Describe your journey to becoming a principal.
I started in a secondary school, and from the advice of a colleague, moved back to primary. I taught for six years and maintained various leadership roles within the primary sector. Throughout those years, I undertook professional development in the areas of leadership and management as well as completing the National Aspiring Principals Programme in 2011. I was then appointed principal of Waitakaruru School in July 2012.
Did you aspire to a school leadership role from the outset of your teaching career or when you were training to be a teacher?
Well, to be honest, I never harboured any ambitions to become a teacher when I was growing up. I was encouraged by a friend to go into teacher training, and as it happens, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I did, however, develop a strong desire to become a school leader very early on in my teaching career. By nature, I am highly driven and have always liked to push on with things, take on big challenges, and not get too comfortable with the status quo. I always picked the brains of different principals and observed their actions quite closely. Before I won my first principalship, I had a very clear idea of who I wanted to be and who I was going to be as a leader.
Who or what was instrumental in supporting you to become a principal? Do you have any mentors?
One of my past principals was instrumental in supporting me to achieve this goal. He was a fantastic leader who was quite the visionary. He pushed me in this direction early on in my teaching career. Murray Fletcher provided great insight into the mindset and actions of a leader and my brother gave me great advice about surrounding yourself with the right people and more importantly learning from them. One of the great things about being a principal is the powerful sense of collegiality we have here in New Zealand. If you are ever stuck with anything, there is always a principal ‘down the road’ who can put point you in the right direction.
Were you encouraged by colleagues or did you feel in competition with them when thinking about applying for a principal’s role? Did you feel free to voice your ambitions?
Yes and no. I was pretty clear about where I wanted to go. I may not have been overly vocal about it, but I never second guessed myself.
Have you taken any courses or qualifications or other professional development that has helped you be a better principal?
Yes. I felt the National Aspiring Principals Programme was very worthwhile. The opportunity to get your head above the clouds (or out of the classroom) and talk to other educators about leadership and education in general was invaluable.
What have you enjoyed most about your first year as a principal?
Everything; I truly love my job. The responsibility. Meeting great people. Seeing change in children. Working with wonderful passionate and committed colleagues.
What do you find most frustrating or challenging?
I try not to get frustrated … but I do find lots of challenges each day. Finding the most effective or simplest way to do something is always the biggest ongoing challenge. Working as smart as I possibly can, in other words.
What have you learned?
Be yourself but more skilled. Give praise where praise is due.
Do you have a good network and support with other principals?
Yes, I do. I have several experienced principals whom I call upon from time to time and each of them has a particular strength, whether it be finance, legislation, or curriculum. I have also become a member of several larger principal cluster groups including the Waikato Principals Association.
Do you miss being in the classroom?
Yes and no. We have a roll of 80 students, so I do still teach one day a week. I love being in front of the children and keeping my teaching toolkit sharp. Like the foreman of a construction site, there is real value in still being able to foot it at the coalface. I try to involve myself in as much learning with the children as possible.
What advice would you give others aspiring to gain a principal position?
Ask yourself, “what is your moral purpose as a teacher and what are your beliefs about high quality education?”. These should drive you in your journey.
Put your hand up. When an opportunity within your school presents itself, be proactive.
Watch and listen. Observing and talking to successful school leaders can act as a great sounding board to both your beliefs and actions as a future leader.