In this ‘Connected Leader’, I hope to introduce some of the issues that will arise over the course of the next seven or eight week election campaign.
Let me begin with some words found in the ‘APPA Charter on Primary Schooling’, a copy of which has recently arrived at schools across Australia*:
As we rocket towards the 2016 Federal Election, APPA holds the position that our nation must prioritise investing in our schools and school communities with a long-term view. By thinking long-term, we are better positioned to encourage the innovation and flexibility so needed in today’s world.
Funding certainty is crucial to achieving this and I am confident we can say that all sides of politics recognise that Australia has a high quality education system that should be valued, and indeed, strengthened. Of course, there will be differences in how each party goes about this task and what is emphasised; however, evidence-based practice, school leadership development and classrooms with great teachers should always be seen as an investment in the future.
I suggest the starting point in developing strong policy is APPA’s vision for all primary schools to have the people and resources necessary for every child to reach his or her potential. Our schools should be characterised by dedicated school leaders and teachers with high expectations of student learning, and communities that respect and value education.
In relation to a funding mechanism, APPA supports a single, national arrangement of funding for schooling. Such a mechanism is sector-blind, takes account of student need, values students equally, and is transparent and predictable. We want principals to lead effective practice, identify areas for school improvement and focus on student outcomes, confident in the knowledge that what program or project is begun will continue without fear of ‘the money stopping’.
School leadership, too, is obviously critical to a well-functioning school and, ultimately, to student achievement. APPA supports the development and implementation of a national course that covers the key roles in school leadership and prepares principals to lead their school community in practical and achievable ways.
The focus on lifting teacher education standards is one also receiving our strong endorsement. Through a rigorous course curriculum that is contemporary and designed to see graduates ‘classroom ready’, together with high quality practical experiences, we will see new teachers arrive at our schools confident and prepared for the complexity of task before them.
There are some points I’d like to make about NAPLAN and My School. We know that primary schools use NAPLAN and other school or system-based assessment information to highlight strengths and identify areas for improvement. While most would agree that school data should sit on school websites and be available for parents, the question in relation to NAPLAN is whether the My School website, the current ‘home’ of NAPLAN, has contributed in any real way to school improvement.
Moving NAPLAN Online, too, has the potential to create an assessment regime that is far from fair and equitable. Will it require school communities to spend limited resources on technology that may have no impact on learning? Should the NAPLAN writing assessment in year 3 be done online or with pen and paper and marked by a teacher? (We would argue that by transferring year 3 Writing online we run the risk of early learning experiences moving away from best practice and impacting on broader learning. And, after all, teachers assess writing every day and writing by pen and paper remains a valuable skill, even today.)
On other matters, primary schools need support in the implementation of the Australian Curriculum with effective professional learning for teachers and giving students access to the resources and environments required for learning in the 21st century.
And let’s not forget a common starting age for all students, using the same term for the first year at school and giving all children the best start.
The early and primary years are where the educational and social foundation for a child’s future is established and where parents and schools work together to deliver the best outcomes for every child. In an internationally competitive environment, the demands upon schools and school principals continue to grow. APPA has long held the position that our schools must have the staff and physical resources to meet the needs of children from all backgrounds and every circumstance. We know, too, that the investment in early and sustained intervention reaps the greatest reward.
Australians expect all children receive a quality primary education, and primary school principals are determined to see each child, no matter school or circumstance, reach his or her potential.
Finally, we know that the vast majority of staff are doing their very best in our schools every day and that, with the right support, teachers are better able to deliver quality lessons that meet the wide range of needs and talents found in every classroom.
Over the course of this Election Campaign, APPA’s role is to focus on the policy and not the politics. We’ll respond at various points and highlight aspects that fit with our objectives – quality school leadership and teaching, teacher training and leadership pathways, funding and resourcing our schools for the 21st Century, meeting the needs of students with disability, principal health and wellbeing, and the like. We are then positioned to be informed, critically assess, contribute and influence just as we have over many years.
*Check that you’ve received the APPA Charter in a recent mail-out from Early Childhood Australia.Dennis Yarrington
On behalf of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation, the Australian Primary Principals Association and the host committee from Auckland Primary Principals’ Association, we invite you to register for the Trans-Tasman Principals’ Conference to be held at SkyCity Convention Centre, Auckland on 31 May – 3 June 2016.
Payment via invoice is available for all registrations received before the end of November, don’t delay register now!
The theme of the conference is “Knowledge in Our Hands” with the emphasis on telling the stories that excite us within education. In the spirit of collaboration, we have structured a programme that showcases stories and story tellers from both sides of the Tasman, which we are sure will provoke energetic discussion and professional debate.
We look forward to seeing you in Auckland next year!
Chair – Organising Committee
Auckland Primary Principals’ Association
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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.
I have recently moved from Firbank Grammar School, a girls-only Early Learning to year 6 school to Geelong Grammar, a co-educational boarding school and am working with students from years 5 to 8. Firbank had around 320 students while this campus of Geelong has over 900 students, 270 of whom are in the Middle School. Moving from an established Primary Years Program school to a middle school, in which half the students are boarders, has been both a challenge and energiser.
How many years have you been a school leader?
I have been in a leadership role for the past 14 years.
What motivated you to become a school leader (and when)?
As a young teacher, I was always one to put my hand up to explore new initiatives. This naturally led to leading these initiatives in schools, so the decision to become a school leader was more one of natural progression rather than a conscious decision.
What was your first leadership role, where was it located, and what were some of your early challenges as a new leader?
My first real leadership role was in Singapore as a curriculum coordinator. This was an international school with 10 classes at each year level. Planning meetings were every week, with each year level, and there were sometimes 20 staff in the meeting and involved in planning a unit. The challenge was to give everyone a say, take on board all ideas and to keep harmony within the team. The staff were amazing and worked together so well at most year levels. We used to refer to the meetings as mini United Nations, as each team consisted of teachers from all over the world, with different teaching experiences of very different curriculum structures.
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As a new principal, what was the most useful lesson you ever learned from a more experienced principal colleague?
In my role as Head of Campus at Firbank Grammar, I worked very closely with Dr Anne Sarros as my mentor. At the end of each year of service we would have an appraisal meeting. Anne was always very complimentary in her reviews of me, but one year, after a distressing time with a difficult parent that I seemed to carry for a while – she told me to let it go. I think that the fact someone noticed that I was holding onto an issue made me think about how I deal with incidents at school. From that meeting on, I have become a lot better at dealing with something and then letting go, not letting it eat me up from the inside. This has been valuable as we are constantly dealing with issues and it helps you to begin each day with a clean slate. I have found that it also helps me to forgive people. They don’t take up my emotional energy and so don’t drain me.
What makes you smile at work?
Always the students! When I was at Firbank, my day always started with a walk around the Early Learning Centre, where I always left with a smile. Now, at Geelong, the young adults make me smile, with a wicked sense of humour and the antics they get up to. I smile at the friendliness, politeness but mostly the pure innocence of these young people, even when they have made mistakes.
In managing your staff, what are your most valuable skills and beliefs?
I don’t really believe in ‘managing’ staff. I consider myself a partner who leads by example. I believe a leader should never ask a staff member to do something that they wouldn’t do and I think that is the most valuable belief to have and the best way to ensure you are a trusted and valued member of the team.
What was the best day you ever had as a school leader?
There have been so many great days, but the best are when you go home with a sense of achievement and anticipation for the next day. These days are usually when I spend time with the students and we create together.
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What was the toughest day you ever had as a school leader?
As a head of school, the toughest times are when staff or their families are unwell. You are often told things in confidence and cannot share to lighten the load. But when a staff member loses someone close, whether it be a parent, friend, partner or child – those are the toughest times. When your staff is a supportive community, as we were at Firbank, these sad times are all the more difficult.
What was the funniest single thing that ever happened to you as a school leader?
The good times certainly outweigh the bad and there are so many times when the children have made me laugh out loud. I would consider the funniest thing that’s happened to me to be was when I lost my master key to the school. I thought I had left it at home and so didn’t mention it to anyone in the hope of finding it that evening. The ransom letters began early in the day and continued via text, email and notes on my window during a meeting with the principal! I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to find out who had kidnapped my keys! I loved the fact that the teachers could play this prank on me as it proved to me that I was truly one of them. So not only did I laugh a lot that day, but I felt very included!
What tips would you give new school leaders about staying positive and keeping their energy levels high?
As Anne said to me, let things go. People make mistakes and should be forgiven. Trust the staff you work with to do their best, and they will. Always back your team and they will do their best for, and with,you.
I would also advise new leaders that they need to have good people around them. A school is all about the people. I would also suggest having an excellent mentor (often one who is separate to the school you are working in) and who you can trust implicitly. I have been fortunate to have some great people around me.
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?
My team of teachers is what gets me to school every day. I look forward to seeing them and seeing the amazing things they do in class. Those days where you are tired and drag yourself to school sometimes turn out to be the best as you are buoyed by the dedication and enthusiasm of those around you.
How do you achieve (or are trying to achieve) a positive work-life balance?
This is probably the most difficult thing for me to do as I really do love my job and going to work! Not that I have moved on campus at a boarding school, I have found it a lot easier to take time for myself. It sounds strange, but intentionally taking time to exercise and be away from the job makes it more special. I believe that I have the best work-life balance for me but that the same balance isn’t the same for everyone.
What special measures do you take (if any) to protect and nurture your own health and welfare?
I take time out for mindfulness, reading and relaxing but most of all I make time to catch up regularly with friends. They keep me connected and rejuvenated for the coming week.
What do you see yourself as doing with your life after the principalship?
I hope that life after the principalship is many years away but I do have plans! I hope to train as a Positive Education Educator and travel with the team at the Institute to bring this great program to more schools. I also hope to continue my work for the IB as a workshop leader and school visitor, as well as my international lecturing for the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education. Of course, I also look forward to caring for the many grandchildren I hope my children will provide me with!
Michelle Phillips, Head of Middle School, Geelong Grammar School, Corio, Victoria
Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988
Connected Leader Copyright ©. Australian Primary Principals Association 2015. This whole publication, created as a deliberately selected compilation of internet-based resources, may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA).
Connected Leader is an official publication of the Australian Primary Principals Association. In close collaboration with APPA, Connected Leader is designed, produced and edited, specifically for APPA members, by Debra J. Crouch, Managing Director of Vivid Word and Image design, to enhance the professional learning of Australian primary school leaders.
The opinions expressed in any of the internet-based resources accessed by links from Connected Leader, belong entirely to those who created those resources, and do not necessarily represent official APPA views and policies. At times, links to some resources may be deliberately selected to reflect the wide range of views held by Australian primary school leaders, and the views therein may be subject to debate in some sections of the education community. Readers are advised that, in the interests of brevity, not all of the available personal opinions or information about a particular event, development, issue or policy direction may be published in resources made available through links in Connected Leader. Interested readers who require more comprehensive information, or who seek the opinions of all stakeholders, are advised to directly contact the institution/s or persons cited in the resource/s or conduct their own private research.
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