There is much to be said (and done) about school leader workload, burnout and wellbeing, although on this occasion, this is not that article. As I sit in the very privileged position of WAPPA President, I have had six months to take in the highs and lows of school leadership stories, stats, research and reports.
And whilst we work collectively to address the issues that impact on our work, I have chosen today, to celebrate the narrative that tells us very few school leaders ever want to leave the role. We are a rare breed. People who fight the good fight, do whatever it takes to get the job done, invest all of our emotions and energies into the success of others. In the words of Simon Sinek, ‘leaders eat last’ and I dare say school leaders congregate at the back of that queue. Probably having a quiet vent and sharing stories of their small wins for the day.
I have reflected on the role of school leadership and can categorise five areas which bring every school leader moments of joy.
- We set the tone. School leaders are looked upon as the person who is visible, hands on and engaged. Whether it be greeting at the gate, doing duty, listening to a group read, comforting a parent, or relieving a staff member, school leaders instil pride, confidence and a sense of belonging, in the way we act and speak. We tend to deflect the praise to those who were at the coal face or behind the scenes and we absorb the criticism, to reflect and act on the question, “what can we learn?”
- We build communities. Whether it be the P&C meeting, busy bee, parent information session, breakfast club, disco or parenting group…schools are usually the centre of their communities. Long gone are the days when school leaders saw their roles as only what happens between the four walls of a class. We are looked upon by the community as the people most likely to help solve the issues within society as a whole. More often than not, we step up to that challenge and do so successfully and without thanks.
- We develop staff and support growth. The saying leaders are readers and leaders are learners is fitting of all our school leaders. We tend to know the research, share this with our staff and provide them the opportunity and the conditions, in which to refine their art. From the teaching and learning strategy, to the behavioural initiatives, school leaders ensure that staff are provided with relevant information, support and feedback, in order to grow. We are visible and we are hands on. We promote and facilitate collaboration and discourse and we seek quality professional learning for all of our staff, regardless of role.
- We identify leaders. Every school leader has had the burden of deciding when and how to encourage a staff member to leave the nest. We know how good they are. We know what sort of difference they make at our school. But we know it’s selfish to keep them. Instead we guide them out the door, support their journey and take their calls of confusion and distress. For we know we were once them and if we are there to show them the way, as well as support their journey, we know that our school’s loss is a community and system gain.
- We improve student performance and potential. Quite deliberately left until last, this is ultimately the reason why we love our jobs. There are few jobs that provide any individual person the opportunity to shape the future and build hope. We ensure that students have the programs and strategies to ensure their academic success and we insist on never leaving anyone behind. So much so it is more often than not our support programs that are celebrated ahead of our extension programs. Outside the classroom, we insist on providing opportunities for every child. Be it sporting, cultural, artistic or technical, we find ways to develop programs, seek funding, establish clubs. And having built it, we get to promote it and celebrate it. When it all falls into place, there is no greater feeling as a school leader than listening to your choir, relishing in an interschool win, listening to a reluctant reader finish that story, or watching a meaningful Acknowledgement of Country at assembly.
I am sure there are things I have forgotten from this list, but probably fit within one of these categories. For me, they are the things that gave me joy. They are the reasons that despite how demanding the role can be, I am one of the statistics who says I would not give up the role. Absolutely, there is work to be done to make the role more appealing and less demanding and we at WAPPA will continue to work with stakeholders to deliver. But it would be difficult for me to say there are a large number of things needed to make the job more rewarding.
As we celebrate Australian Primary Principals Day (School Leaders Day as far as I am concerned), I would encourage you all to celebrate the little wins. If you have never done so before, I challenge you to find a high point in your school grounds and take in the view. Tell yourself, “I did this”. Say it out loud and allow yourself to enjoy that moment. Then do it again tomorrow from a different vantage point. Do it as often as you need to, to remind yourself why the challenges still make the job so rewarding and bring you so much joy. Just remember to take a snack with you, as you’ll probably still be last to eat.