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The Small School Principal

Interesting and rewarding job, being a school principal. Most often these days we hear a lot of focus on principals as educational leaders and to be sure, that’s the ultimate goal: to have a positive impact on the learning and the lives of students.

But there’s a lot more to the job. In any school there’s an element of accountability to whatever governance body exists and, in the case of public schools, to the education department. If you’re a public school principal in Victoria your accountabilities are documented in a schedule which sets out your responsibilities under various pieces of legislation. And at the very practical level you are expected to ensure everything is ‘under control’, from occupational health and safety to school finances, staff selection and management, curriculum leadership, student discipline and wellbeing, IT systems, facilities and the daily organisation of the school.

In a large school, or a well resourced one, the principal will have the capacity to delegate some or all of these responsibilities to others. In my school, for example, I have the support of a set of outstanding assistant principals, a finance manager, HR manager, IT manager and facilities manager. But being based in a regional centre I have a lot to do with the principals of smaller schools and I can recall my own experience as a small school principal. I take my hat off to those people and sometimes I wonder how they manage.

Small school principals have to do everything their counterparts in larger schools do without the capacity to delegate key roles to others. Take two extremes: my own school with 1850 Year 11 & 12 students, and a rural primary school with 20 students and two staff. That principal has the same responsibilities I do. Certainly there is more complexity in a larger school but how do they find time to do everything, particularly if they’ve got a teaching load as well? The reality is they have to learn a bit of everything, from finance to HR to facilities and IT as well as tending to student discipline, engagement with families and shaping the school’s approach to teaching and learning. They’re genuine all-rounders and they have a sense of everything that goes on in a school, something you may not get if you’re working in a larger school.

That small school experience is invaluable. If you’ve spent your teaching life in a large metropolitan school you’ve probably waited years for an opportunity to take on a leadership role. In a country school you’ll be thrust into it almost from the moment you arrive. It can be hard for country schools to hang on to their young staff; the regional centres and the city are always calling. But if they do move on those young teachers will be much better for the experience. And as for their principals, they should be equally valued. They are probably more capable than most people give them credit for.

 

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