Education Review talks to first-time principal, GARY LAWRENCE, of Vauxhall School in Auckland about the variety, the collegiality, the paperwork, and all that comes with being a new principal.
Where was your first teaching job?
My first teaching position was at Ponsonby Intermediate School. I was fortunate to start my career in a school with such high standards and under supportive leadership. I have to admit I struggled in my first year, and at one point, I seriously considered leaving teaching. I made a commitment to myself to make each term better than the last, and then each year better than the last. This made a huge difference, and low and behold, I actually began to love my job!
Did you set out teaching with ambitions of becoming a principal?
No, I set out to survive! After my second year, I decided I wanted to become part of leadership, and after my fourth year, I decided I wanted to become a principal, so I set a plan in action. Sounds very strategic, but my main focus was really on just doing what I was doing at the time as well as I could and keeping my eyes open for leadership opportunities. I was quite open about wanting to progress in leadership.
Who has been instrumental in helping you become a principal?
It has been people who have inspired me, and offered friendship along the way. I had a wonderful mentor in Dianne Chambers, currently deputy principal at Gladstone Primary, who really coached me as a teacher. She believed in me and encouraged me. Wim Boxen, my principal at Ponsonby Intermediate, has also taught me a great deal about leadership and helped me develop my confidence as a leader. And of course, I would like to thank the academy …
What aspects of teaching do you miss (if any) now that you are in a school management role?
None, really. I still get to know the children, just not to the same extent, which is a loss. Can’t say I miss the planning, marking …
What do you enjoy most about being a school principal?
Variety. It’s hard to say what I do in a day because every twenty minutes I’m meeting with someone new or working on something new. I also enjoy the freedom, autonomy, and responsibility. I love the kindness of the staff at Vauxhall School and the genuine drive from the Devonport community to expect and help to make the school succeed for the children.
What do you find most challenging?
Paperwork! Where do we start, audits, annual reports, special needs, charters, policies, property, contracts, the list goes on.
What are your main leadership philosophies?
It would be hard to have a professional life without these people. Yes to stress, yes to helpful, yes to everything; it’s a people business, apart from the paperwork issue. All these people offer their own unique perspectives and support to the school in different ways.
Do you find it useful liaising with other principals, sharing experiences and best practice?
Yes, I get both ideas and practical support as well as a sense of collegiality.
What advice would you give to others considering applying for a principal’s position?
Apply to as many positions as you can. The experience of the process is really invaluable when you eventually get close to winning a position. Sometimes, I questioned if I would make a good principal, but I think there is no such thing as a perfect candidate and we grow into the position, so self belief is important. It is normal not to know everything at the start and learn as we go; it’s like when we started becoming a teacher for the first time in a way.