Darfield High School principal James Morris.

Working together can achieve positive outcomes for schools

Darfield High School principal James Morris has taken up the challenge of bringing secondary principals together as chair of the New Zealand Secondary Principals’ Council (NZSPC).

“It’s clear that by working together we can achieve positive outcomes for schools, rather than independently,” he said.

Principals’ unique voice

James has been principal at the rural Canterbury school for eight years and appreciates the opportunity NZSPC provides to contribute to the wider education system as well as regionally.

NZSPC represents secondary and area school principals who are members of PPTA. Its independent voice reflects the unique role principals play in the education system – and this voice is often sought by educational bodies, policy makers and the media. The council also negotiates the Secondary Principals’ Collective Agreement with the Ministry of Education on behalf of principal members.

Regional structure of NZSPC a strength

Being based in Darfield gives James a rural perspective, but he is close enough to the Christchurch to understand the city’s issues.

“One of the strengths of SPC is its regional structure. You get experiences from right across the country and different schools types represented. I enjoy the opportunity to engage at a national level. I get a much clearer picture of the intricacies of the different regions and how they work together,” he said.

Similar challenges for principals across the sector

What has been particularly interesting for James is the similarities in the challenges experienced by schools across the sector. “Things like workload – whether you are a teacher, middle leader, principal or support staff, those pressures are there,” he said.

Teacher supply, staff and student wellbeing were big issues for principals, James said. Professional learning and development (PLD) for principals was also something that needed fixing, he said.

Disjointed leadership PLD

“Leadership PLD in education in New Zealand is quite disjointed in that there isn’t a clear programme to meet senior leadership needs. It’s very ad hoc and I think we can do a far better job in the way we train our educational leaders,” he said.

Supporting CoLs to reach their potential

Another area where work needed to be done was supporting Communities of Learning (CoLs) to reach their potential. The collaborative programme, part of the Investing in Educational Success initiative was something the council planned to keep a close watch on.

Communities of Learning (CoLs) were also something the council planned to keep a close watch on, James said. “At the moment Cols are an area of great potential, provided they don’t get mired down by a whole range of constraints that were never envisaged at the start.”

Transparency needed in government decision making process

By representing and feeding in the views of principals to decision making, James believes NZSPC plays an important role in building a better education system. However work needed to be done towards ensuring transparency in Ministry of Education and government decision making processes, he said.

The ministry was generally good at consulting with sector groups but it was often not clear how the feedback is channelled into policy, legislation and regulations. “It often disappears into the machine and comes out something quite different.”

Principal on TV a good conversation starter

The reaction to James’ new position from his school has been quite positive, he says. “I warned my board that with the new role I might be seen in the media, but that I am commenting as NZSPC chair rather than Darfield High School principal.”

The students have found it interesting to see their principal on television too. “It’s a good conversation starter, and great getting them talking about education,” he said.

Supporting beginning teachers

James is also particularly supportive of beginning teachers, with Darfield High School being an early adopter of the Promise to New Teachers – a commitment to offer new teachers permanent positions, rather than fixed term ones, and provide the conditions they need to thrive.

“Schools are busy and complex places, but we need to remember the importance of developing new teachers and our commitment to them,” he said.

“Schools are at the heart of our communities and the work they do makes a fundamental contribution to the well-being of us all. I hope to be able to keep the momentum going to remove barriers to schools being effective.”

Source: 2017 PPTA News August (Vol.38 No.5)

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