With low numbers of applicants for school leadership positions, Malcolm Elliott, President of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA), sheds light on why many educators may be holding back from taking this next step.
As you read this brief article, I hope you find something to assist you in your work – especially if you are in a leadership role, formal or informal, in an education setting.
Our Australian context has, for at least a few years, been marked by what many would say were low numbers of applicants for principal positions. There is considerable interest in how to improve this situation with talk about the ‘leadership pipeline’.
In my position I meet many, many education leaders. I am very interested in their pathway to leadership.
Many tell me that they were approached by a principal and asked if they were interested in taking on a coordination role for a project, activity, grade or subject – usually for a defined period. With some measure of success achieved at this task or responsibility the role was firmed up. Fast forward some years and they have arrived as a principal or other senior leader.
For some principals there was a degree of serendipity involved in their rise through the ranks: they were in the right place at the right time, got an opportunity to act in a role and then won the position(s) once they were advertised. For some there was no thought of taking on leadership until they were approached to do so. For others there was a steady and deliberate approach to learning about the next step, followed by applications and interviews, and success or otherwise.
The question remains about how we increase the numbers of people applying for leadership positions. I am firmly of the view that leadership ‘skills’ can be learned. Theoretical frameworks can be learned through study and applied practically in whatever the setting, but there is a complexity to all this. Leadership of schools is demanding. Just take a look at the Principal Standards published by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). Energy, patience, courage, the capacity to bounce back, knowledge, an interest in people of all ages and a high level of motivation based on a strong sense of purpose. But learning in isolation is very difficult.
Australia is culturally and geographically diverse. Many of our school leaders are operating with remote professional support. I wonder about the preparation people have to enable them to take on leadership under these conditions. Is it a question of incorporating learning about leadership in Initial Teacher Education courses?
I think there is scope for discussion about Industrial Relations issues for school leaders. Pay and work conditions have to be appropriate to the tasks at hand. Increasing remuneration has been a moot point in education circles. Teachers are not motivated by money. But we must look at the overall circumstance of the work and how to create conditions where leaders say “I feel well-supported and I am paid well”.
I have tried to briefly and lightly touch on what is a complex context regarding teaching, and particularly leadership, in Australian schools. Yes – leadership capability is something that can be learned so how do we make this a feature of our education systems? And no – teachers and school leaders are not motivated by money, but they must be strongly supported and well remunerated – whatever the circumstances of the school they lead.