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The Evolving Role of the NSW Public School Principal

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The role of the NSW Public School Principal is challenging, it’s intellectually demanding and it comes with a great deal of responsibility, but most excitingly, it’s evolving with the support and accountability of a strong state wide system.

The eternal debate between leading and managing a school and getting the balance right is at the forefront of the mind of every NSW Public School Principal. Teacher Quality Advisor, Accountant, Maintenance Manager, Workplace Safety Officer, Family Law Expert, Strategic Analyst, Human Resources Manager, Recruitment and Retention Officer, Policy Advisor, Asset Manager, Communications and Engagement Officer and the list goes on. This increasing managerial role can make it difficult to focus on Leadership that directly impacts on improving student learning outcomes. Balancing Educational Leadership and Educational Management is an increasing struggle for NSW Public School Principals.

We are fortunate to be leading schools during a period of significant educational reform with increased principal authority allowing us to make contextual decisions with our school communities that have positive impacts on the learning outcomes of our students. It is rare however, that any educational reform succeeds without effective leadership. It is therefore vital that principals challenge their beliefs and values and reflect on their skills and knowledge to ensure that their leadership is adaptable, flexible and transformational. It is important to highlight that our system is encouraging contextual decision making, not independence. We are privileged to be in a strong system that is encouraging principals to explore new ideas and must make the most of this opportunity provided by the current educational reforms.

Highly effective principals place learning at the centre of their decision making process and understand the significant influence they have on decisions made within a school. Research supports the impact that leadership has on student achievement, ranking it second only to the impact of teachers in the classroom in the school context. With this in mind principals must be skilled in using this influence to develop a shared vision that delivers success for every student in the schools that they lead. Effective principals actively seek research-based strategies to improve teaching and learning and focus discussions on best practice strategies. The educationally courageous leader pursues best practice despite elements of their staff preferring to maintain current methodology. As leaders we must ensure that there is whole school emphasis on developing and embedding a culture of continuous improvement, where reflection on practice and student achievement play a central role in the everyday work of the school. Principals in the NSW Public Education system have the platform to inspire, challenge, stimulate and support staff to extend and expand their capacity leading to improved student learning outcomes.

An essential component of the evolving skill set of the principal is the ability to cultivate leadership in others. The ability to identify talent and strengthen a leadership team with a diverse range of views can be challenging for some. I would argue that successful principals do not lose their impact or influence as they empower those around them. On the contrary the most effective principals build a wide ranging leadership team actively seeking a blend of experience and aspirational leaders alike. Whilst surrounding ourselves with like-minded colleagues provides support and stimulates discussion we can potentially run the risk of narrowing our focus. Strong principals actively seek opportunities to be challenged, question current practices and pursue opportunities to learn from others.

The evolving role of the NSW Public School Principal requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. The ability to regulate your emotions and adapt to situations as needed are skills that can never be underestimated and can be difficult to master. In an educational landscape with increased stakeholder expectation, there are times when unreasonable demands can lead to heightened emotions. It is essential that we have the ability to understand and regulate our emotions. With this is mind, my advice in this area is to talk to the students, staff, cleaners, the GA, the office staff and parents in the same way, with respect, dignity and a good sense of humour. Now more than ever Principals require highly effective interpersonal skills.

Principals must possess the ability to think rapidly and logically in response to situations that emerge with short notice. They must process information quickly and work within policy to allocate tasks, and provide timely and accurate information. Staying calm and offering considered advice while operating under pressure are essential traits that successful educational leaders possess. High quality educational leaders are able to judge the level of intervention and leadership required in situations that arise ensuring that they expertly build the capacity of staff by identify learning opportunities when they exist. This astute judgement demonstrated by our most expert educational leaders takes time to master but is an invaluable quality of the NSW Public School Principal.

The role of the NSW Public School Principal is evolving, it is a large complex task requiring an ever increasing skill set. As is the dynamic nature of leading, our skills and capabilities grow and develop as we progress through our careers. The educational reforms are coming thick and fast and it can be taxing trying to lead across so many fronts. It is vital that we continue to network and stay actively involved in collegial groups and associations. The role of NSW Public School Principal is a privileged position that has a positive impact on students and school communities. It’s challenging, it’s demanding but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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