Friday, 13 October 2017

Susan Monks' Story

The path to principal
Prior to being appointed as a principal, Susan’s background was a bit unusual. Throughout her career she had spent long periods in schools, in both teaching and leadership positions but in between had stepped out to take support roles in the Education Department. She used this experience to her advantage in her appointment as the first, and therefore establishing, principal of a southern suburbs R-10 School. She knew how schools worked, but she also knew how school support worked, and how to negotiate staff and facilities, which was critical.

At the beginning she had two big challenges. The first was establishing a relationship with the School Council. Although the school had not opened when she was appointed, the School Council had been in existence for two years and had made decisions such as what the school uniform would be. To some extent the Council saw itself as the only decision making body. As staff were appointed, and enrolments began this would have to change.

Her second challenge related to the nature of a new R-10 school. The school was in an area of new housing and high population growth. It would begin with primary enrolments and expand to Year 10 as these students moved through the school. It was important to conceptualise and plan the school as R-10 but the initial staff would be primary. Susan’s secondary school background challenged many of the assumptions of some initial staff.

In an appointment like this Susan had no precedents. There had not been a principal to follow and very few examples of similar schools to learn from. It was very hard work. She drew on her experience from both previous schools and from her knowledge of the Department to get things done but she also had to balance the demands and assumptions of primary, and particularly junior primary, teachers with the need to shape the school for secondary students. There was not, at the time, a large number of female principals of secondary schools and few primary school principals with a secondary school background. She had a lot to prove, and no ready-made support structures.

The community of the new school was different from communities where she had previously served. These had been either poor or established middle class. In this new housing area there were parents who were highly ambitious for their children and looking to education to improve their future. They were determined their children would do well.

Growing in the job
You largely had to find your own way. There were no principal training courses; no mentoring programs. You assumed if you had not got something right it was your fault.

Enrolment proved to be a continuing challenge. The school constantly outstripped its enrolment predictions. Enrolment would be predicted at 100 and 400 would enrol. There was always a large number of contract teachers. At the end of the year they would leave and permanent teachers be appointed based on predicted numbers for the following year. When school re-opened more teachers would be needed. 

What Susan describes as “the in and out nature” of her career (meaning her history of moving between school and support role positions) enabled her to describe vacancies and plan staffing so she could reappoint the best of the contract teachers and be as efficient as possible in getting the extra equipment desks, chairs, classrooms – that she was constantly needing. She understood the school’s needs only too well, but she also understood the constraints and pressures of the resource arms of the Department, and how to work within their constraints and pressures. She found herself defending either side to the other. Both had a point of view and both were right. She often had to duck, and many in the Department felt she haunted them but she needed to and knew how to do it effectively.

These days there are fewer opportunities for aspiring secondary principals to get experience in support roles outside of schools. It served Susan very well.

The most exciting thing was that she was there! She had wanted to be a principal but her chances as a female secondary teacher had not been great. She had also wanted to start a new school. And here she was. She never got over the excitement and appreciation of it. Every morning when she drove around the corner and saw the school and students for whom she had to ensure an education she was energised. She had trouble believing it and thrived on it.

Challenging times
There were a few challenging incidents. One day Channel 7 reporters and cameras appeared outside the school for what turned out to be an issue about school zoning. Susan rang the Area Office and followed procedure.

Incidents like this were insignificant in comparison to the daily challenges of getting appropriate teachers and resources to ensure every child in the ever-expanding school had a space, a desk, a chair, books, a library and a learning program that would take them to Year 10. She was constantly preoccupied with intake, builders and staffing. The impact of getting any of this wrong constantly dragged her away from teaching and learning matters.

Then there were the layered views about curriculum within the school. There were three distinct views from the R-2 teachers, the 3-7 teachers and the 8-10 teachers that had to be thrashed out and reconciled. She recalls a staff meeting that some junior primary teachers declared a waste of time while secondary teachers declared it the best staff meeting they had ever attended!

There were behaviour management issues, not just of students, but of some staff appointed with warnings of problems. Performance management was stressful because there was not, at the time, a clear set of procedures for dealing with it. The fluid nature of staff numbers and contract appointments added to the uncertainty and stress.

Financial management was a challenge. Because the school began with primary enrolment, the financial officer was not a qualified bursar and funding was constantly fluctuating. While there was an establishment grant, the unpredictability of enrolments and the fact that they constantly grew faster than forecasts meant constant financial challenges with little expert help. There were no financial training programs for schools at that time.

What Susan most needed was someone of whom she could confidentially ask stupid questions. She remembers early on in the job ringing a trusted principal colleague to ask how you got the school bins emptied.  She used to go home, pour herself a drink, cry or laugh, then get on the phone to her friends who were also new principals to talk over the day.

It was as much as anything an issue of confidence. Where do you get the confidence to know you’ve got it right?

Advice and Comments
With hindsight and added experience Susan would do it all differently today and would have much greater confidence. She decries the lack of training for principals at the time. She would take every training opportunity, drawing energy from the students and the privilege of delivering their education. 

Nick Hardie's Story

The path to principal
Nick was very fortunate in his first year as a principal because he went to a site with an adult re-entry program that was in its first year of operation. He was new and one of the deputy principals was new.  It was challenging but at the same time Nick had a real passion for adult re-entry and second chances and he thought that was obvious to the staff. 

The most important things right from the start were communication and decision-making. To Nick it seemed that processes within the school were not well structured. He began by ensuring that he was upfront and visible. He spoke about the importance of communication and what that means for the school, the students and staff and leadership. It was necessary to establish clear communication structures that everyone understood. During the first two days he ensured that staff were aware of his expectations but also had time to prepare for classes.

As the school had only just been established as an adult re-entry site there were no policies or procedures in place for this new environment.  Staff put forward ideas and views about communication, decision-making, curriculum and other priorities for the school. He took these on board and he put his views forward as well. Working parties were established to develop proposals. Regular staff and committee meetings were scheduled. Once these structures were in place other things became easier, but getting the structures and communication right was very important. He made sure that he attended SRC meetings.  He attended staff meetings but didn’t chair them. The agenda included a principal’s report so he could voice his views as a staff member, and the same with school council. He was seen as the principal but also as a contributing member of staff.  People could see that he cared about them and their needs. He pitched in to help with the daily chores when needed, loading the dishwasher and wiping down the sink if no-one else had done it.  He helped organise and attended staff events.

Other policies and procedures followed– enrolment, school fee structures, school card and so on. It all came together. The school was successful in providing a wide range of student outcomes and had a culture of cooperation and striving for excellence. He was very proud of the school and its staff. At the end of his five year tenure he was happy to stay on but other jobs he was interested in came up and he was lucky enough to win one.  In the coming years he was invited to staff reunions and celebrations.    

Growing in the job 
After his initial principal appointment, Nick went to another large metropolitan secondary school as principal with an adult re-entry component as well as a traditional 8-12 enrolment. Things there worked really well.  The two preceding principals had good reputations. He did things a little bit differently than he had in his previous appointment but as he had learnt, his role focussed on good communication. It was about being up front, visible and honest.

He was always comfortable at this school and the school suited him.  Some staff seemed a bit reserved at first so he learned people’s names quickly and made sure he made contact with all staff regularly. Whenever possible he was in the staffroom at lunchtime making sure he sat at a different table or went out and joined the staff on yard duty. 
His first appointment had taught him the importance of freedom and support in innovation and this helped build some pretty amazing educational opportunities for students at his next site. The school became a Vocational Education and Training provider and developed a variety of courses that provided specific pathways to different occupations that were all SACE accredited. These qualifications were recognised by widely differing industries, including Engineering and Media. He was proud of that and the good people who worked in it. 

Nick loved his first school because it was new and it was challenging and it taught him a lot about himself and how to deal with people and work with them, but he felt like this school was where he belonged. He liked being a leader there.

What excited Nick most about the role was that he was a leader in a large diverse community with amazing opportunities to make a difference to the lives of many students and some of the staff.

As a principal he had the opportunity to support and encourage others who wanted to develop their leadership skills. He was able to mentor people and enjoyed watching their journey as leaders.

He enjoyed working with others, staff or colleagues, and problem-solving issues.  He liked being trusted to meet challenges and support a school community through change.  He loved innovation, change and working with people.  He even enjoyed conflict-resolution….mostly.

As a leader and in his role with SASPA, he also had the opportunity to influence broader systemic matters with his colleagues.

Greatest achievements
Nick enjoyed developing and leading successful schools that worked efficiently in the interest of the students, with happy teachers, students and parents, ensuring that the schools were business-like but still welcoming.   

In one school he built a culture of success where students from very diverse backgrounds were empowered and given a second chance at leading a fulfilling life.  At another school he led the development of a culture of excellence, building on the foundations laid before his appointment.

In both schools he developed a strong vision with the school community with a focus on high standards.

Challenging times
The most challenging time for Nick was when a principal position had been advertised twice but had not been filled.  The Chief Executive, through the Director of Schools at the time, directed him to take the position but he told them he was not interested as he was still happy at his own school.  His tenure was up at the end of the following year and he had his application ready to reapply.  However, he quickly realised he was being told to go, not asked.

He arrived at the new school well before school started and introduced himself to support staff and other staff who were there.  Everything seemed okay.  Three deputy principals arrived but two gave him a very offhanded reception.  The other was new to the school and was very pleased and happy to be there. He called a meeting of senior leaders in the staff room to introduce himself and to start the year and they seemed receptive.

On the first full day back for all staff, he welcomed everyone and did all of the usual ‘Day One’ rituals.  Everything was fine until recess - when an Australian Education Union (AEU) meeting was called.  It was put to members that “The school staff did not accept the principal appointed by the Chief Executive and they would not accept his authority or decisions”, or words to that effect.  This motion was passed.  People did say that it was not about him; it was about the process and the principle.  However there were instances where nasty, personal comments were made.

The AEU position was that he should have applied for the principal position, but of course he had not been given a choice.  It was apparent that it was a big issue between the Department and the Union. In fact he was summoned to meet with the Chief Executive at 8.00am on several occasions that year. 

The Department had not expected the strength of the backlash concerning his appointment.  No-one did. He tried to keep people informed and build positive relationships and empower some people but it was very hard. 

During this time documentation was critical!  He knew that you must have something to fall back on.  For example at one meeting about half way through Term One he saw that  ‘Role of the Principal’ was first item on the agenda.  He took his diary and notes and listened very carefully.  It was stated that ‘the principal is never here; SASPA is taking up too much of his time; he doesn’t know the students and he hasn’t visited classes’.  A vote of ‘no confidence’ in him was put to the meeting.  He stated that he wanted to respond and he produced notes to refute all of these statements.  He had dates and times when he had visited classrooms. He had hardly been out of the school at all that term. He named the classes and times he visited them, which was over ten times up to that point in the term. The teachers and coordinators had to agree because they obviously saw him in the classrooms or learning areas when he visited, as he had conversations with them.  He was also teaching a class.  In fact, given everything that had been happening he was there until 9.00pm most nights and on weekends as well.  Because of the documentation and evidence he had, the vote was withdrawn. 

He continued doing what he considered the principal should be doing, in the best possible way.  He would regularly meet with the three deputy principals. He tried to maintain positive relationships with all staff. He went to all meetings and visited classrooms often.  He got through it all by working bloody hard and doing the best he could without backing away from issues and difficult situations. He was open, public and honest. He never gossiped outside of the school. 

Eventually the AEU took the matter to court and the outcome was that the appointment was invalid. i.e. the Department lost the case as it was deemed that the position should have been filled through advertisement in the first place.  This had long term repercussions and knock on effects through the system. 

This effectively meant Nick had no status.  He could no longer be principal at the school and someone had won the position at his previous school.  The stress of it all added to a serious medical condition he had which caused him great physical pain leading to surgery in Term Four of that year. He retired the following year.

During these difficult times, Nick valued the support that came from his wife (also a principal), the District Superintendent, DECD officers, staff, and colleagues. 

Advice and Comments
On reflection, Nick notes how important it is to get communication and decision-making right.  His advice is to build relationships with staff, students, Governing Council, families other agencies and members of the wider community who can support your school.  Know that you will not have all the answers.  You might have all the theory and learning is important, but the school has its own feeling and atmosphere.  It is a living entity.  If the people in it are not contributing to this atmosphere of support and collaboration, then you have not got an effective school.  Culture is very important.

Join the AEU.  Be an active member and attend all school AEU meetings.

Be approachable.  Have an open door.  People are more important than any work you are doing and if you need to stay back late to do paperwork do it, or come in on weekends.  Work hard. Get out there and have fun!!  Be honest.  Stay true to yourself.

Being a Principal is a great job!

Ken Cock's Story

The path to Principal

Being a Principal was something Ken had decided he really wanted to do. He had, in his term, “grown up through the game”, and understood that being a teacher prepared him for administrative roles in schools. He made an early decision that he wanted to be an educational administrator, feeling that he could do the job better than many administrators he encountered! He knew that was where he was heading and along the way he had learnt to differentiate good and bad educational practice. Knowing his goal, he did a Graduate Diploma in Educational Administration while he was a Senior/Coordinator. From that course he learned about power relationships and the difference between power and authority.

He had several early experiences in acting positions and learned from these that he had skills in working with colleagues. He thought he was a better administrator than he was a teacher. This was reinforced by positive feedback about his performance in acting roles.

His first principal appointment was a promotion within a difficult school. He felt that being promoted within the same school made his job easier because he could see how controversial situations had arisen and already had considerations to ponder how it could be different. The situation called for greater awareness of the rights of individual staff, especially young teachers. It was important to support their learning.

Ken didn’t begin with a powerful vision of teaching and learning but over time realised the need to articulate a vision with the underlying principle that education is for all. He quickly saw that a principal has to be able to support learning not only for students but for teachers, support staff and parents. It was his responsibility to ensure that every individual student, staff member and parent/guardian could participate.

He found there were people around him who did not believe that. For example, some parents  objected to mixed ability classes because they believed their child was brighter than others and should be grouped with only ‘bright’ children. He realised that as principal he had to set the rules but also provide the understanding, otherwise people would work against his direction and vision. The vision was important, but no use without the support to achieve it and the respect for other points of view. The vision with respect and support gave people confidence to change.

Growing in the job
Ken used as a touchstone the difference between power and authority. Key to his growth as a principal was the understanding that, in the role, he was always going to win any argument. He had the final say. Strategically he did not need to override, bully or dismiss concerns. He had seen from experience, as well as study, that people who are treated dismissively or backed into corners by an authority figure work against and undermine that authority. People need to feel supported. He tried to understand other points of view, to bring people around and help them understand. He spent his first few years learning that the principal’s job is about relationships, developing and maintaining them.

When he arrived at his second appointment, in Adelaide’s south, with 1700 students and suspension rates of 10-15 students a week, from the relatively small school in the Iron Triangle, he thought, “My God, I can’t do this job, it’s too big!”. In his experience, it is normal, in any principal’s job to have self-doubt and ask yourself: “Can I do this?”. You are known as the Principal of a particular school and it is daunting. You do, however, have skills and experiences to draw on and you gain confidence and grow into the job.

Managing major change was the thing he found most exciting as a principal. When, after 12 years as a principal in Australia, Ken took a job as principal of a private school of around 300 students in Indonesia, he walked in confident in what he needed to do to improve the school. He had a great time and achieved an enormous level of change, raising the quality of the teaching, he believes, from quite poor to really good. He knew how to go about creating change and how to get people working with him rather than against him.

The worst thing about being principal, in his view, was the feeling that you are working against the tide. He realised, after he left his southern school, that although he had made good and significant improvements for students, there were things he had not achieved, such as improvements in the Year 12 results. There is always more to do and you can always improve your performance.

In Indonesia he planned curriculum change over five years. It took five years to introduce the International Baccalaureate. He understood that he had to get the community teachers, assistants, parents and students committed to it, confident and competent to introduce it. There is no way the school could have done it when he first arrived. With preparation and planning it was highly successful and transformed the school.

Challenging times
When Ken went to his southern suburb school there were 159 staff, many of them highly committed to education and to achieving outcomes for disadvantaged students. Others, however, were less able to identify and address the needs of specific groups or individuals. Establishing and carrying the vision for a unified approach to improvement became a challenge. He needed to get the school community on the same page to work together for a single vision.

At the first staff meeting he explained his vision and then held a series of community meetings to clarify and renew a mission statement for the school. The school community finally unified around the motto ‘Education for All’. This really helped focus the school’s work. When the Chemistry teacher came in to argue for new stools with high backs for the lab, he did so on the basis that kids were being educationally disadvantaged by the old stools and won his argument. The suspension policy was changed so that a school leader who suspended a student, personally took the student home to explain the situation to the parent and negotiate a return program.

Education Department policy at the time decreed that practical classes for Home Economics, Craft, Science should not be greater than 20. This meant that Maths and English classes were around 34 students. After a year Ken decided this was not good enough. Students were not getting enough help in the core curriculum areas. He worked out the school could average class sizes to 24 across the board. He talked to the timetable team. They did a dummy run and it worked. He then explained to the staff that class sizes would be 24. There were arguments that ‘these kids’ needed the practical subjects because they ‘don’t like Maths and English’. The arguments were worked through and extra teaching assistants provided in the practical classes to improve the ratio of adults to students. Ken met with every faculty and then introduced it. The change was instant. Immediately the withdrawal rooms had fewer students removed from class.

This, he believes, was the most successful change he made, and the one with the greatest impact on teaching and learning.

At the same school a group of students went on strike. There was no warning. One recess time about 200 students didn’t go back to class but sat on the oval. It appeared to be an issue of student voice. After a bit they left the school and walked into the local town centre. Ken followed them on foot partly because he needed time to think. When the strikers got through the shopping centre and moved to the local park without incident, he returned to school and got the deputies together. They decided that as long as the strikers weren’t causing problems in the community they would let the strike run its course. They also believed that there were some staff members indirectly associated with the action. They sent some empathetic teachers to make sure the strikers were OK with a reminder of responsibilities and duty of care.

At lunchtime, Ken went to where the strikers were gathered. By then there were reporters and a media helicopter overhead. Reporters spoke to the students and to Ken. After that the students dissipated. Many of them went back to school. The Education Department CEO rang Ken. The Department came behind him and was very supportive. The next morning the admin team made it clear that any students who didn’t return to class would be suspended. About 30 didn’t return and were suspended. Eventually all returned. Ken and his team talked to the student organisers about the impact on the school, as well as their issues.

On another occasion a disaffected parent went to This Day Tonight with a (completely false) claim of “Aboriginal gangs” at the school. At 11am in the morning a parent rang to ask about it because of a promo she had heard for the program. Ken notified the Chair of the School Council, who rang every Council member, all of whom rang the television channel to correct the story. The Council members rang others and the Channel was inundated with parents supporting the school. In the end the story was reduced to one minute on air and the community support spoke volumes for the school. Ken recalls this as an amazing experience. Even so, he didn’t sleep well on Sunday nights for about six years!

Initially Ken did not find much support from principal colleagues. He had, he believes, to stand on his own two feet and get support from within. Ken needed someone outside the school that he trusted and could talk to, be open and honest with. He needed and got his District Superintendent’s support. In his experience, local principal networks were competitive and prone to jealousies and power plays. Deputy principals too, formed a supportive team. Much of his support came from home.

Advice and Comments
Ken is conscious that he is now looking back on his experience from a distance. Had he been asked while doing the job, he may have responded differently. From a distance, his advice would be:

      • make sure you have a vision;
  • make sure you use authority rather than power: respect everyone in the school; be strong about what you believe; be able to explain why and how; don’t back people into corners;
  • recognise and admit you are not always right - you won’t be, and you won’t always be successful; and
  • don’t hold a grudge; have an argument by all means but don’t prolong it and don’t hold a grudge. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Doug Moyle's Story

The path to principal
After Doug’s initial appointment as a teacher in a large country school, he was transferred to a small country school where every staff member had some form of leadership role, particularly those who had some teaching experience. Promotion to the position of senior master (now coordinator) was almost automatic after four years of teaching. As a curriculum leader he became involved in both state and national projects and spent several years as a statewide subject consultant. After returning to a school, he had a number of periods as an acting deputy principal. In those days seniors were assessed by an inspector for inclusion on a promotion list for higher level positions. Appointments were made strictly from the top of the list but ultimately this process was replaced by merit selection and Doug was successful in winning a principal appointment in a small country school. 

There was a progressive growth in experience, understanding and interest in the role of senior leadership through his various positions and roles over a period of 22 years prior to his first principalship. During this period Doug realised that he should grasp (or volunteer for) opportunities as they arose as these provided the experiences and skill development that enabled successful merit selection opportunities.

Growing in the job
Doug quickly found that as a senior he had to be involved in more than faculty management. The teachers in his faculty looked to him for leadership and guidance. This challenged him to develop the knowledge and skills to be an effective leader. As a result he participated in curriculum development and teaching excellence professional development at a state and national level. This, and his acting deputy experiences, helped him learn how to work with others, to successfully delegate, to guide other staff and ultimately understand that he was only successful if he could help others to achieve their potential. He realised that change and improvements would only work and be sustained if he could help other staff understand the value of and the strategies and skills required to successfully implement improvement strategies. It was important to listen to the nay- sayers, to consider their point of view, to modify one’s own viewpoint if appropriate and to support the person through the change process in order to minimise any resistance.

The most exciting, yet challenging, aspect of the role of principal was to lead and participate in the change process. Doug had learnt through experiences that change for the sake of change or “jumping on the bandwagon” was generally unsuccessful. There had to be clearly identified benefits, goals had to be achievable and the process clear. Identifying those challenges, planning, identifying strategies, clarifying outcomes and success measures, consolidating improvements and working with others in the process were the things that energised, excited and challenged him. When successful these gave him the greatest degree of satisfaction and achievement.

Greatest Achievement
In a group of small country schools that each had less than two hundred secondary students there was a very limited senior school curriculum to offer students. The schools wanted to be able to offer a broader curriculum and make better use of their staff. Rather than multiple schools teaching the same subject to very small classes they planned to use a local delivery method where one school would present the lessons face to face while others linked in using distance technology. Doug became the chairperson of the planning committee and worked with principals from other schools to make and implement decisions. 

Challenges involved overcoming technological difficulties. In those very early days this was a real challenge. Perhaps the biggest challenge was to try to get the schools to agree to a common timetable and common bell times. Once it was in place the model was very effective and the evidence showed that students were just as successful as those who had face-to-face teaching. The success of this program started him on the track to schools cooperating so they could achieve more than each school working individually. This was a steep learning curve but was ultimately successful and cited as a model for other small schools to follow. He carried that experience through to other appointments in metropolitan schools, particularly in relation to Vocational Education and Training, as it gradually became a significant area of interest in schools.

A second achievement related to his belief that as part of performance management planning, providing staff with feedback on their performance was important. He felt that students were in an ideal position to provide feedback regarding their teacher’s performance, so he introduced a process where they were able to provide feedback in a short questionnaire. Once a year every staff member had feedback from each of their students. Feedback was collated and provided to teachers and line managers and led to some good conversations about their strengths and areas for improvement.

Challenging Times
During one acting deputy principal period circumstances led Doug to becoming the acting principal. On the first day in this role he was told that one of their teachers who had organised an exchange with a teacher from another country had got cold feet and didn’t want to go. The teacher met the exchange teacher at the airport and asked her to take his ticket to return to her country, but she declined. The following day the local teacher committed suicide. 

As acting principal this was the first thing Doug had to deal with on that Monday morning. The local teacher was a very popular teacher not just in his subject area, but across the school and with staff as well. As principal he faced the difficulty of having to inform staff of what had happened, and deal with phone calls from people who the teacher was meant to meet up with at various airports on the way to his destination overseas. He also had to deal with the students and tell them that the teacher had died; but he didn’t tell them he had taken his own life. Students and staff eventually found out it was suicide. He had asked staff not to disclose this but word got out. 

He held a staff meeting and staff indicated they wanted to go to the funeral. It was in school time and because of the number of staff who said they wanted to go, and the number of students, it was going to be difficult to keep the school open. He rang the District Office and spoke to the superintendent and was told, “No, you can’t close the school. You have to keep it open.” He went back to staff and told them that only a few of them could go to the funeral. Their response was basically “Too bad, we’re going.” So he had to contact the Department and say again to the District Office that he was going to close the school and he needed to inform parents. They didn’t like it, but he told them he was sorry, but he was doing it. 

Despite the regulations it was an exercise in common sense. He suspects now the system is much more attuned to dealing with such circumstances. That was a very difficult and stressful situation.

A further example of a significant difficulty occurred during his first appointment as a principal in a small country school. The part-time student counsellor came to him and said that she thought one of the students was being abused. They had only just had a training and development day about reporting abuse, so he said they needed to report it. Word got out in the town about the report. They believed that it was Family and Youth Services who let it out and he was annoyed about it. FAYS spoke to him and said they didn’t think it should be a mandatory notification because the child was over sixteen, so it should be reported to the police. The girl was adopted from a developing country and had an intellectual disability. She had the mental age of a twelve year old. The girl did not have the capacity to report it, but FAYS said there was nothing they could do about it. The mother of the student came to see him and was quite abusive towards the school and the counsellor. 

Subsequently he had visits or phone conversations with the local doctor, the local MP, the local dentist and eventually a letter from a doctor from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. All of them were absolutely adamant that this was “a fine upstanding family and the suggestion that the mother had abused the child was ridiculous.” Each of them was highly critical of the school, the counsellor and himself for making a mandatory report. In each case he pointed out that he could neither confirm nor deny that they had made the report as such issues were confidential but that as mandated notifiers they had a legal obligation to report any suspected abuse and there were significant penalties if they did not do so. He pointed out to each that, in their position, they should be well aware of the requirements for mandatory notification as they too were mandated notifiers. He also wrote to the head doctor at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital enclosing a copy of the letter from the doctor who wrote to him. He asked if it was normal practice or appropriate for a doctor to do such a thing. The response he received indicated that the doctor had been “counselled” and that it would not happen again. He pointed out that this caused the counsellor in particular to be ostracised in the community, which was very difficult for her, and she moved on fairly quickly after that. They didn’t think much of him at the time either! 

About twelve months later the mother came to see him and admitted to it. She said she was really sorry but “she got so frustrated with the child sometimes because the child just doesn’t understand and just seems so stupid.” He advised her to tell others the truth, including the doctor, dentist and the local MP. He didn’t know if she did but it was very tough for a long period of time.

In some cases there was no support at all other than from family, as with the teacher who committed suicide there was no-one to help then. In other situations like the group of schools working together, the district superintendent was very supportive. He found that to be the case with most superintendents, but in particular he had two in his career who he had enormous respect for when they went to bat for him whenever necessary. A good regional director is great value someone who is prepared to look at your point of view, not just the Departments, and support you against them if necessary. In some situations colleagues were very supportive eg other principals and also staff members.

Advice and Comments
Listen to others; be prepared to take into account what they have to say, but still be true to and stand by your own beliefs.

When applying for positions ensure you have actual “runs on the board” so you can clearly identify your skills, knowledge and experiences. But if you can’t accept not winning, don’t bother applying because there is always only one winner and it may not be you! 

Appendix: Acronyms, Terminology, Programs and Historical Note

  Acronyms Wherever possible, acronyms have been spelled out in stories. Mostly the extended title is enough to explain its...