Coaching Your Staff
Much of the Principal's time in a Remote Community School [RCS] will be spent on the development and guidance of staff, in many cases graduates or teachers new to the RCS setting. Besides the core business of Teaching and Learning the Principal will also be the person to whom the staff look when issues of planning and accountability arise and when difficult decisions are needed, and when they need to turn to a supportive person for guidance.
The role of Principal of a RCS is not an easy one. This has been demonstrated in many interviews of past and present RCS principals.
One of the critical elements of keeping teaching staff and ancillary staff together and working as a team is to have in place effective shared planning processes. If the principal is new to the school it would be wise to look and listen in the first weeks to see if the Strategic Plan is being reflected in the operations within the school and its classrooms. There are often sound reasons for the way 'things' are being done the way they are. After this initial observation period it may be necessary to clarify some aspects of planning and development. Do this in full consultation with staff and particularly AIEO's.
In a recent survey [WAPPA 2011] a respondent wrote leading by example was one of the most important lessons he had learnt in the initial weeks of an appointment to a small country school. He also said ...be yourself, don't take yourself too seriously and make a connection with your community. There is a valuable message here. Seemingly countless tasks will engulf the newly appointed principal and the key to survival lies in developing confidence and setting out priorities that will enable children to learn and achieve the school's goals. This can only be done with the support of staff, teaching and non-teaching, and can only be done with the Principal as the team's captain – coach.
The strength of your coaching will determine the strength of the team.
In this element of Module Five the following will be explored:
- Engaging staff in shared planning processes.
- Supporting all staff.
- System and organizational requirements.
- Induction of new staff.
- Separation of professional life and social life.
- Managers and Leaders.
- Articulating your Vision.
The school staff will have greater confidence and ownership in the future directions of the school if they have shared the strategies involved in reaching set goals. Set time aside for all staff to be engaged in this process. Do not assume that there is one member who may not need to be involved. Each team member has a role to play. Whole school planning has become the norm and this cannot be done with any form of exclusivity. If possible plan professional development days to ensure curriculum design and delivery is led by local experts or presented through a shared delivery model. [Kimberley DEO]
Shared planning stretches beyond the principal – staff relationship. Teachers need to develop a bond with their ancillary staff, in particular their AIEO's, and make them a part of all planning processes. Their opinions should be sought on a whole range of matters beyond curriculum delivery and support. Do not be afraid to seek their views.
Schools which have based their planning processes on the School and Community Partnership Agreements resource may wish to re-visit Making Connections, Section Two of this resource, for valuable guidance in enhancing community involvement in shared planning. Schools which do not possess the kit should contact their Regional Manager of Aboriginal Education.
For additional information Principals may wish to go to What Works  Conversations, Relationships, Partnerships etc at http://www.whatworks.edu.au
Supporting all Staff
Just as there is a requirement for all staff to develop strong relationships with their students, Principals have the same professional responsibility towards their staff. This responsibility extends beyond the system Performance Management requirements. It may well be that the Principal develops Individual Coaching Plans for individual staff members. This is an informal process involving daily connection with every staff member, being aware of their issues, successes and failures. The purpose is to demonstrate that their leader genuinely believes in them and their ability to bring out the best in their students.
Be aware of the staff with whom you interact most. Research has shown that the tendency is for school leaders to interact most with confident, successful staff, and least with less confident and at times struggling performers. This tendency ought to be reversed.
A supportive Principal exhibits most of the following:
- Acknowledging individuals' strengths publicly and often.
- Praising their efforts in front of the children.
- Meeting with staff face to face ….and avoiding inter-office emails and directives.
- Being available.
- Showing loyalty, confidentiality and discretion.
- Not playing favourites. Being fair.
- Leading with enthusiasm and energy.
- Avoiding negativity about the profession.
- Encouraging feedback from staff.
- Taking an interest in teachers' interests outside of work.
- Seeking staff opinions.
- Having a sense of humour.
System and Organisational Requirements
There are non-negotiable system requirements such as performance reviews, financial accountability, and all matters relating to the Education Act  which need to be complied with by the principal and school.
Importantly, the staff should be made aware of these system requirements and the demands on the principal to ensure they are met. More often than not a RCS may not have the services of a School Registrar to complete some of the compliance requirements.
It would be wise to set time aside at School Development days to explain these requirements in order to have a common understanding of the complexities of school management and accountability.
Induction of new Staff
In all schools, induction of new staff is an important element of the beginning of any school year. Principals will be familiar with a range of varying models of induction and there is no one prescriptive model. In the case of RCS's however there are some variables which would be appropriate to include in any induction process.
The RCS setting is often one of a fish – bowl existence. From the moment any new staff member arrives, he or she will be observed carefully by the community. It is important for the Principal to highlight to new staff the impression they will have on the community in those first few days. The car they drive, the music they like, the clothes they wear, the way they speak and how they relax.
The school's operations, vision and day to day workings are critical to any induction process. Alongside that however, are the understandings of culture and environment that the newly appointed staff needs to be made aware of. As the school's leader the Principal has a serious duty to include in any induction process a conversation about cultural knowledge and understandings.
Separation of Professional Life and Social Life
The Principal as the school's leader has a responsibility to provide the best possible educational opportunities for the children in his or her care. This is the Principal's professional duty. That's what we're here for. That's what we are paid for. [Amy Treadgold, former Principal Pia Wadjarri RCS].
Set aside time for personal life and in particular for partner and children if this applies. Life in the RCS can become all-absorbing to the exclusion sometimes of care of self. This will be addressed further in Module Six.
It is important that all staff are aware of the professional and social line in a situation where people are dealing with one-another for long periods and in close proximity.
Managers and Leaders
There are considerable differences between managers and leaders. These might be summed up in the following way.
[Adapted from Kimberley DEO Document]
Essentially the RCS Principal will develop an eclectic approach to the above elements. The ability to be the educational leader and the ability to create the vision that will carry along the school and its community is paramount. The transition from teaching to leadership is a complex phase. The desire to have direct influence over the classroom and student outcomes remains, at the same time as dealing with a whole school scenario. Defining the Principal's core business is a difficult task. It is important to manage as well as to lead. Finding the balance is the key.
Articulate your Vision to the Staff
Principals in RCS's as in all schools should not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in, professionally and educationally. The school's children, staff and community will be comfortable with clear directions, communicated often and fairly.
Principals have a requirement to attend to and service the directives of their employer and the agreed partnership contract with their communities. They can strengthen their position by personalizing the goals they set and by standing up for their educational belief that all children given the right opportunities, can achieve academically.
The question what do you stand for in education should not be a difficult one.
- To ensure common understandings and directions all staff must be engaged in planning processes.
- Newly appointed Principals should prioritise their tasks and work on the 'big' things.
- It is critical that planning processes do not exclude any staff members.
- Principals need to be aware of their professional responsibility towards staff.
- Proper induction processes for new staff will ensure the health and well-being of the organization as well as all staff.
- It is important that there is a clear line between professional and social interaction amongst staff.
- Principals should be clear about what they stand for in education.
- The combination of management and educational leadership requires balance and understanding.