The small rural primary school principal: Jeremy Kurth, Walton School

Q Did you aspire to be a principal at the start of your teaching career?

A I decided after my second year of teaching that I wanted to ‘move up the ladder’. At that stage I didn’t think principalship. I applied and won an AP position in a rural school of 150ish students. It was at this stage that I thought I’d like to eventually become a principal. I completed a post-graduate certificate in school principalship as my first step. Then a few years later as DP at a larger school (300ish students) I completed the Aspiring Principals course. I found this really motivating!

Q What are the most rewarding aspects of being a principal?

A Building and developing the professional relationships that add to the school culture, then using these to initiate change for a more positive school direction. As a principal you have these relationships with all stakeholders and each one is as important as the other. As a middle leader, I found that you did connect with the same stakeholders but not to the degree in which I do now. This is inevitable when you become the ‘CEO’ instead of the ‘right hand man’.

Q And the most challenging or frustrating aspects?

A I’ve found it most challenging to implement much needed changes for the future whilst respecting the past. It can be a very sensitive situation to question the way practices have always been in an attempt to highlight the need to move forward with new practices and/or traditions.

Q How would you describe your leadership style?

A Relaxed but focused. Currently I don’t have a DP and am therefore the only designated ‘leader’. However, come term three we would have appointed a DP and I’d like to be able to delegate and empower them. I believe in being as transparent as possible as I value integrity and respect.

Q What advice would you give to an aspiring principal?

A Go for it! It can be an incredibly rewarding job. After only one year I’ve already learned many tips for streamlining the job and recognising what’s important right now and what can wait. This is important as I could sense myself beginning to work unrealistic hours which would not have role modelled a good work/life balance that I recommend for our teachers. But definitely give it a go, use your networks and support people early and always keep your ego in check so that you’re open to new learning and ideas. No matter how good we think we’re becoming there are always many others to learn so much from.

Q What is your greatest hope for New Zealand education?

A Fun and engagement for every Kiwi kid. Here at Walton School, I don’t want our students leaving us saying that they ‘learnt so much’. Instead I hope that they leave saying how much fun they had while they learnt! If the learning is genuine, authentic, meaningful and well planned, then they’ll have loads of fun, be totally engaged, and the results will then speak for themselves.

 

The private school principal: Julie Moor, Rangi Ruru Girls’ School

Q Did you aspire to be a principal at the start of your teaching career?

A I began as a first year teacher at Geraldine High School and certainly had no thought of becoming a principal. Probably for the first few years of teaching I didn’t really look too far ahead because, like so many others at that stage I was completely focused on the brave new world of teaching, and in the process I suspect I learnt as much as , if not more than, the students. I learnt that I loved working with teenagers more than I thought I would.

In those days we didn’t have the ongoing professional development plans that we have now and I think things happened in a slightly more ad hoc way. You took opportunities that came available and that seemed to feel right. Which is not to say that I was without ambition or plans and I was certainly keen to stretch myself as a teacher and, over the years, to develop new skills in areas beyond the classroom. I was lucky to have HODs and principals at both Geraldine and Linwood College (High School as it was then) who encouraged me, gave me opportunities to take leadership, to be part of schoolwide initiatives and to experience many aspects of education and management within the schools.

I was inspired by colleagues, but I was also a little wary of applying for any and all deputy principal positions as I wanted to work in schools that I believed in and I wanted to work with people who inspired me – so it was as much about the school as the position. That’s what led me to Rangi Ruru as a deputy to the principal.

I do remember attending a great Aspiring Principal’s course when I was a DP, and also the International Thinking Conference in Auckland, where I heard Senge, Perkins, Gardiner and other great thinkers who made me really look at leadership, change management and other BIG issues. That was a pivotal experience for me.

Q What are the most rewarding aspects of being a principal?

A I love working with young people and with the staff of the school, who are extraordinarily passionate and committed. The feeling that you can enable the creation of an environment in which people can grow and flourish is very special. I get a real sense of joy when I see the young women at our leavers’ ball, knowing that we have been able to share the journey through adolescence with them and that we have helped to empower them.

Q And the most challenging or frustrating aspects?

A I am constantly frustrated that I cannot spend the time I want in the real world of the classroom and of student activities. I think this would be high on every principal’s list. It’s hard to balance this with the paper work, budgets, marketing, writing editorials, columns, reports, speeches, and you have to make a real effort to get into classrooms and to co-curricular activities.

I also find the competitive environment of education frustrating. Competition is good in that it certainly keeps you on your toes and looking for constant improvement, though we should all be doing that anyway, but it also makes it difficult for schools to truly collaborate, when this would so often benefit the students.

Q How would you describe your leadership style?

A I’m probably mainly a servant leader. I believe I am here to serve the people in the school. I also believe strongly that leadership is about empowering others.

Q What advice would you give to an aspiring principal?

A Get as much schoolwide or ‘big picture’ experience as you can. Make the most of opportunities that come your way and be prepared to create opportunities where you can. Choose pathways that you are passionate about.

Q What is your greatest hope for New Zealand education?

A I believe we have one of the best education systems in the world and I would love to see it valued much more as such, not only by people overseas but also by New Zealanders themselves. The New Zealand Curriculum, standing at the heart of all we do, is a powerful and world-leading document and best practice here is something that we can all be very proud of. It saddens me when I hear of families and young people for whom schooling is not seen as an opportunity and a pathway, but rather something to be endured, and even at times avoided. This is one of our greatest challenges.

I would also like to see greater equity. This probably sounds strange from someone at a private school, but there are great differences in schooling and opportunities across the country and how wonderful it would be if we could even things out. I think too many decisions around the education dollar are made for political reasons and are not always about the best interests of all New Zealanders. Educational policy is too often driven by the need to gain political leverage rather than on a philosophy based on evidence, data and best practice and in the interests of all young new Zealanders.

And I wish more of our students would learn a second language, as well as have a good understanding of te reo, and I wish more would love science for itself rather than as a pathway. And that is from a former English teacher!

 

The state secondary school principal: Andrew England, Greymouth High School

Q Did you aspire to be a principal at the start of your teaching career?

A Not at all. It may sound overly altruistic, but I only ever set out to contribute what I could in the best way I could. That has stuck with me and shaped my career. I started teaching geography three days a week, running mountain biking for the city council on the other two (in Scotland). After a year I was asked to be acting principal teacher (HOD equivalent) and then won that position permanently. I loved that job and the department grew very well, in terms of student numbers and achievement. I came to Greymouth in 2001 to take a step back to more teaching and to have some fun! I then started deaning, then acting DP. I won that position permanently and stayed as DP through some challenging times. I spent a year on a Royal Society awarded Teacher Fellowship and on return did a year of the NAPP. When our principal resigned, I didn’t apply for the job as I hoped for a more experienced principal (a “change principal”?) to guide us out of the difficult times we were in. In 2013 I was made relieving principal and won the permanent position at the end of term 3.

Q What are the most rewarding aspects of being a principal?

A A principal has a unique place in a community, right at the centre. Hearing students say that they are enjoying school and knowing you have contributed is the most rewarding part, but I also really enjoy just being so involved in the lives of all parts of our community.

Q And the most challenging or frustrating aspects?

A Holding onto all those hopes and aspirations is daunting. There is a weight of responsibility that seems almost unbearable at times, especially when you are taking one of the backward steps required to keep going forwards. Being a good dad at home is a challenge!

Q How would you describe your leadership style?

A Evolving!

Q What advice would you give to an aspiring principal?

A Make sure you are in it for the community you are going to. If you have a family, fully involve your partner in your decision-making before you apply.

Q What is your greatest hope for New Zealand education?

A That we can evolve to the stage where we don’t need to be compulsory, where all young people want to be part of the process and feel better for it.

Source: Education Review

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