I hope you all enjoyed some well-earned rest and relaxation over the break. Congratulations to the Richmond and Melbourne Storm supporters. The rest of us will look forward to season 2018.
Last issue we announced the endorsement of the National Statement on Principal and Health and Wellbeing and the release of report Back to Balance: How Policy and Practice can make Primary Principals Highly Effective. I strongly encourage every principal to download a copy and make it available to staff, parents and your school board or council. We suggest a copy be emailed to your system, department or jurisdiction personnel. We are wanting a national and local conversation with the aim to bring about change and a better way to support principals.
It is time to take control and influence over the leader’s work. The report was very clear about the need for support and trust from employers. It also provides an excellent list of the supportive policies and practices that school leaders value and enable them to be effective leaders.
It identified elements of practice for improving the health and wellbeing of principals. The findings are significant and I recommend them to all, so we can have healthy, well and highly effective primary school principals leading our schools.
The resulting report will make a significant contribution to a rapidly developing dialogue between employers, systems, governments and the profession about how best to protect and improve the health and wellbeing of primary school leaders while simultaneously providing the policy and practice resources to make them highly effective. The recommendations in the report are targeted at primary principals, their professional associations and the profession of school leadership. Recommending action by these groups is deliberate. Employers, systems and governments will be interested in the data presented in this report and the stories behind them. APPA believes the data and stories are compelling; those in charge of Australian education, our schools and school systems will make changes in light of them. However, it is Australia’s primary school leaders who must take ownership of these research findings and use them to make their work healthy, fulfilling, effective and attractive to aspirants.
The profession of school leadership must insist and demonstrate it deserves trust and support so that principals can lead teaching and learning for all Australian students and teachers.
The trust of line managers, employers and systems is highly valued by primary principals. Individually and collectively principals foster that trust and support. Principals must accept every opportunity to articulate their role, establish its collaborative nature and push back against those who argue primary schools are over resourced or not effective. We need to insist and articulate what is the leader’s role and work. This needs to be communicated and demonstrated in action.
Australian primary principals associations must advocate for adequate support aimed at meaningful accountability and compliance reporting.
Many of the accountability and compliance activities undertaken by primary principals have little or no bearing on the teaching and learning in schools and classrooms. Documentation around risk assessment, facilities maintenance and outside agency use of grounds are just three examples. Professional associations should vigorously question why principals are tasked with this work. We need to support each other and have the courage to question why and how a new initiative or change will impact teaching and learning, and how the accountability is more than compliance.
Australian primary principals associations must advocate for well- supported policies, procedures and practices that ensure primary school leaders can manage staff, students and parents effectively.
The devolution of autonomy to schools has been occurring for many years. Changes to, and support for, policy, procedures and practices have not kept pace with increasing autonomy. When effective and supported policies, procedures and practices are in place and used, primary principals’ health and wellbeing will improve. Any new initiative needs to have support and be resourced adequately. If undertaking an initiative or change then what is not going to be done? If we say YES to this, to what are we saying NO? We need to learn to say no with confidence.
Australian primary principals must utilise school personnel and resources to ensure the school operates highly effectively.
There is no ethical or moral dilemma about enhancing school leadership through deployment of personnel and resources. Primary principals, regardless of school context, must not resile from providing the necessary support for leadership. Their schools’ effectiveness depends upon it. It is ‘okay’ to allocate resources to the effective leadership and management of the school, including the support for the leadership team. School resources can be used to support the principal’s role and work commitments.
Australian primary principals must actively manage their workload.
The workload of most primary principals is unsustainable. Rather than more skilling, advice on how to work smarter or additional unskilled staff, if primary principals are to improve their deteriorating health and wellbeing and continue in the role which they still find satisfying, what is required is less work. Successful action on the recommendations above notwithstanding, they must at times say no to discretionary effort not directly related to leading teaching and learning.
We need to model effective leadership. That means implementing strategies and practices that enable the principal to be effective and the best leader for the school. Principals need to model the practice for aspiring leaders.
Representing principals in government, Catholic and independent primary schools across Australia, APPA is the ‘voice’ of primary school leaders at a national level. It is through our member associations – the national, state and territory primary principals associations – that we instigated this study and so take a lead role in addressing the issue of principal health and wellbeing. APPA would be happy to help facilitate a presentation of the report and recommendations.
We want this report – Back to Balance: How Policy and Practice can make Primary Principals Highly Effective – to make a difference. The full report is available on the APPA website.
APPA is calling for a change in direction; the warning signs are there. We can no longer put a band aid on the problem and hope or luck are not a solution. The movement by principals to improve the balance, and take back control and influence is growing. APPA will continue to advocate for and support this movement. We need to be the change.
APPA is currently developing a submission and will finalise at the next National Advisory Council meeting in Sydney at the end of the month. I encourage all principals to talk with their local principal association and complete an online submission. The more the panel hears from principals the better. Our key messages include:
The organising committee have released information for the 2018 APPA National Conference in Perth, 18-21 September. The special super early registration is only for this term, so book it now! Follow this link on the APPA website.
I wish everyone a great Term 4 and success with the end of year events.
Best wishes,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.
Methodist Ladies’ College is a non-selective, independent school of the Uniting Church, located in a high socio-economic area of Perth, in Western Australia. It has an eclectic population with more than 25 different nationalities represented among the school population.
The pre-kindergarten to year 12 college, built almost 110 years ago, has close to 1200 students attending classes across the campus, which is located next to the beautiful Swan River in Claremont. Of that student body, 390 students are in the junior years.
MLC is renowned for being a leading advocate of holistic learning and for living up to its motto: Per Ardua ad Alta (Through Striving to the Heights). This can be seen as a strength, as well as being a challenge, as the College finds the balance between conflicting pressures. The College maintains an open-access policy with a passion for inclusive education, as well as achieving outstanding academic results. Music and the arts feature strongly in the College’s offerings and leadership, service and the emotional wellbeing of students are fundamental to our holistic approach to education. It is for these reasons we do not support homework in the junior years and encourage the girls to enjoy life, and experience all there is on offer. This approach can sometimes be problematic with parents who have high expectations.
How many years have you been a school leader?
I’ve been Head of the Junior Years at MLC for eight years. Previously, I held a variety of positions, both here in Western Australia and at Yokohama International School, in Japan, where I was the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program coordinator. I was also one of the first Primary Years Program presenters for the Asia-Pacific region, back in the 1990s.
What motivated you to become a school leader (and when)?
I’ve always seen myself primarily as a passionate teacher with a panache for curriculum development. I embrace change and am always looking at how to improve learning and teaching. It was early in my career in 1984 that I realised the most effective way to bring about any change was to step forward and take on positions of responsibility. As a practicing Christian, I also found that the way I viewed the world and the core values I held regarding the way humans should treat each other helped to develop my leadership skills.
What was your first leadership role, where was it located, and what were some of your early challenges as a new leader?
My first leadership position was at Yokohama International School in Japan, when I took on the role of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) Coordinator. This was incredibly challenging as the school had a tradition of using American style textbooks. I clearly remember my first day in a year 6 classroom when I was presented with eight thick textbooks and told that this was the curriculum. As the PYP coordinator, I had to work with strong, diverse opinions regarding how a junior years curriculum should be delivered. Fortunately, there were a number of Australian and New Zealand teachers who supported the change to a trans-disciplinary model of learning. Parents were also problematic as they were used to a more formalised and structured approach to learning, even in year 1. It took considerable effort, patience and cajoling to shift the pedagogical direction. Luckily, I was guided by two exceptional leaders in education, had a network of PYP colleagues to call upon, and a conviction that the change was what was required for the children’s learning.
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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.
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As a new principal, what was the most useful lesson you ever learned from a more experienced principal colleague?
‘Phrase it in the question.’ Over the years I’ve worked at MLC, I’ve received wonderful guidance from the deputy principals and, from 2009, our present principal. They taught me to listen, to ask thoughtful questions and not to expect everybody to have the same work ethic and energy for change. They taught me to strategise, to plan, to prioritise, to build relationships, to bide my time and to be aware that not all teachers will immediately get the vision or idea. They also taught me the importance of living our College’s values in everything I do.
What makes you smile at work?
The students make me smile every day. Often in the morning, I wait by the door as it opens to be greeted by the happy, smiling faces of young girls who look me in the eye and say, ‘Good morning, Mr Brown.’ They make me smile when I go into the classroom and see their amazing work or when a student who has experienced some learning difficult shows huge development and comes running to my office with their work to show me. I smile when I hear about all their triumphs, successes and achievements. The problem is that I seem to be smiling all day long!
In managing your staff, what are your most valuable skills and beliefs?
I encourage staff to engage, to give feedback, to challenge, to push each other to extend themselves, to be open, caring and passionate. I recognise each individual teacher’s strengths and try to develop each person as an individual. I think recruitment is one of the most valuable things that I can do as Mmy focus is always about building collaborative teams with diversity of opinions. I operate an open-door policy. I try to visit classrooms daily and spend time with the girls and try to build relationships with each staff member. I try to model the professionalism and values that underpin our College, as I believe that the atmosphere of the school is shaped by leadership. I’m blessed by having a remarkable principal who is an exemplary role model and I try to emulate this same approach with my staff.
What was the best day you ever had as a school leader?
This probably occurred on the first day of the current school year. We are undertaking major building works to redevelop the junior years and over the summer period we created ‘The Village’ on part of the school oval for our pre-kindy to year 2 students for the next two years, while the new classrooms are built. It was an amazing feat to be ready in such a short period of time, and is a testament to the teamwork of everybody who works at MLC, from the grounds staff to the principal. Listening to the reactions of the girls and parents as they ventured into the temporary classrooms for the first time was probably one of my best days at school. It made me feel incredibly proud.
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What was the toughest day you ever had as a school leader?
Having to go to court and get a VRO (violence Restraining Order) against a parent who was struggling with mental illness, but who was also getting too close to my own immediate family. I felt caught between the need to protect my own family and the implications that this action would have on the student under my care. It was an extremely complex and difficult time that caused immense emotional stress.
What was the funniest single thing that ever happened to you as a school leader?
I suppose this happened last year at our annual junior years production. I’ve become notorious for dressing up in various costumes over the years, either for Book Week or at the end of a concert. Last year, we were performing our version of ‘The Nutcracker’. At the end of the concert, I went on stage in front of an auditorium of 750 people to thank the girls and the various staff involved in staging the production. The lady in charge of costumes decided that I should go on as the ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’. Imagine an overweight, balding, 55-year-old man, dancing on to stage in a pink tutu, blonde wig and frilly undies. At first, the girls didn’t know who it was, as I used my ‘Dame Edna’ voice. Then the realisation sunk in and the auditorium fell into raucous laughter. Enough said on the matter.
What tips would you give new school leaders about staying positive and keeping their energy levels high?
Find the fun and laughter and don’t take yourself too seriously. I’d also suggest learning to leave issues and problems at school, and in your spare time find outlets for your energies that connect you with others not necessarily involved in education. I would also suggest that you don’t own problems or issues and, even in difficult situations, try to work collaboratively and share the burden.
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?
It has to be the focus on student learning. I still teach a mathematics enrichment class. The girls keep me balanced and aware of why I come to school each day.
How do you achieve (or are trying to achieve) a positive work-life balance?
I’ve always held the belief that work is work and home is home, and I try to keep the two separate. While I work long hours during the working week, I’ve tried to make sure that at the weekend I’ve plenty of time for my three children and also for my own interests and hobbies. I love travelling and during school holidays I like to undertake new adventures or trips. Luckily, my wife’s family owns a farm in the middle of nowhere and one day on the farm feels like a week in Perth. At the farm, I find the peace, quiet and a chance to rejuvenate and relax and go back to the simple things of life.
What special measures do you take (if any) to protect and nurture your own health and welfare?
My weekly Sunday golf game is sacrosanct. It’s when I connect with three other men who have nothing to do with education. Also, during the warm summer months, I love to get up with the sun and walk our family dog before I come into work. I also like to pop to my local café on the way to work and pick up my morning coffee. It’s a simple but pleasurable start to every day.
What do you see yourself as doing with your life after the principalship?
I still have a strong passion for learning and teaching, and consider doing this until retirement. One of my deputies is the same age and has been at the College for 31 years. We both joke that the girls will soon be purchasing Zimmer frames for us to get around school. We’re still both youthful at heart and, while our bodies might not be as responsive as they used to be, we’re still adventurous and willing to have a go. At our recent year 5 camp, we were the first ones to put up our hands and go on the flying swing. When I no longer find the enjoyment, the fun and the laughter, and things are becoming mundane, I will retire, buy a campervan and travel around Australia and New Zealand. That’s not going to be any time soon.
Dean of Junior Years’ Education
Methodist Ladies’ College
Claremont, Perth, Western Australia
Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988
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