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Part Three

From Surviving to Thriving

It is acknowledged that the title of this module has been adopted from the Dare to Lead publication From Surviving to Thriving: More than a Remote Possibility. These words tend to best describe the process which most newly appointed principals encounter following the first day of receiving their appointment notice. The booklet which can be found at http://www.daretolead.edu.au is a very useful guide for newly appointed principals. It can be found under the Remotes link.

The booklet deals with basic considerations such as setting up networks, transport, accommodation, personal well being and understanding the culture of the community. This section of Module Six will hopefully provide some additional information to assist with the transition from 'surviving to thriving.'

The Challenge

Working as a principal of a remote community school can be exciting, challenging and rewarding, especially for new principals.
[Dare To Lead: Surviving to Thriving]

Most if not all past and present principals interviewed for the purpose of expert input into these modules have stressed the fact that being a principal of a RCS is not easy, particularly in the beginning stages or first six months.

Surviving those first few weeks can be made so much easier by being prepared to learn about the new environment in which teachers and principals find themselves.

Be prepared to listen... and ask... and then ask again. Be prepared to listen... and ask... and then ask again.

In a recent WAPPA forum with Level 3 principals of limited experience one person was heard to say... be organized, be yourself, don't take yourself too seriously, and make a connection with the community. Ensure you understand the community vision before you attempt to have them understand your vision [Anon.]

In addition the recently appointed Level 3 Principals were asked to provide any additional information which an organization could provide for aspirant principals.
The responses included

  • Provide real life examples of good instructional leadership.
  • Prioritising the urgent from the important.
  • Teleconferencing newly appointed principals.
  • Accessing good Professional Learning and developing networks of colleagues.
  • Go through 'stuff' that is important for the first term.
  • Provide a SURVIVAL kit for the first month of school.
  • Professional sharing from people who have been there.

As well, there was continued reference to operational matters and critically, curriculum delivery. In short, the above illustrates the complexity of the first appointment resulting also in one respondent advising a good period of time as Deputy Principal by way of an apprenticeship.

The challenges facing leaders and staffs in Remote Community Schools are not unique to WA or Australia and as an association supporting elementary school principals in the USA this is recognized equally by the National Association of Elementary School Principals [NAESP].

If we agree that the demands facing all elementary [primary] school principals are daunting, then we can safely stipulate that the challenges confronting principals who work in urban [inner city] and remote schools must at times seem insurmountable.
[Vince Ferrandino, NAESP Director, USA]
The changing 'face' of leadership in Remote Community Schools. The changing 'face' of leadership in Remote Community Schools.

System Provisions

The Department of Education's Institute for Professional Learning provides a comprehensive three day induction program for newly appointed teachers and principals to Remote Community Schools and schools with a significant Aboriginal student enrolment.

The courses are generally run in mid-January and appointees are strongly advised to attend all sessions.
Briefly the program includes:

  • What to expect when living and working in a remote community.
  • Working with the community.
  • Cross cultural awareness.
  • Health and well-being.
  • Literacy and numeracy for Aboriginal students
  • Classroom management.
  • Q and A sessions.

Participants have the opportunity to view appropriate resources for their work with Aboriginal students as well as communicating with current leaders in the field for questions which might have gone unanswered in general presentations.

Further information can be found at http://det.wa.edu.au/professionallearning.

Managing Industrial Situations

Being in a remote location school leaders often do not have immediate access to system support and from time to time must make decisions to resolve issues on site so that the core business of education can progress.

Conflict situations between students, school and students and school and community have been discussed in an earlier module. Not all conflict will be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. However, all resolutions should be based on whether or not they are in the best interests of students. This must be the base line.

Principals requiring advice or support in managing difficult circumstances have several avenues they may wish to explore.

Dept. of Labour Relations for all matters industrial Tel 08 9 264 4728
Employee Support Bureau for all matters non-industrial Tel 08 9 264 8651
WA Primary Principals' Support Line [for members] Tel 08 9 388 8437
Regional Education Director
Regional Manager of Aboriginal Education
Collegiate Networks
SSTUWA [Member Assist] Tel. 08 9 21 6060 or 1800 106 683

Clearly preventive measures are preferable to later conflict and misunderstandings. In terms of staff harmony the principal should be clear about the following:

  • Each teacher and assistant will have a detailed Performance Management Plan.
  • Collaboration and consultation will be the cornerstones of planning.
  • Decisions at meetings will be documented and communicated to all staff.
  • All staff's opinions will be valued and considered.
  • Matters of student behaviour management will be dealt with in a consistent manner as decided by the school and community.
  • All teachers have equal access to resources and professional learning.
  • All staff will undergo cultural awareness training.
  • Staff will be trained where necessary, in the processes of recording attendance and the importance of accurate records.
  • The importance of a team culture within the school.

This list may well be added to. The important issue is that all staff including the leader are consistent in their understandings of the school's operations and policies. Even within the confines of a smallish staff in a RCS of say, five staff, if two members are not 'in tune' with the agreed policy this represents 40% of staff, and can lead to a period of dysfunction.

Managing People

From time to time in any work place tensions will arise which must be dealt with expeditiously and to the satisfaction of all parties. In a RCS setting where adults are often working and socialising at close quarters this becomes even more critical. Human nature being what it is, disagreements will surface from time to time, and teachers, staff and the community will look to the principal to resolve these matters.

Each circumstance is unique and needs to be treated with respect and understanding. The principal will find he or she is expected to be the diplomatic authority on all matters and resolve issues to the satisfaction of all parties. This will not always happen.

Some abridged guidelines towards surviving the first five minutes [Managing Difficult People: The Prime Health Group 1999] may be useful.

Steps Actions
Staying Calm Prepare by anticipating issues, behaviours and likely outcomes.
Control the situation; establish relationship
Maintain control; stay in "adult" mode.
Preventing Escalation Maintain the focus on the other person's concerns.
Put your own concerns on hold; don't defend or justify.
Separate the person from the problem; talk about the behaviour not the person.
Defusing Anger Encourage "ventilation" of strong feelings with "active listening"
Maintain the focus on feelings not accuracy of views.
Acknowledge [not necessarily accept] concerns.
Clarifying Underlying Concerns Continue active listening.
Send clear and "clean" statements of your own concerns.
Reframing the Problem "Discount" your own concerns.
Tap into the other person's self interest.
Problem Solving Confirm a commitment to a win-win approach
Involve other parties in generating possible solutions
Jointly evaluate alternatives and select the best.
Establish a time, process and criteria to review.
Thank them for solving the problem.

A final word about all that is rewarding in working in a RCS. A final word about all that is rewarding in working in a RCS.
Flash video title -Key Principles
  • Preparation is the key to planning for the first few weeks.
  • Learning about the community is paramount to understanding the expectations of parents.
  • Key to a team culture is sharing "the vision" with all staff.
  • Surviving does not mean marking time.
  • The principal must demonstrate a willingness to resolve conflict issues confidently.
  • Quarantining personal time is vital to efficient work practices.
  • The principal's energy and commitment will carry along the staff, students and the community.
  • It is important to seek assistance when "the odds" appear insurmountable.
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