Concentric Management: A Team Approach to Educational Leadership

Presented to the Association of Northern Territory School Educational Leaders (ANTSEL) Conference 2008
Concentric Management: A Model of Cooperation

Much is written and said about leadership. Of all subjects, writings (and sayings) about this subject are probably more prolific than about any other. A sub-set of leading in general terms is the specific comment directed toward leadership within the educational domain.

School leaders are offered more in terms of oral and written comment than most. To pick and choose and to digest between models that are promoted as being superior to others is almost a full-time occupation. In fact, it is possible to become so involved in the naval gazing that can go with leadership consideration, that one can forgets to lead!

While theoretical considerations and the underpinnings of leadership models are important, to overlook the practicalities of leadership makes for very poor application. It is leadership in practice that makes the leader a leader, because that is what others see in outcome terms.

When considering leadership, matters of methodology and style come into play. Leadership models and types offered by proponents of the technology run to myriad proportion. It seems there is a style available for all occasions, alternatives than can be shaped to meet the needs of all situations. Again, it can come to a point of leaders being so busy considering leadership that they fail to lead.

Over time, and down the years since Samuel Taylor began the formal processes of writing about leadership typology (in the modern era), it seems that the key focus has been on hierarchal constructs. There have been variations within that model, with distance either maximised or minimised in terms of member identification within the leadership group.

Embracing the pyramid: hierarchical leadership

Hierarchical leadership is perhaps the most common, in wrapping around leadership modelling. In total hierarchical terms, there is the leader who sits atop the organisation in splendid isolation from everyone else. Such a leader is typically an autocrat’s autocrat – an out and out dictator! Leaders of this ilk may be where they are in part because of charisma, but more often because of singular, bloody-minded jackbootedness.

This leadership style is typified within various republics and totalitarian governments. That level and degree of hierarchical leadership, fortunately, does not pervade within education. It is however, all too apparent within countries whose populaces are tortured by such leaders.

Lone leadership is somewhat of a rarity. Much more common – and perhaps the most pervasive of all leadership models is that of shared hierarchy, with leadership layers going from top management echelons to middle then to lower level management. Accountabilities are generally upward toward the pyramid pinnacle, with accountability requirements generally being directed downward.

Below the levels of the pyramid containing the leadership group (who may or may not be a team) are positioned the workers, those within the organisation who make up its base. In other words, they are the foundation upon which the pyramid rests. This is a model of dependence and reliance, but may be one that minimalises respect and trust. It all depends on the linkages that exist between people within the organisation.

A fallacy of the pyramid is that those atop the structure (even those only half-way up as they look down) is that self-righteousness, self-importance and a sense of inflated personal self-worth can take over. Those within the leadership domain separate from those they are supposedly supporting through leadership and grow away from the team. Those they lead, in turn, come to look upon them with disparagement and with a lack of respect for them in the positions they occupy. Rather than working together, the group tends to pull apart. In organisations where the fabric is rent, the centre fails to hold, with hollowness replacing wholesomeness.

This is not fanciful discourse but an indicator of what can happen if those within primarily use the organisation for the sake of personal and individualised gain. Successful people organisations – and schools are critical people developers – work best if those within focus on togetherness and sharing. That can happen better if traditional hierarchical structures are restructured, flattened and shaped to reflect a concentric leadership approach.

Concentric leadership

Concentric leadership discounts hierarchy by flattening the pyramid. The leader remains the leader, those within the leadership structure occupy their positions, but all become part of the structure in terms of equality that cannot exist within the separation imposed by traditional hierarchy.

From above, a concentric organisation is best represented as a circle. In the middle of the circle, symbolising the cohort of souls that make up that place is a series of dots, representing the leadership group. That group are set ‘one apart’ from the majority but are in no way magnified or accentuated in the way traditional organisations describe and transcribe leadership. The majority of those within the organisation are signified as boundary riders who stand side by side to make up the organisational circle.

Mathematically speaking, a ‘circle is a series of dots. Symbolically speaking, each dot represents a member of the group standing side by side (left and right hand) with peers. That is a ‘bird’s eye’ view of a concentrically lead institution.

From the side and applying the principal of a circle being represented by a series of dots, a concentrically configured organisation is seen as shown below. In a school like mine, the biggest dot represents the principal, flanked by two assistant principals and two senior teachers.

Mathematically speaking, a ‘circle is a series of dots’. Symbolically speaking, each dot represents a member of the group standing side by side (left and right hand) with peers. That is a ‘bird’s eye’ view of a concentrically lead institution.

From the side and applying the principal of a circle being represented by a series of dots, a concentrically configured organisation is seen as shown below. In a school like mine, the biggest dot represents the principal, flanked by two assistant principals and two senior teachers.

Everyone else within the school community stands on the same plane and at the same level as the leadership group. Such an organisation is one priding itself on offering equality of recognition, with everyone being on the same plain. This model does not identify people on the basis of subordinates looking up and superordinates looking down. Everyone looks at each other is terms of simple sideways or ‘across the circle’ eye movement. Concentric leadership in principle and practice is designed to promote feelings of equality and togetherness in a way that would be frowned upon by traditional hierarchal adherents.

Respect-based leadership

My purpose in writing this piece is not to uphold one leadership style in a way that denigrates other models. It is rather an attempt to outline an approach which, if right for an organisation and if practised, can work to bring a group together in a way that releases powerful and positive organisational synergy.

In all situations and regardless of model, leadership is either ‘ascribed’ or ‘acquired’.

Ascribed leadership is the authority vested in a position by its creators and recognised by its holder(s). It is a power based leadership with expectations ‘commanded’ by superordinates. If the position holder doesn’t comply with expectations held of the position by those above, tenure can be short. An ‘upside’ from the viewpoint of the occupier can be that the incumbency offers the occupier a chance to wield power.
Sometimes that authority can be applied indiscriminately, but usually in the knowledge that the position holder will be protected from subordinate reaction by superordinate protection. A lot of middle level managers relish the power and authority vested in such positions.

Ascribed leadership authority is a perfect fit for the hierarchal model, where positions are (or can be) filled by those supplicating upward while operating quite intransigently in a downward direction. Ascribed authority is popular among those who want to get on, because it can offer guarantee of upward mobility by key decision-makers if the job is done to expectation at the level of occupancy.

Acquired authority is earned on the basis of perceptions held for leaders by those around him or her within the organisation. It grows from perceptions held of leaders that are respect based. Such authority is not conferred but is earned by way of the recognition that is shown to members of leadership teams by those being lead. Without doubt, it is the harder but more meaningful and everlasting of the two authority types that are in play.

The two can be conflictive. Respect is not necessarily earned by those leaders who play the power game, through adhering strictly to the demands and expectations of the position which come from above.

Neither is the leader who earns subordinate and peer respect necessarily highly regarded by those above, for the perceptions attaching to acquiring respect based recognition may infer a certain weakness in the character of such leaders as seen by superordinates. They may believe that respect has been offered because the leader is compromising, vacillating or too giving. Such a perception might threaten the ‘management on the basis of tight ship’ principle.

Trust, accountability and concentric leadership

Concentric leadership is not a model that will work well in distrustful situations. It may be that those at top leadership levels do not trust a leader further down the organisation, who advocates concentric practice because he or she may be seen to be less authoritative than desirable. There are also concerns that leaders who consult and fully engage with others in the organisation are weak, in not being able to make up their minds without considering the opinions of others. There is also suspicion that such consultation will be responded to in a selfish and narrow manner by those who are asked opinions by the leadership team.

There can be issues that arise from within organisations where a desire by leaders to be concentric, is signalled. Those within the structure may suspect that statements of intent are empty rhetoric, words without meaning. To sell the concept of concentrism, leaders must act and ‘live’ within a way that encourages trustful responses. This is perhaps best helped if leaders are available to their teams, avoiding being seen as remote or aloof.

Concentric leadership is in my opinion, anathema to the principle of ascribed management but sits comfortably in a context of acquired leadership. If leaders are on the same plane and operate at the same level as all within the organisation, then trust has to be a quality in place. By the same token, the leadership team does have an organisational accountability setting them a little part from others within the team. That context is shown by the elevation and the magnification of the dots, central to the linear structure as indicated in my first diagram.

There should be and there will be an identification of the concentrically positioned leadership group by those outside the organisation, meaning that the prime focus of accountability will be honed in from above, to where it belongs. There will also be an appreciation by those within, that the leadership team has a job to do. With everyone operating on the same level, communication should be enhanced because those within the organisation don’t have to crane their necks in ‘looking up’ to the leadership group.

Rather the ‘looking up’ is inward and soulful being based on the respect and trust that developed within a group in which everyone is on the same plane. True concentric leadership gives a new and positive meaning to the concept of the ‘level playing field’.

Quality leadership: never utopian but constantly striving

No organisation anywhere can boast leadership panacea, because organisational equilibrium constantly changes. However, in striving for the best that can happen within an organisation, I strongly commend an approach that takes concentric leadership into account. The advantages are there, provided that trust is a quality that exists and which can be factored in to strengthen through concentric practice.

While concentrism may fly in the face of the hierarchically inclined, it can be promoted and shown as building a character and strength that is positive and enhancing. In a school context, the trust and respect growing from such an approach adds hugely to internalised values. Vesting confidence in such a model is helpful to the macro-organisation in achieving its goals because of the micro-satisfaction of its parts. Happy and well functioning school units mean that DEET Corporate is enhanced.

If those within schools are happy, satisfied and achieve organisation balance that in turn is good for the superstructure that is our Department of Employment, Education and Training. If the system is going to build and develop, then the genesis of positivism has to come from its foundations. Schools are the foundation on which DEET is built. Concentric leadership may well influence, in a positive way, ‘from the ground up’. If that happens, with an enhancement of trustfulness upon which the model is predicated, then all augurs well for future system developments.

Be warned, however! There are those to whom such a model is anathema, because the one thing they don’t want is for their positional power and ascribed authority to be wilted.

Concentric leadership is for those who believe in collectivity and togetherness. It can be organisationally fulfilling because it satisfies all those within, who have genuine stake and interest in the school or situation they are leading. It will never suit those whose aim is to pontificate, dictate and lead by command from the great heights of hierarchal pyramids.

Discuss presentation
* Please contact the author for the diagrams that were supplied with this paper (these could not be published in a web-based format).

28 March 2008

Mr Henry Gray was (at that time)Principal of Leanyer School, in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. Email address

Our Time In Nhulunbuy 1983 – 1987

Text sent to Nhulunbuy as a reflection on our time. The occasion was the Primary School’s 40th Anniversary.


We were blessed to live and work in Nhulunbuy from 1983 until 1987. In reflecting back overtime, our four years in Nhulunbuy offered both challenge and joy.

Nhulunbuy Primary was a very large primary school – at the stage the school with the largest enrollment of any primary school in the Northern Territory. We had around 800 children, at that time from Transition to Year Seven. On top of that was our preschool a little further up the road in Chesterfield Circuit.

The school was supported by 54 staff, nineteen of them male. We had a great staff balance from a gender viewpoint.

Sub-Schools – The Way We Managed Our School

We developed a sub-school model. Each of our Assistant Principals was the person in charge of the overall management of a sub-school along with having a ‘whole of school’ function.

Narelle Krause (who later became Principal) was the Assistant Principal responsible for Bremmer Sub-School and oversaw whole-of-school curriculum requirements.

Hugh Creighton (who later went top the Regional Office) then Ian Duncan (who after his time at Nhununbuy went on to become Principal of Macfarlan School in Katherine) was the Assistant Principal responsible for Wessell Sub-School and oversaw whole-of-school administrative requirements.

Pat Ellis (who after leaving, later returned to Nhulunbuy Primary as Principal) was our Assistant Principal responsible for Bromby while having responsibility for some aspects of our school’s public relations and marketing outreach.

Bremmer and Wessel were sub-schools made up of classes from Year One to Year Seven. That was the same for Bromby Sub-School. Our Preschool and Transition children were not split between sub-schools, but kept together in the Bromby Sub-School. We felt it important to have our early years children kept together for the sake of nurture and care.

At that time, our school’s five Senior Teachers had responsibility for curriculum development and implementation. Each senior was located on one sub-school or the other: As curriculum persons, they worked with Narelle Krause to assist and support teachers across the school. For example, our Senior responsible for Year Six and Seven was in Bremmer, but liaised with and supported Upper Primary teachers in Wessel and Bromby. That was the case for four of our Seniors. Our fifth senior (my wife Margo) with Preschool and Transition responsibilities had her whole and large team of staff within Bromby.

My role was over-sighting and working with everyone. “Everyone” included our School Council Members of the time. The three School Council Chairpeople of my time were James Strong (briefly, and who later went on to be CEO of Qantas) Graham Waldon and Michael Markham. These men and our council as a whole where there(as now) for the school and its educational programs

We developed the model in part after conversation with management staff at (then) Nabalco in order to ‘bounce’ ideas.

Computer Education

At that time Computer Education was just developing. I remember that Computer Education was made a distinct core learning need by the Department of Education. That changed when people woke up to the fact that computer was a tool that could support learning in all areas; it wasn’t really an ‘item of curriculum’.

The first computer I ever saw (and I heard later the first in the Territory) was out at the Nabalco Plant. I was invited out to see it., That computer was a huge, huge room full of floor to ceiling metal boxes making all sorts of connections in its data generating efforts. it was bulky, noisy and took a long time to carry out a task. I was told that its capacity was about that of an old Commodore 64 computer. We have come a long way since in a very short time. The iPad on I am writing this, in old technology terms, would have taken up many of those huge rooms.

The Oval

Our oval was awful and desperately needed fixing. It was fixed. With the support of Nabalco, Yirrkala Business Enterprises and a goodly number of volunteers. the oval in one weekend was topsoiled with hundreds of tonnes of rich red dirt. That was leveled, graded and made ready for seeding. The volunteers took out all rocks, sticks and other matter left behind once the leveling was completed.

A cannon jet water system was installed, again with wonderful company support. Later we inlaid a cricket pitch, completing the rebirth of this facility. It was enjoyed by the school and community.

This is but one example of the way in which we worked in and with our community. In hindsight, one of the enduring qualities of Nhulunbuy was the school community partnership we shared.

Living in Gove

One of the joys of Nhulunbuy was the way children were nurtured within the community. They lived in a safe environment, the biggest threat being the occasional buffalo or an odd crocodile on the town fringe. These possibilities were not real worries. There were great support activities for children with an array of cultural and sporting opportunities. Our children grew up with great confidence, as independent (albeit respectful) and ‘thinking’ your people.

They MUST have enjoyed our four years there in the eighties. Our daughter Estelle, son-in-law John and their family are back in Gove and running the Peninsular Bakery and Cafe. Our younger son Trenton, his partner Janice and their children are ‘in town’ where Trenton is an engineer with the company Pacific Aluminum. People generally don’t return in adulthood to places with sad childhood memories.

Nhulunbuy is a great place. The community and school gave a lot to us and in turn I hope we gave back to Nhulunbuy. One thing is for sure: If I had to revisit and of my 40+ years in educational terms, I would unhesitating go back to Gove.

Enjoy celebrating forty years of educational remembrance.

Travel Kindly

Henry Gray
Principal of Nhulunbuy from 1983 until 1987

Looking Forward and Looking Back: Career Reflections

Looking Forward and Looking Back: Career Reflections

In December 1969, I graduated as a two year trained teacher from Graylands Teachers College in Western Australia. I remember sitting in the assembly hall on the day of our graduation and announcement of school placements. I thought about how far into the future time stretched. It seemed as if I was facing an infinity, a never-ending teaching future.

Looking back, writing this paper as an essentially retired Principal (although a person still deeply committed to education) I feel that time has flown by, almost in the twinkling of an eye. I have learned a lot and that is ongoing for personal education and development is a life-long process.

Education has offered me the privilege of working with students, staff, parents and community in many different situations over forty five years. i wanted to reflect and share thoughts that go to leadership and survival strategies I have practised and systemic changes which have come to pass during my (and including family, our) time in the Northern Territory.


There are constants about the way one leads, together with changes to process impressed as prudent or necessary from time to time. My leadership over time was largely informed about what I should do by learning, from observation and experience, about what not to do!

With the passing of time, leadership modelling moves from one paradigm to another. To move from one leadership approach, to the next, to the next can mean one’s constant adoption of new approaches leading to unpredictability. This could result in destabilisation and a diminution of respect held for the leader by peers and subordinates.

I have never moved far from my first adoption of leadership preference and style. There have been refinements but the basic premises by which I lead have remained constant.

* I have tried to be a ‘developer’ of others in a context of where focus on both people and task has been to the fore. In terms of schools, this is about the importance of being a facilitator in a hands on context rather than offering leadership at distance ‘above’ (and therefore somewhat removed from) those with whom I have worked.

* My focus was to be a leader whose position was acquired and maintained by respect held for me; therefore not relying solely on ascribed or positionally empowered leadership. While appreciating my ‘position’ I have always aimed to be a Principal whose leadership is sustained by respect held for the way I do my job. I don’t believe it hard to maintain authority expected by superordinates, while earning and sustaining genuine respect from those connected with my schools.

* For a long time I struggled with how to meld my thinking about leadership with an appropriate model. The hierarchal model represented by a pyramid which runs from the top down through management and leadership strata to the bottom or base, representing those at the lowest level within the organisation did not fit with my conceptual appreciation. I discovered a more appropriate and fitting model while studying for a Masters in International Management. The Concentric Model presented as being ideal.

Viewed from above, concentric leadership is depicted as a circle, in the centre of which a bold black dot is positioned. Applying the mathematical principle of a circle being a series of dots, the circle in side elevation becomes a series of dots in a straight line, with the bolded dot in the centre of the circle being on the same plane but slightly amplified from the series of dots to the left and right. This signifies the separation and the significance of the leader but does not impose her or him as being far more important than the cohort.

The concentric model represents the leadership style I have always tried to emulate. To be ‘above’ but ‘with’ those one is leading, positions leaders on the balcony (looking down and seeing all) and on the dance floor (with subordinates as colleagues) in a simultaneous context.

I have always practised being a concentric leader.

* The respect one gains as a leader by being a ‘do as I do’ person cannot be overestimated. Countless examples abound which illustrate that people who lead by saying are less effective than those who lead by doing. My practice has never been to ask of others, things I am not prepared to do myself.

* Leadership is enhanced if one has confidence and trust in people. While a responsible leader ensures that the major organisational functions are being met, that expectation is not enhanced by distrustful leadership. My practice as a Principal has been to put trust in people rather than micro-managing them in a scrutinising and suspicious manner. Trust is enhanced through professional contact and conversations. Over the years, my discourse with staff has been enriching because it has been collegial. Giving and taking and sharing ideas has been an important element of those conversations.

Where counsel has been necessary, I have always offered it to people, be they staff, students or members of our parent community. I have also made it clear that advice if offered, will be accepted and considered. Effective and meaningful leadership has to be ‘two way’. It can NEVER be ‘my way or the highway’.

Leadership is about ‘different strokes for different folks. in terms of preference. Being an open, consensus seeking leader is, in my opinion one of the harder models to practice. It can mean putting aside your personal preferences for the sake of the corporate good, along the way working to mould and shape a group toward agreed organisational practice. I would uphold my approach over the years, while offering personal challenge, as being organisationally fulfilling and rewarding. The engagement of stakeholders in a contributive way to help with shaping direction is an important ultimate operational method.


No matter what the profession, it is all to easy to become defocussed and to lose the plot. There is a real need to have balance in life, meaning the establishment of careful priorities.

Life and Work Balance

The imperative of work can lead to people believing that above, through and over all, occupational commitment needs to transcend all other elements of life’s world. This I contend is a sad and misplaced assumption. A wise person (anon) once said that “nobody on their deathbed ever regretted not spending more time at work”. That is so true, but a position often overlooked by those enthusiastically traversing the years of their employment pathways. People go to work, take work home, think and dream work. So often it seems, nothing else counts.

I am not for one moment advocating slackness and don’t support anyone skiving off in attention from their employment obligations. However, balance is critical if one is to lead a satisfying and satisfied life.

Mission Statement

In 1982 the Department of Education sponsored a forum for leadership development. It was conducted by Dr Colin Moyle through the Victorian Institute of Educational Administration, a forerunner of the Australian Council of Educational Leadership (ACEL). A cornerstone of the program was the urging of participants to focus on developing, in 25 words or less, a mission statement that would focus and guide them in the present and into the future.

We were asked to ponder this proposition and developing an encompassing statement that would help in setting priorities. For me, this was one of the best and most strategic professional development exercises ever completed. My mission statement, developed at that time, has been my directing inspiration ever since that time. I hold it in my memory, think about it constantly and share it with others as a message included on the reverse of by business card. It reads:
* To fulfil and be fulfilled in organisational mode – family, work, recreation.
* To acquit my responsibilities with integrity.
* To work with a smile in my heart.
This focussing statement for me has been a key element to my survival and development over the years.

‘Family First’ is so Important

One of the issues that has impacted on many in our schools has been the impact of ‘distance tyranny’ on lifestyle. A phenomena that has impacted on education has been the appointment of people in away that causes family separation. While ‘fly in fly out’ is a phenomena associated with the mining and resource industry, a similar practice has been the appointment of couples in a separatist manner. In the interests of career enhancement and occasionally because of job scarcity in a particular location, principals and senior staff have needed to ‘work away’ from families, coming home on weekends and at times even more periodically.

I am not casting aspersion on that separation, other than to confirm family togetherness as being a very important part of my life. On occasion the opportunity for me to make upward career moves by taking an appointment away from family has been available -but never accepted. I am glad about not taking this pathway because it would have challenged our family. It would have been unfair fore me to leave our adolescent children to my partner in almost a ‘single parent’ context in order to pursue career.

An affirming strategy for me and one that has been altogether the best alternative in the long run, is to have been a part of our family in a very ‘nuclear’ and contributive sense.


One of my strongest survival and enhancement strategies grew from study, awareness and appreciation of the tone, harmony and atmosphere within my schools – the way those schools felt. Once, I had a rather clever member of my staff take an aerial photograph of ‘our place’ and photoshop a weather map over our school campus. This I kept close for it was necessary for me to appreciate the ‘highs’ within our school. I also needed to take account of the ‘lows’, being aware of the fact we needed to make sure they were swiftly moving and not permanently affective of the people within our borders.

This awareness was a phenomena which in intangible form I kept ‘soul-close’ in all my schools.

Tone and harmony are atmospheric elements. This precious intangible cannot be bought but when it imbues an organisation the benefits are enormous. Atmosphere is not constant and esprit de corp can diminish. Atmospheric awareness was always important to me asa leader, an intangible I worked on building and retaining at all times.

Education needs to be about more than survival. To ‘survive’ is essential and to ‘thrive’ an ultimate in terms of satisfaction, that ought to derive from our engagement within the teaching profession. Education in both teaching and leadership terms has been a profession I have enjoyed … and loved.


A privilege of living and working in the Northern Territory has been a connection with our educational system from its inception.

‘The Gray Family’ came to the NT in July 1975. By 1978 I was Principal of Numbulwar School in South-East Arnhemland. In January of that year, Territory Education became the responsibility of the Northern Territory Government – the first operational agency taken over from the Commonwealth by our Government. Our first Educational Director (these days he would be referred to as our Chief Executive Officer) was Dr Jim Eedle.

In March 1978, Dr Eedle met with school education leaders in Katherine, a regional town 300 kilometres south of Darwin. I never forget his welcome of us all to the ‘new’ NT educational system, or his words of wisdom, advice and caution.

Dr Eedle metaphorically described our system’s emancipation as being like unto a rising sun. He offered two pieces of advice I have always regarded as being statements of infinite wisdom. He told us as leaders we should always remember that “schools are for children”. His further advice was that educational “structure should always serve function”.

Dr Eedle set systemic priorities for us, from which I believe we have sadly departed. With the passing of years, we have become a system which has structured to the point of where educational operations are massively ‘sky-scrasperish’ and which has as a prime focus, career opportunities and advancement for people in self betterment terms. Structural magnification in my opinion, has defocused us from the prime purpose of education – to develop and enrich children and students moving up the grades and through the years.

Systemic change and priority alteration has moved NT Education from an institution focussing on holistic development more toward an organisation which upholds teaching and strategies as important only in leading to data confirmed outcomes. It seems that the needs of children and students no longer underpin education in endpoint terms. The ‘ends’ are data and statistical derivatives, the students a means to that end – or so it would appear!

I worry that part of this change in system and therefore school focus is to narrow education down to a point of where students are ‘performers’ on the stage of test based outcomes rather that persons being developed toward becoming confident, competent people with the know how they need to cope with and contribute to tomorrow’s world.

Contract Employment

One of the most significant changes – and on reflection, one of the most detrimental – that occurred for principals in the Northern Territory, was their movement to contract employment. In the NT, this meant Principals severing their connection as permanent members of the Northern Territory Public Service. In exchange for the benefits of contractual employment, they became temporary Education Department employees on four year contracts, renewable if performance was satisfactory. In time, four year contracts were reduced to two years or ‘two-pluis-two’ before recent reinstatement to four year periods.

A downside of this change, together with accountability and compliance being more and more heavily stressed for principals with each passing year, has been the striping of Principal confidence and an increase in their hesitation to lead in any way that might be out of the box.

The belief principals have, that unless they perform their contracts may not been renewed, hangs over many in a Sword of Damocles manner. Principals have in my opinion become a bilingual group. On the one hand they talk quietly and covertly to each other in a way that reflects genuine sharing of feeling. On the other, when they are in superordinate company, they indicate a ‘sharing’ of system held ambition they don’t really feel. In the interests of employment security, they cannot afford to fall foul of the system.

Interstate Infusion

Any system needs revitalisation that comes from the infusion of new blood: No system should become inbred. However, that new blood can come from within as well as without. ‘Within’ is about growing our leaders through developing them through the years and up the ranks. In this way teacghes can grow to become Principals via a Senior Teacher and Assistant Principal track. It is critically important that a significant percentage of our leaders are home grown, along with our system drawing in some from outside the NT.

With the passing of time it has become patently apparent that those within are often overlooked for promotion, with outsiders being preferred. Indeed, there are those in high positions within the NT who appear to believe those within our system are of lesser calibre than external (to the Northern Territory) recruits.

It worries me that the trend toward external engagement of people to senior positions seems a continuing trend – ands this to the denial of our home grown personnel. This trend does little to promote goodwill within and confidence toward our system by many who have given good, faithful and envisioned service. I believe vesting – or re-investing – confident in homegrown and long-term Territory educators, entrusting ands respecting them in leadership roles is important, necessary … and overdue.

Data Focus

With the passing of time, demands made of educational systems by Governments have impacted on schools. Compliance and accountability requirements, the linking of data to performance outcomes and the trying of funding to results, has both narrowed and magnified educAtional perspectives. As a new system and taking into account Eedles’s advice, I thought of our schools as having a panoramic perspective and wide ranging holistically focussed outlook. With the passing of time that focus narrowed to a point of where academic focus seemed to be the ‘b all and end all’ of education: Social, emotional and moral/spiritual perspectives have been tagged as less important than they were historically.

There needs to be strong adherence to holistic development because there is more to preparing people for tomorrow’s world that literacy and numeracy competence. There is a feeling of fallaciousness about measuring our children, Australia’s educational ‘product’, against the way they compare in literate and numerate terms with the rest of the world. Sadly it seems, systemic change has discarded this principle. Rather than schools being for children, they are institutions for data gathering and number crunching. Children and students are no longer the endpoint; they are merely a means to an end.

Our client group must be re-elevated. Schools are for children. While structure is important, the status of providers one of essential consideration and data an important measurement criterion, we must not lose sight of who we are doing it for – the children and students of today who are tomorrow’s adults and our future leaders.

Concluding thoughts

There is so much that is important about the work undertaken by educators. Developing our children and students toward their future roles in life’s world is possibly the most significant of all professions. Beyond the nuclear (and extended) family unit, we are charged with the most important of all occupations, that of human development. We do it better if we work closely in a collegiate sense and in partnership with parents and children themselves.

For me, education has been challenging and rewarding. I gave up entitlement as an only son to inherit our family farm and opted for life as a teacher. How glad I am that with my family I followed my dream.

Henry Gray

Violence in Schools – A BIG ‘No’, ‘No’

Violence in Schools: A Perspective

The issue of violent threats in their various forms is one I believe needing careful address. It’s the matter of “issue” rather than “individual incident” that needs careful consideration. The matter is not new but has been ongoing over time.

From time to time the system and various support professional organisations have looked at the matter and considered process that might be taken into account when reacting to matters of threat. That to me is part of the problem; our system has been “reactive” rather than taking a proactive role in engaging the matter. This leaves teachers, support staff and school leadership teams hanging tentatively on what might unfold on this issue in future terms.

Reasons for Inaction

Threat in its various forms is not new. However, responding to the matter seems to be one that causes embarrassment. Often Principals and staff members feel that to air issues occurring within the school organisations is tantamount to a profession of weakness. There seems to be a preference to manage within, making sure that word about problems does not get out. Over time there have been assaults levied against Principals and staff members where it seems that departmental management is to mute the issue almost in some sort of “we are guilty because it happened” fashion. The truth is that school leaders and staff members are not guilty because violence should be off the agenda.

That may be added to or contextualised by the fact that staff (from support staff through to Principal) might feel shame if the matter is aired. It could be conceived that to be on the receiving end of violence types the victim as a weakling. Along the same lines, it could be that staff of the school where an incident has occurred, believe reporting could frighten off potential enrollees and/or encourage the departure of enrolled families: “X school is unsafe so we won’t enroll” or “Y school’s staff are vulnerable so better we leave”.

Prognostications have to be for the birds if staff security is threatened. I think that issues of this nature have to be put right out into the public domain and addressed with responsible but justified professional aggression. “How dare they” ought to apply. The response being developed needs to have full system support and it ought not to be that recommendations on process point and direct the whole matter back to schools at the individual level to manage.

Members of student and parent communities do not have the right to inflict themselves upon teachers and other staff members in a violent, threatening or intimidating manner. Staff and principals deserve full government and departmental support against this sort of behaviour all the way to action through court processes. An “under the carpet” response is not acceptable.

Maybe during my time as a school educator I was lucky in not having these sorts of things thrust against me personally. I can promise that assaults directed toward my staff or myself would have been most vigorously pursued through courts.

No, I would not have felt weak all guilty about taking these actions because staff members and school principals deserve to be respected and protected.

Understanding matters confronting children

At the same time, it is important that teachers, support staff and others involved with children, explore issues carefully so that matters that could lead to student reaction are not misinterpreted. Careful and empathetic investigation is necessary.

I hope that the issue going forward is addressed in an appropriate responsive and responsible manner. To date, this has not necessarily been the case. Plans to tackle the issue have been developed ad infinitum. All those plans up until now seem to have a common thread, that being the return of the issue to schools to manage through ‘interpretation’ of these successive policies.

In matters of school violence, talking and policy planning time is over. When Chief Minister, Terry Mills stated that all matters of staff school assault should be referred to the police for action and legal pursuit. I couldn’t agree more and hope that the Giles Government makes this a number one educational priority.

Henry Gray
May 6 2013

PO Box 42201

Phone 0407 637 782