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:
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: http://utaseducation.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_06wFQxsRuLUc1dH 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: www.principalhealth.org/au/reports.
Using existing robust and widely used instruments, the survey captured:
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.
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:
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:
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
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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.
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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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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.
Principal, Riverlands Montessori School
Dayton, Western Australia
Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988
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