mark Thomas belted out his own version of ‘Frozen’ in an announcement to his pupils and their parents that the school doors would be closed due to the freezing weather conditions in the UK.

Chris Haberecht

As the only Indigenous principal in western Sydney, Chris Haberecht is keen to teach his students about their cultural heritage.

Trish Antulov

Vale, Trish Antulov, a WA primary school principal who recently passed away while working at her desk at school on a Sunday night. Ms Antulov’s death has sparked a media discussion about working conditions for school principals.

Michael Ball

Early in his career, the new principal at St Francis Xavier’s School, in Narrabri, NSW, decided that he wanted to be a good principal. ‘So I started taking on a lot of different roles,’ he said. Good leaders should understand everything about their role.’

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.

Phone: 03 94190222

Learning curve

March 2018

Influencing different types of people

In this presentation, Susanne Madsen explores different personality types within your staff and provides advice on how to manage them.

Seven useful phrases to counter rudeness

How do you respond to people when they speak to you rudely? This presenter provides seven useful strategies.

Good leaders and trust

Management theorist Simon Sinek suggests that it's someone who draws their staff into a circle of trust and safety.

Ten morning habits of successful people

Not everyone will be keen on the cold shower, but there are some ideas in this presentation worth considering.

Buying time to think

This presenter provides four ‘go to’ responses that will buy you time while you think of the best response.

Written by internationally recognised school and early education experts, Your Child's First Year at School: Getting off to a good start, is highly valued as a home and school resource which provides excellent advice to parents, teachers and all interested in giving childrenthe best possible start at school. Order at:

Legal eagles

March 2018

Restraining order

A student who was the target of an attempted poisoning, reportedly with ‘intent to kill’, has decided not to press charges against two schoolgirls. After one of the alleged perpetrators had her expulsion reversed, the student took out a restraining order and then left her Melbourne school.

Media blog warning

A Perth primary school teacher who commented on an online newspaper forum, about the nature of a prison sentence awarded to a transgender person, has been referred to the Standards and Integrity directorate for assessment. According to Eamon Ryan, all Department of Education employees in WA must abide by its Professional Standards and Conduct and be familiar with social media guidelines. These apply to one’s professional and one’s personal online presence.

Warning on ACT law amendment

New laws to protect children from sexual abuse could ‘criminalise sex education’, warns the president of the ACT Bar Association. Ken Archer says that ‘the amendments to the Crimes Act that the government has proposed will mean that parents, other children and teachers will be liable to be prosecuted in relation to quite innocent conduct which should not attract a jail sentence.’

Pen mightier than police

A British principal has used the school newsletter to address the problem of parents smoking cannabis at the school gate, as they wait for their children. Dean Bank Primary and Nursery School head teacher, Pauline Northcott, has informed police of the problem. However, this strategy has not worked so far, with law enforcers publicly explaining that it is difficult to issue search warrants in this situation.

Pressure on ‘hire and fire’ laws

In its submission to a review of religious freedom, Christian Schools Australia has stressed its preference for legal differentiation (as opposed to illegal discrimination) in relation to the ability of schools to select teachers and students on the basis of their adherence to, and compatibility with, the particular beliefs of a particular religion.

PR1ME Mathematics—based on the world’s best practice used in Singapore PR1ME has been developed by Scholastic in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in Singapore.

How does it work? PR1ME: explicitly and systematically teaches the problem solving processes and strategies; uses consistent and carefully structured pedagogy; takes a carefully scaffolded, deep-dive into conceptual development; actively involves students in metacognition; and provides professional learning for teachers.

Challenge your thinking

March 2018

Report of five-year snapshot of Australian education

The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth’s five-year snapshot was released at the end of last month, providing useful data on diverse education areas.

Response to parliamentary inquiry

‘The NSW Minister for Education will soon release his response to the New South Wales parliamentary inquiry in to the education of children with a disability or special needs. ‘There is the potential for significant changes in the way the education of children with a ‘label’ will experience learning,’ says David Roy, from the University of Newcastle.

New report on ‘Closing the Gap’

Three of the seven Closing the Gap targets for Indigenous education were met in the past year, compared with just one a year earlier, with the national childhood mortality and early childhood education measures back on track. The updated measures of Indigenous disadvantage are expected to show the most promising results since 2011, and a marked improvement from figures released a year ago.

Girls, science & maths

According to a recent study by the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, female students at single-sex schools were 85 per cent more likely to take advanced maths than those in co-ed schools and 79 per cent more likely to study chemistry.

Study on interactive conversation

Cognitive scientists have now found that conversation between an adult and a child appears to change the child’s brain, and that this back-and-forth conversation is actually more critical to language development than the number of words.

For 40 years, Scholastic Australia has been partnering with schools across the country to give kids access to books they want to read through Clubs and Fairs. In 2012, Scholastic gave Australian schools over $11 million worth of Scholastic Rewards. To find out how you can spend Scholastic Rewards on resources and save your budget, visit

Balancing act

March 2018

Funny stress management techniques

Karyn Buxman entertains and educates in this useful presentation about managing stress.

Overworked and struggling to sleep

A recent report found that school principals and senior leaders in New Zealand suffer 1.7 times the rate of burnout, 1.8 times the rate of stress and have trouble sleeping at a rate 2.4 times higher than that of the general population. Last September, New Zealand’s Ministry of Education set up a Teacher Quality and Wellbeing working group to address some the health and wellbeing issues of its employees.

Managing personal boundaries

Kati Morton says that a healthy life is about keeping things in balance. She believes that personal boundaries are at the core of being happy and provides five steps to reinforcing those boundaries.

Are you a nice-aholic?

If you want to be truly healthy, you need to be very comfortable with saying ‘no’, advises Dr Mark Hyman.

Good nutrition

Dr Michael Greger provides some interesting information on the significant health benefits of oats.

Camp Australia delivers after school care solutions, building on the educational experience of school communities. As the nation’s leading after school care provider Camp Australia has partnered with school communities for 25 years, adding value by delivering high quality care, well-trained staff, systems and support. Find out how Camp Australia will add value to your school community at

Something different

March 2018

Dispensing with titles

Some schools are moving away from the use of titles and surnames. Advocates of the approach believe it fosters a more personal relationship, removes languages barriers, and puts students in a better position to take charge of their own learning and feel more confident to question adults.


At Lumineer Academy, a newly opened primary school in Williamstown, Victoria, there is no homework. There are no classrooms, uniforms or traditional grades. Instead, there are ‘creator spaces’, ‘blue-sky thinking’ sessions and ‘pitch decks’.

Blanket ban on social media

An Auckland school is asking parents to ban their children from social media for the entire two years they are enrolled there. Kowhai Intermediate, in Kingsland, wants its students to refrain from all social media use, even at home.

Protection from bullets

For $120, parents of students attending Florida Christian school, in the USA, can buy their children bullet-resistant panels designed to slip into their backpacks in case of a school shooting.

Preschool Readiness Program

In Alice Springs, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress is targeting at-risk Indigenous children before they start preschool. The Preschool Readiness Program has up to 10 places for children between the ages of three and four who have been identified as having developmental delays or come from challenging home environments.

KidsMatter Primary is a proven mental health and wellbeing framework for primary schools. It provides expert knowledge, tools and support to help schools grow healthy young minds and care for children’s mental health. KidsMatter is backed by the expertise of Principals Australia Institute, beyondblue and the Australian Psychological Society.

My word

March 2018

Sue Bell

‘It’s extremely frustrating’ and ‘very difficult’ not to have a voice,’ says the president of the Victorian Association of Secondary School Principals. In this radio interview, she discusses a recent Department of Education decision to reverse the expulsion of a knife-wielding student. In response, the principal of the school resigned.

Bill Lucas

‘Australia could be on the cusp of returning its education system to world-leading status, with other countries looking to you for ideas as they did in the past,’ says the co-chair of the PISA 2021 tests of Creative Thinking, International Adviser at Mitchell Institute, at Victoria University, in Melbourne.

Tanya Plibersek

The Labor Party has proposed an Evidence Institute for Schools, which it says would ‘put an end to decades of ideological battles about school education’ and ‘take politics out of the classroom’. ‘The institute will be independent of government. Politicians shouldn’t tell teachers how to do their jobs, or be using schools as ideological battlegrounds,’ said Ms Plibersek.

Matt Archbold

According to this commentator, “demoting priests to ‘ceremonial positions’ in Catholic schools is a disturbing idea and would almost certainly lead to a watering down of the schools’ Catholic identity over time.' The Victorian Association of Catholic Primary School Principals recently released a report commissioned by the principals’ association that recommended an overhaul of school governance. See also:

Expressing personal views

A Victoria independent school teacher, currently on leave, has attracted media attention after publicly expressing her views in a closed Facebook group. Her comments have generated responses from a range of levels. ‘Those who are peddling these lies are putting the health and safety of Victorian children at risk, and we won’t stand for it,’ said the Minister for Health Jill Hennessey. The Victorian Institute of Teaching has been made aware of the situation and is ‘giving it consideration.’

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Money matters

March 2018

Parental income

Government funding of independent and Catholic schools could be directly tied to family income in a new means test for parents. The report by Victoria University was commissioned by the federal Department of Education as part of a review ordered by the Turnbull Government.

Comparative cost of education

A recent report estimates the full cost of primary and secondary education for a child born in 2018 as $66,320 in the public system, and the cost of a faith-based education as approximately $240,679 per child.

Dressing up without costumes?

This report claims that some schools are cancelling costumes in response to a growing backlash against World book Day. Critics believe it places unnecessary pressure on parents to come up with creative costumes, while others say it allows companies to ‘cash in’ on the event.

Country Women’s Association protest

Hundreds of Country Women’s Association members recently marched on Parliament to protest the WA State Government’s cuts to regional education. It is the first time in the organisation’s 100-year history that this action has been taken.

The economics of enrolment

What are the economics of education provision that apply when a school with no students remains open.

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Love the job

March 2018

Ineke Oliver

Riverlands Montessori School
Dayton, Swan Valley, Western Australia

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story.  I have enjoyed the ‘interview’ and hope my thoughts and experiences might assist any new and upcoming leaders to this fulfilling, satisfying yet sometimes frustrating position, as Principal.

Describe your current school, its students, the demographics of your school community, and any special challenges and/or strengths.

Riverlands is a small but mighty, independent community school.  We have approximately 120 students, ranging in age from 3 years to 12 years (pre-kindergarten to Year 6), as well as a playgroup catering for children from one to three years of age.

Our property was in a semi-rural area which is slowly being surrounded by new housing and land developments.  However, we are delighted to see the area grow and flourish.  We look forward to the very large district open space which will be developed across the road with sporting fields including hockey and tennis.

The school was established in 1991 and is not yet at capacity.  We aim to grow to 180-200 students and remain as a small community school.  Our ethos is a sense of community spirit, family-friendly, inclusive and all the aspects that come with our Montessori philosophy.  Our families are multicultural and varied in structure; we have a strong supportive parent community.

Briefly describe your career path before becoming a school principal. How many years have you been a school leader?

I’ve been in school leadership since 2005 and the principal here at Riverlands since 2008.  This will be my last year of full-time work as I will retire at the end of the year. It is a poignant time for me.  I know it is the right time for me to step away from this wonderful role, yet it will be so hard to hand over ‘my’ school to someone else, after 11 years.

Up until 1994, I was a legal secretary with no experience in education other than my own two children attending mainstream schools.  Whilst living in Singapore for a few years, a friend who intended to open a Montessori school in Singapore invited me to join her as a teacher.  The plan was for me to undertake my training externally via London,  

My first reaction was to say, ‘I’m not sure about Montessori, where there is no discipline and the children can do whatever they like ….’  I was urged to read about the method and, having children of my own and soon realising the benefits of a Montessori education, I was very keen.  I started my training, but less than a year later, my family and I moved back to Perth, Western Australia.

I transferred my course to the accredited Montessori RTO – Montessori World Education Institute and took up a position as Teacher Assistant at the Beehive Montessori School.  I felt I had found my vocation, at the age of almost 40!  Two years later, I took up a teaching position at Perth Montessori School.

At that time (1997) it was not required to have the four-year degree prior to becoming a teacher, however I started my Bachelor of Education degree almost immediately, part-time and externally.  I admit I was quite proud to have completed it five years later, simultaneously working full-time.  Thankfully, I have a very supportive husband and children.  In 2005 I took on the role of director of teaching and learning at Perth Montessori School, then two years later, the role of Principals of Riverlands.  All Montessori schools in WA are completely independent of each other.

What motivated you to become a school leader (and when)?

I believe in supporting all members of the school community, the children, the families and the staff.  It is very important to me that the teaching staff are provided with the tools and resources, both physical and mental, to provide quality education programs.  I see my role as one of support.

After working as a teacher assistant, a teacher and director of teaching and learning, I felt I had developed an understanding of what is needed to lead and manage a school, particularly in the private sector.  My husband and I had owned our own commercial production company some years earlier.  The pressures and issues for private business are also present at times in independent schools, particularly small ones which are not part of a larger system.

What was your first leadership role, where was it located, and what were some of your early challenges as a new leader?

As director of teaching and learning in an inner-city school, new to the role and the role was also new to the school, there was quite a bit of time taken to determine what that role involved.  I worked with teaching staff, supporting them with their programming and new initiatives.  Challenges were few and far between as I had been in the school for some years and built up a rapport with the staff and families.

However, as principal in a small completely independent school, the role is much more than leading the education program.  Many skills are needed in relation to property development, marketing, new buildings, counselling, management, bureaucracy, together with providing support to all members of the school community.

(continued on next page)


NEW resilience and wellbeing program

Dusty and Friends is a great resource for learning and building resilience in children. Game ON highlights the importance of being calm and prompts children to see how consequences result from actions. A popular resource in Early Stage 1- Stage 1 classrooms, children identify and relate to different characters. The program aligns with the Australian Curriculum and works well for Stage 3 in a peer support model. Available for immediate download through the School For Living website.

Love the job

March 2018

Ineke Oliver

Riverlands Montessori School
Dayton, Swan Valley, Western Australia

(continued from previous page)

As a new principal, what was the most useful lesson you ever learned from a more experienced principal colleague?

The best advice given to me by a very experienced principal was to keep the number of words to a minimum when responding to concerns, particularly in emails and letters.  Some people tend to become quite verbose when sending their concerns, it is tempting to answer each point raised, when instead, organising to meet in person to discuss those concerns is more fruitful.

What makes you smile at work?

I smile every day, particularly when seeing the children come to school with their eager faces and hearing them call out often from across the oval, ‘Hi Ineke!’.  At our school, all adults are called by their first names, hearing mine used in such a jovial manner is very gratifying.  Hearing parents talk to each other about the school and seeing testimonials about what we do here is also something that makes us all smile and appreciate that what we are doing really counts.

In managing your staff, what are your most valuable skills and beliefs?  What should beginning principals strive to avoid in this area?

It is my view that above all, staff are to be respected and valued.  Their concerns, views and ideas should be considered with an open mind and time must be taken to reflect on those before any final decisions are made.

In all decisions made in the school, what is best for the children is paramount, in all areas of the school, in relation to their safety, education, physical and social development.  

Beginning principals will do well to practise those skills of reflection and to get to know their staff and families before making decisions and changes that impact on everyone.

What was the best day you ever had as a school leader?

It is very hard to choose any one day, the best days for me occur at least once every few days.  When I walk into a classroom or the playground and have children of any age impulsively come to me to tell me about something of interest to them or just to greet me, it is a ‘best day’.  At those times, although I am the ‘principal’ I am seen as someone who is approachable, one of the main attributes any principal needs to develop.

  When the seed of an idea has been planted, either with staff or the parent community, and you see someone take that idea and make it work with great success, that is also a ‘best day’.

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Love the job

March 2018

Ineke Oliver

Riverlands Montessori School
Dayton, Swan Valley, Western Australia

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What was the toughest day you ever had as a school leader?

I have had two of those – when I announced I was leaving as director of teaching and learning after being at that school for ten years and just recently when my end-of-year retirement was announced, after eleven years.

What was the funniest single thing that ever happened to you as a school leader?

Quite possibly when we had Messy Mud Day, I am sure I had more mud on me than anyone else!  We have had many fun days here, which have involved fancy dress, pyjamas, music and drama.  It is important not always to take oneself too seriously!

What tips would you give new school leaders about staying positive and keeping their energy levels high?

The first one is to only read your emails at particular times of day and not at home nor whilst on holiday!

It is very important to keep a positive work/life balance.  Learn how to ‘switch off’ from school thoughts for a portion of the day and weekends, as much as possible.   Always look for the bright side, and work on a healthy sense of humour! 

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?

The children.  The children are the reason the school exists, they are the central point of all that we do and they give back as much as we give them.

How do you achieve (or are trying to achieve) a positive work-life balance?

After so many years, I am still trying!  I know what needs to happen but I have a belief that all those in teaching and leading have an element of being a ‘control freak’.  I have learned to let go of certain decisions and have trust in our staff, they are more capable than even they think themselves.  It is the switching off and avoiding emails that can be a challenge.

What special measures do you take (if any) to protect and nurture your own health and welfare?

I have been fortunate over the years to have a small group of experienced school leaders as confidantes, people who are critical friends and can be trusted completely.

Being a leader is a lonely position at times, we don’t have all the answers and need to have people around us whom we can trust to both support and inform us when it is needed.  I have also been fortunate to have a supportive Board of Management who take my welfare into their consideration when making decisions that affect the school.

What do you see yourself as doing with your life after the principalship?

My life will change quite markedly in some respects.  I have skills that can be used in other forums so will take up part-time work in consultancy for registered training organisations.  It will be very ‘part time’ and I see more travel and relaxation in my future.  However, a piece of my heart will always be in education and with the children, staff and families who have touched my life.

Ineke Oliver
Principal, Riverlands Montessori School
Dayton, Western Australia


Managing Editor, APPA 'Connected Leader'

Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988

Connected Leader

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