Saturday, 10 November 2018

Pip Burfield's Story


First principalship
Pip's first school as principal was a small mid-North high school, where he had taught as a young teacher 16 years previously.  The school had recently been rebuilt to an open plan design and his seven years open plan experience in the city was an advantage. The principal he succeeded had developed a sophisticated system of students choosing subjects up to six times a year, enabling students a wide choice for a small school.  It was a complex process and a lot of work for the staff, particularly for the deputy. Although he had been a contender for the principal position he was a loyal and effective deputy.

Pip's first tasks were to get to know staff, to get his head around the complexity of the school and to understand how the system of frequent student selection of elective and core subjects worked.  At the same time he needed to get to know the community quickly. In many small towns this is often achieved through sport.  In Pip's case, it was through participation in a local church and many community activities, including stage drama  and musicals. He continued teaching as much as possible to get to know the students and to understand the school culture.

The previous highly respected principal had died unexpectedly the term before. There was still a lot of grief being experienced by members of the school community, so it was important for him to understand where they were coming from and how much they supported the unique and impressive direction of the school. It was important to be a good listener; to listen to students, staff, parents, school council and the local community.

Growing in the job
His next school was a city one in transition from a rapidly shrinking high school for adolescents to a rapidly growing school for adults.  He was familiar with schools and communities in the area, but the changes occurring in this school were quite dramatic.  The previous principal, with strong staff agreement, had set up supportive structures for re-entry students.  Further structures were required to manage the transition with due care to the sensitivities of the community.  Listening became even more important than it had been in previous schools.He had to understand the interests and aspirations of the different groups in order to make decisions.  

At the same time a major community change saw all schools in the area become  campuses within a new overarching College.

These circumstances demanded sensitive leadership as well as a very thick principal hide!

Satisfaction and achievements
The most satisfying part of being a principal, and indeed a teacher, is seeing young  people, through their education, growing up and becoming young adults; seeing them flourish and to see the school working for them. Seeing them go ahead in life was a real thrill, as it still is when he meets former students. He stayed seven years in his first principal position seeing three cohorts through five years of schooling.

Pip is part of a teaching dynasty. His father was a secondary principal and he was one of his  father's students. Pip feels his father was probably a little bit tougher on him than on other students so he couldn’t be accused of favouritism, but it was never a problem for either father or son. Pip taught his own two children and they are now teachers, teaching their own children.

His greatest achievement in his second principal appointment was leading the change from a traditional high school, with diminishing enrolments, to a re-entry school. He had lots of support from departmental officers and also politicians, including the local member who was a Federal Minister. The latter took a keen interest in the school and helped to secure the annual federal funding required to operate the creche. 

Challenging times
Every day in his final principalship he was presented with something new and challenging to deal with.  He got hooked on adrenalin. 

Creating a re-entry school from a traditional high school was challenging for all concerned as it involved staff and students grieving the loss of familiar structures and processes.   

Support
In all the schools there were always members of staff, particularly  senior staff and deputy principals, with whom he could share problems. At times school cleaners and caretakers were great sounding boards. Of course school councils were an essential support for frank feedback.

Some Department staff were very helpful (particularly Area staff)  fellow principals were always very supportive as were particular students and support at home was wonderful.

Advice and Comment
Principals are in a position of potentially great influence, directly impacting on hundreds of people.  Listen to people from all relevant areas before you make big decisions and make sure you take the people with you.

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