How to become a school principal
Becoming a principal was always a childhood dream. Now, I'm living that dream: I’ve been a teacher for 33 years, and spent nearly half of that time as a school principal. I am currently principal at Hunter Valley Grammar School, an independent, co-educational school for students from preschool to Year 12 in East Maitland in regional New South Wales – a role I've held for the past 10 years. Previously, I was principal at Moreton Bay College, a single-sex girls school in Brisbane. My favourite thing about the job is the diversity of my daily work and making a difference to the students in our care. I am energised every day by the challenges, opportunities and rewards. In my opinion, there is no more noble profession than this one.
What I’ve learned
I worked my way through the traditional leadership pathway from teacher to head of department, director of studies, deputy principal and then principal. During that time, one of the most valuable lessons I learned is that relationships matter. Another key point is that you have to spend quality time developing and articulating your vision and mission.
Being able to deal with the school budget is vital as a principal: ignore this at your peril. You have to be a good business manager, but know the budget, its performance and how to assess your financial health.
I may be called a school principal, but, logistically, I am a CEO running a large business. The buck stops here, I am ultimately responsible and have to accept the accountability that goes with that.
The most difficult part of the job? Having to deal with bureaucracies that interfere with our autonomy and hamstring our innovation; career government bureaucrats who have never been in a class in their life, telling us how to run schools.
Advice for aspiring school principals
For the many new principals taking their first step up into the role, the most important thing to remember is to look after yourself, because no one else will. Strive for excellence, but not perfection. Act with integrity all of the time. Keep the hubris in check.
For any teachers looking to move up into a leadership position, preparation is very important, so you'd better have a passion for the job and a thirst for hard work. Plan for climbing the ladder, at least four to five years before you think you will get your first headship.
Paul’s top tips for becoming a school principal:
- Let your values be your rock.
- Lead the learning.
- Do lots of listening and less talking.
- Recruit talent first.