On the road with a Leadership Advisor
Since the beginning of term two this year I have been privileged to work as the Leadership Advisor for beginning principals in the Bay of Plenty region. I am really enjoying this opportunity and over a series of blog posts will outline the type of work I am doing, the role I am fulfilling with the principals in my region and other interesting observations from my travels!
Previous to accepting this position I worked as a principal for over twelve years in three schools with very different communities, contexts and opportunities. I also had a number of national involvements and responsibilities within principal associations, all experiences which fed into my interest in this role.
I work with all beginning principals (those in the first two years of their appointment) in the region as well as any acting principals employed for more than one term. The number of leaders I work with at any one time have ranged between 12 and17 thus far as different appointments and movements are confirmed. My region extends from Turangi through to the larger towns and cities of Taupo, Rotorua, Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Whakatane, Opotiki, Te Puke and all points in between. Covering such a wide area means a significant amount of time travelling and in my first term I drove over 5000km, managing to see some of the wonderful "hidden treasures" on the back roads of our region. Talking with Leadership Advisors in other regions, the amount of travel seems to be about the norm at this stage.
One of the most interesting parts of the role is the diversity of communities and leaders I come into contact with. In the space of a day I can be working with a leader in a large urban school and then with one in a remote sole charge position. It is remarkable to observe that while there are obvious differences in these two positions, the challenges and complexities of leadership are often very similar. All principals need this valuable space to discuss the demands of their position. I see it as very important in my role to be that listening ear and to give them the opportunity to dig deep into their own reflections and wonderings about leadership. In this formative stage, it is crucial that leaders do have that input and access to external advice outside their own school community.
Another part of my role in supporting principals is to help them make connections which will strengthen their effectiveness as leaders. Just as beginning teachers need initial support and orientation into schooling structures and systems to be successful in their work, so do beginning principals. Regardless of what preparation for leadership has come before winning the position, nothing quite prepares you for your first principalship! Therefore, ensuring that BPs are connected with external agencies, local networks and are briefed on "just in time" information is crucial to setting them up for success.
Another important component of our model of support is the role of mentor principals. These are experienced practising principals endorsed by our regional management group who fulfil a day to day, "on call" brief supporting our new leaders. The mentor might be a person who meets with the BP on a regular, structured basis, or someone who is available on the end of the phone when a connection is needed on a particular issue of the day. Often this person is another principal in the same cluster or COL/ Kāhui Ako who will have regular and ongoing contact with the BP potentially beyond their first two years working in the BP programme with Evaluation Associates. In our region we are thrilled to have such a high calibre of mentor principals available to work in this important role.
With systems now in place for the role, it is exciting to be offering valued support and advice to our beginning principals and to be enabling them to think strategically about their leadership and ways that they can positively affect outcomes for the students in their care. In my next blog I will talk more about another feature of our support to beginning principals – the national and regional hui.