I am a Principal. I love my job and often I don’t. It’s satisfying, challenging, confronting, demanding, fabulous, exhausting and rewarding… and that’s all in just one day. No one day is ever the same. I am called to be at my very best for each and every task and interaction. I expect my staff to ‘be the school culture’. I have very high expectations of them and of myself. I must also model and ‘be the culture’ myself, modelling personal and professional integrity 24/7.
I must challenge assumptions and be prepared to anticipate the needs of my learners, my school and community. I must articulate fresh vision. I have to be a disrupter, a leader who is prepared to ruffle feathers if I am to shape a school community that is characterised by tolerance, egalitarianism, equity and inclusiveness. I must also be a thought leader as I work towards creating and shaping a school that serves the needs of all stake-holders within my school community… today, tomorrow and much further into the future.
What might things look like as the children of generations to come walk through the school gates? School leaders cannot afford to wait until the future happens. The future starts with tomorrow.
If I aim to be an outstanding leader, I must be prepared to answer some challenging questions;
- What do my learners need for their present school experience to be the very best? (right now!) Every day is a step towards the future. Therefore, every learner deserves to have a good day, a happy day, one that is safe, nurturing, positive and filled with rich, meaningful, challenging individualised learning opportunities.
- What do my learners need to be workplace ready, success in their future learning and in life in general?
- How do I care for my teachers and wider staff team? How do I support them to flourish in their work, to find satisfaction and purpose, to be equipped to be at their professional best and aligned to the vision and core values of my school?
- Am I ‘comfortable in my own shoes’? Do I value the strengths and expertise of others? What if a graduate teacher knows some things more than me? Of course he or she will! Do I embrace this or create a hierarchical structure that hides my flaws and weaknesses? Therefore, do I promote distributive leadership within my staff team.
- Do I consult and engage with all stake-holders, prepared to listen to their voices, their needs and the feedback they give? When opinions are diverse, you can stick to your convictions whatever they may be, but we must respect and appreciate the differences of others – both are not mutually exclusive.
- Am I open to data, or am I defensive to what the data is telling me? Do I then act on the data?
- Am I open to explore and engage with new learning ideas and technologies? How do I react to new pedagogies; project based learning, personalised learning platforms, coding, robotics, artificial intelligence?
- Am I committed to creating continuous improvement and willing to carefully consider, manage and evaluate change?
- Do I formulate growth goals for myself? Am I striving to be my best each and every day, or am cruising towards retirement?
- Do I care for myself and find opportunities to refresh, reflect, recalibrate and realign to all that is important?
There are many more questions that fill my head but these are a starting point. As I reflect on my past 10 years of being a Principal, perhaps those dispositions that best describe me are;
- increasing self-confidence
- a good measure of naivety (possibly described as stupidity)
- courage to achieve what my heart, and convictions as a teacher, are telling me to do
- faith in God – when I don’t have the strength or the answers to deal with what is ahead.
What should we be doing to prepare our schools for the future?
I believe that innovation is key.
Educational innovation emerges most often when new circumstances or contexts mean that the things that worked before no longer work (and) we must focus on creating a culture of high expectations for our students… it’s all about preparing students for the future. – Christine Cawsey, Principal of Rooty Hill High School
The future is uncertain with unprecedented societal complexity, automation and new technology, the impact of increasing natural disasters, humanitarian crises, social demands, population explosion, an uncertain workforce and employment prospects mean that we must so all the more I believe that leaders must value and build the solid foundations of hope, purpose, redemption, unity, tolerance and love. These foundations have existed across human history. Our day to day work must focus on building the stuff that people will need no matter what the future looks like.
Time flies, and before we know it another generation will be walking through the school gates. I don’t want my school to look the same in 2037, as what it looks like today. If you are a Principal or school leader, the future is in your hands. If you believe that you have been called to do the work that you do – innovate, embrace and enjoy what lies ahead.