School stories of support for established principals
Evaluation Associates is providing specific support for established principals as part of the Leadership Advisor contract with the Ministry of Education. We've spoken with three principals who have been supported by our team. Their stories below reflect the ways in which we can walk alongside established principals.
The teaching principal of this small rural school had returned to principalship after some time away from the role and found that the responsibilities of a principal had changed considerably over those years. He needed and asked for support in understanding the new demands of leadership, and the requirement for on-going self-review, and was put in contact with a Leadership Advisor (LA) from Evaluation Associates.
The principal is finding his association with the experienced and knowledgeable LA to be both challenging and rewarding. The LA asks searching questions, provides professional advice where appropriate and offers new perspectives. If the LA believes that the principal is being over ambitious, he’ll counter with questions such as: “Have you thought about that?” and “Why are you a principal?”, giving the opportunity for reflection on the why and the how of the role.
Through his advice and guidance, the opportunities for reflection, the provision of relevant readings on current topics and the highlighting of important documents and statements from the Bulletin, the LA provides professional development for the principal so that he is not second guessing his role and responsibilities. The LA will support the principal to rewrite the local curriculum so that it better suits the needs of the students and the community, taking into account that these have changed, and expectations now revolve around individualised learning programmes.
The Principal is in no doubt that his work with the LA will help him to be more effective in his role. He appreciates that the relationship is non-threatening, professional, mutual and based on his and his school’s needs rather than supporting a covert agenda. In his own words, “Every principal needs a leadership advisor!”
The principal of a low-decile medium-sized primary school was facing burn out. A complex and on-going employment situation had escalated to the point where there were constant problems in finding staff for the classrooms, whether short or long-term relieving. This situation was made worse by behaviour problems in some of the classrooms, where relievers would often refuse to work. The Board of Trustees, while supportive, were unable to advise the principal on the best way forward, having left many of the BoT responsibilities up to her. She knew that the students’ learning was suffering but could not see a clear path forward from this very difficult situation.
Her ex-MoE advisor suggested that she should contact Evaluation Associates for support. The principal was delighted to learn that she could work with the same person who had advised her in her second year of principalship through the beginning principal programme. In her own words, “I would have chosen her. She has credibility. She’s dealt with similar problems in her own school and has done the hard yards.”
The principal found the LA to be the ideal, non-biased sounding board. The LA listened carefully, then worked with the principal to analyse the situation, pick out the important things to focus on and co-construct a path forward, step by step. In the short time the two have been working together, the principal has taken decisive action to begin to resolve the complexity of the employment situation and to clarify the roles of other senior staff members.
The principal very much appreciated the LA’s outside perspective on the situation and her ability to listen and synthesise. The principal’s work with the LA has allowed her to find a clear course of action and given her support to carry it out.
The experienced and capable principal of this medium sized primary school asked for initial support with delicate staffing issues and then subsequent high-end demands including health and safety concerns, official information inquiries, and even an event requiring the traumatic incident team. The resultant stress, along with the day-to-day complexity of contemporary principalship, might have seen her leave the profession, if it were not for the support of the LA.
Her connection with the LA for her area has been, in her words, a game changer for her and the school. His skills of deep listening, mentoring and giving advice where appropriate have given her the means to lead the school confidently again.
As the events unfolded, the LA convinced the principal that was happening in her school was not normal, and that it was natural to feel stressed by it. With encouragement and humour, he worked with her to find ways of responding non-emotively to conflict situations. She now understands that, while acknowledging problems, she doesn’t have to respond or find solutions immediately. She has learnt that letting the heat go out of a situation leads to better outcomes and less stress.
The LA’s balance of honest challenge and support has helped the principal not only to deal with demanding situations but to address pedagogical challenges, build effective relationships with other teachers and get a better sense of what the school is all about. She now feels optimistic and agentic, well able to negotiate the prevailing complexity of the principal’s role.
On a lighter note, the principal’s ongoing and hugely valued relationship with the LA now includes the exchange of book and podcast titles, adding a brief but fun touch to their meetings.
These vignettes were originally published in the New Zealand Principal magazine, June 2019.