Who would be a school principal? Think about it: the stress, the competing demands, the expectations, reasonable and otherwise, of teachers and school parents, the diverse needs of students, the task of managing a complex organisation.
A lot of pressure, and a lot of responsibility.
Recent reports paint a gloomy picture of what’s confronting our school leaders, including growing workloads in jobs that are getting tougher, not easier. In some areas, the pressures on principals are said to be so great that ambitious teachers are reluctant to apply for a growing number of leadership vacancies.
Ms Susan Lenahan, chair of the Principals Australia Institute, warns that unless principals are given more support, the education standards of teachers and students are unlikely to improve. She describes the job of a principal as ‘one of the most challenging and important roles in our society’ – a description I endorse.
Because the job is so important and challenging, some of our best teachers aspire to be principals, undeterred by the stress that comes with the job. They want to reach beyond the individual classroom, to lead, and to influence a wider number of people.
Clearly, they need support if they are to fulfil all the expectations and responsibilities that are placed on them.
Independent Schools Victoria has a range of programs to assist principals throughout their careers, offering different levels of learning depending on what stage they have reached.
Each year we run a New Principals Program, which has an overall theme of helping new principals clarify their purpose so that they can pursue the vision of the school they want to create. The program introduces principals to the breadth of their new roles and the type of new situations they will encounter – the management and mentoring of staff, dealing with critical incidents, their legal obligations, master planning, rethinking ways of teaching and learning.
It’s a long list for a big job. But those who take part in the program are not alone. Importantly, through the program they forge networks with colleagues who are sitting in the same chair, facing the same challenges.
This year, we’ve also piloting a mentor program, matching new principals with experienced former principals. It’s a program that is customised for each individual, allowing mentor and principal to work out how they will work together.
Through the Southern Cross program, we help school leaders put their strategy and vision into action. The practical program focuses on process and performance management to align a school’s vision with operations to improve efficiency, effectiveness and student achievement.
Our unique L E A D surveys allow principals to use data to inform their decision making, giving them a cost effective and robust tool to assess and improve their school performance.
To develop the skills that principals need, we’ve also worked with the Australian Institute of Management to develop new credentialed courses that give them the professional knowledge that they require in areas like management and strategic planning.
We’re proud to collaborate with Project Zero at the Harvard School of Graduate Education with a range of programs supporting principals throughout their careers. The Future of Learning program is aimed at mid-term principals; for more experienced principals, there is the Leading Learning That Matters program, an innovative project that looks at what students need to learn and to thrive.
The range of programs is a reflection on the fact that for principals, education and professional learning never stops; rather, it’s a process that continues throughout their careers.
To learn more about Leading Learning That Matters, watch the video of our current group discussing their experiences and the key benefits that they took away from the program.