This was shared with readers of ACEL’s e-Leading in 2015. I wrote from my heart and with appreciation for those who helped me in developing along my career pathway.
Collegiality and Care
Essences of Passing the Leadership Baton
When reflecting upon one’s professional life, the remembrance of significant people who helped make a difference, reflects upon the consciousness. One remembers people who cared enough to care. Looking back on my years in education, I recall five people who helped me along the way and at various stages of my career. Their collegiality, empathy, advice and care made them great mentors, coaches and example setters. They motivated me to become an educator who endeavoured to support others in the same way.
John Lockley, Head Teacher Wannamal School: 1971
In my second year of teaching, I was lucky enough to earn an appointment to Gillingarra, a one teacher school in the central west coastal area of WA. I was head teacher on probation. At that time, in the early 1970’s, school inspections were an annual event and were a quite rigorous exercise. This was particularly the case for probationers.
John Lockley was an experienced head teacher at Wannamal, a slightly larger school 50 kilometres down the road. His school was due for inspection around the same time as mine. He knew I was the new kid on the block and correctly anticipated my nervous apprehension about the pending exercise.
John phoned and offered to come up to Gillingarra to familiarise me with what was involved. He spent an afternoon stepping me through the processes the Inspector would follow. He explained what documentation I needed to complete and why particular records were necessary. This was an exercise in familiarisation and demystification, an experience that built my self confidence.
Thereafter, John kept in touch, periodically guiding me in a supportive and collegiate manner. His interest, pastoral care and concern were instrumental in helping give me a good start to my educational career. That help was an important stepping stone towards my future.
Jim Eedle (Dr Jim) our First NT Education Secretary: 1979
The Northern Territory Government took responsibility for Territory Education in January 1979. Until that time education had been administered by various State Departments including NSW and SA. Until 1979, staffing had been the responsibility of the Commonwealth Teaching Service in Canberra.
Becoming an entity in our own right provided us with a serious opportunity to consider how education in the Northern Territory might be shaped.
In March 1979, Dr Eedle met with school education leaders in Katherine, a regional town 300 kilometres south of Darwin. He welcomed us all to the ‘new’ NT educational system and offered words of meaning, 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 that as leaders, we should always remember that “schools are for children”.
His further advice was that educational structure should always serve function”.
Dr Eedle suggested system priorities for us. He placed an emphasis on education which I always endeavoured to follow. With the passing of years, education everywhere has become structured to the point of where educational operations seem massively over-built.
Structural magnification can defocus us from the prime purpose of education – to develop and enrich children and students moving up the grades and through the years.
I always tried to underpin my practice, with Eedle’s advice about priorities firmly in mind. What he had to say, focussed on the prime purpose of education as a process to develop the young, preparing them to take control of the future. This became part of my ingrained educational practice.
Geoff Spring Education Secretary NT: 1983
In the mid 1980’s I was appointed Principal of Nhulunbuy Primary School at Nhulunbuy, a mining town of 4,000 people in East Arnhem (NT). Nhulunbuy was a school of 800 students and over 50 staff. The consensus was that our school would benefit from an appraisal that examined operational process and helped with the establishment of educational priorities.
At the time, school appraisals were flavour of the month. I was keen to make sure the model fitted to identifying teaching, learning and student development needs. My newness to urban education in the NT made this an untried area.
I wrote to Mr Spring, explaining what we intended doing and asked for his advice in shaping our appraisal process. He telexed me back (in the days before facsimile machines and email opportunities) with a very detailed, three page reply. I learned from him that valid school appraisals considered the organisation from the inside out, rather than the outside in. There was a tendency to prioritise the physical environment (how the school looked) along with staff and student wellbeing (how the school felt), ahead of what happened in classrooms.
The primary aspect of appraisal he advised, was to consider the teaching – learning nexus, the classroom interface or how the school taught. Evaluation from the outside in, missed the point of focussing on what schools were really all about.
We followed the Spring Methodology. I discovered that if the heart of the school, its teaching and learning focus were healthy, relationships and physical aspects of appearance tended to look after themselves. Mr Spring’s timely advice was not lost. The method was one I followed in other schools during following years.
Dr Colin Moyle ACEA (Now ACEL): 1984
From Dr Moyle, I learned that periodic professional refreshment should be part of educational development. It can be easy to relax in the leadership role, believing there is nothing more to learn. Leaders who think this way become ‘cruisers’, leading organisations that meander along, often making minimal progress.
Revisiting the essence of a career can bring with it essential rethinking and revitalisation. This process can help people in leadership positions refocus and reinvigorate their operational precepts.
In 1983 I was afforded such an opportunity when Dr Colin Moyle, a key figure in the Australian Council of Educational Administrators visited Darwin. He conducted a week long leadership symposium with fifteen school principals. He asked each of us to contemplate the development of a mission statement of no more that 25 words. Its purpose would be to focus us on key priorities we identified.
The idea of a mission statement that conceptualised sense and purpose had never crossed my mind. After careful consideration my statement emerged. It became both a reminder and a guide.
To fulfil and be fulfilled in organisational mode, family, work and recreation;
To acquit my responsibilities with integrity;
To work with a smile in my heart.
Over the years since, I have frequently reflected on my mission statement. I have also asked others to consider the wisdom of developing a similar focussing position. My mission statement has well and truly served its purpose.
Charlie Carter Regional Superintendent of Education, Darwin: 1992
Wake-up calls are sometimes necessary and I had one come my way early in 1992. I had just been appointed principal of Leanyer School and began to fill the role enthusiastically. Too enthusiastically. I was making decisions without consultation and acting in a way that was imposing on Leanyer, the philosophy and policies belonging to Karama School, from which I had transferred.
Some staff members and parents met with Mr Carter to express their concerns about my leadership style and approach. He listened to them and hand wrote me a note. It read in part:
I am taking this opportunity to alert you to the fact that I have recently received a number of deputations from many sections of he Leanyer School Community. In all instances they were critical of your leadership. …
I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the situation and ways in which I can offer support to you. Please ring me to make an appointment. …
I have handwritten this letter to preserve … confidentiality. …”
I met with Charlie Carter. What followed was the support and understanding I needed to confront and meet this challenge. The help offered made me stronger, more empathetic and wiser in my dealings with others. I went on to spend 20 years at Leanyer as the school’s principal. Without the support, coaching and help of Mr Carter, my tenure may have been closer to twelve months.
Needless to say, I learned the wisdom of an approach to dealing with key issues, that confronts and overcomes challenges in an effective and non-confrontationist manner. It was a conversational and understanding strategy that stood me in good stead when dealing with others. Mr Carter’s modelling and practise of that approach was helpful to me at the time. He taught me the value of that self same approach in the years that followed.
Each of us in professional life can draw inspiration and understanding from the words and practices of others. In one sense it is ‘rote learning’. It is the instilling of priorities and the impression of leadership examples that pass from one generation of professionals to the next. These stepping stones of understanding and style help in ensuring some sense of organisational stability. Without this transfer, educational leaders could become lost.