Supporting school leaders - Education Matters Magazine
Australian Secondary Principals Association, The Last Word

Supporting school leaders

President of the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (ASPA), Andrew Pierpoint, discusses how the organisation is assisting school leaders to navigate through current and future challenges.

Australian public secondary schools serve a pivotal role in the various communities across the nation. They enrich the lives of children and young people by helping them to reach their potential, play an active role in civic life, act and interact as effective global citizens, and contribute to the economy through work.

Understanding that we are leading our school communities at a time of rapid change and in a world of increasing complexity, ASPA commissioned Professor Alan Reid to write a monograph to help secondary school leaders navigate their way through these contemporary challenges. Our interest was in having him provide a resource that will help to spark educational debate and discussion about contemporary policy and practice, propose some ways forward, and provide a reference point for ASPA’s future decision making.

Professor Reid commences the ASPA monograph – Beyond Certainty: A Process for Thinking About Futures for Australian Education – by outlining its need. He argues that we find ourselves at an educational crossroad, characterised by two competing discourses. We can either support the standardisation agenda (with policy choices such as school choice, competition between schools in an education market, high-stakes standardised testing and narrowing the curriculum) or we can take a futures-focused approach (where the policy choices value flexibility, adaptability, collaboration, agility and school autonomy). The futures-focussed approach is characterised by student-centred teaching, integrated and project-based learning, inquiry, formative assessment and teacher autonomy.

Professor Reid’s analysis identifies that we need clarity and agreement about the purposes of schooling – he provides four in total – and an understanding of the obstacles or blockages schools face in wanting to honour these.

Importantly, Professor Reid goes beyond identifying what is wrong to show what could be. Firstly, he makes the case for us to adopt a contemporary futures-focused curriculum: one that balances disciplinary learning and interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary/transdisciplinary learning, and one that actively promotes the development of the general capabilities and of meta-learning.

The ASPA monograph by Professor Alan Reid is available on the ASPA website.
The ASPA Board believes there is considerable potential for all educational leaders – primary and secondary, and Catholic, independent and public sectors – to agree on the key messages of the Professor Reid monograph. To this end, planning is underway to bring together 100 leaders prior to the 2019 Federal Election in an attempt to get political agreement for the profession to be a partner in the setting of policy and key directions.

Leadership is of course central to all the above. Of greatest concern is the lack of a high-quality national leadership development program that underpins the future of secondary education in Australia. Such a high-quality program would have the following fundamental elements:

• An emerging leaders’ program that identifies potential leaders and hones those skills for future leadership positions.
• A high quality, leadership orientated induction program that sets out the way forward for the newly appointed leader in the respective jurisdiction. This part of the program must address school leader wellbeing (and continued school leader wellbeing) as enabling of successful leadership.
• A mid leadership career check that promotes successful leaders to mentor emerging leaders and refines leadership skills after a period of school leadership (say 10 to 15 years).
• A high-quality leader retirement program to capture the cultural and systemic leadership knowledge of the leader as he/she prepares to leave the profession.

The role of the various Principals’ Associations has never been more needed by the profession and they have a large role to play in all of the above, in collaboration with jurisdictional authorities.

The time for meaningful change for the future of Australia is now.

The issue of school leader wellbeing continues to be a pillar of ASPA and its jurisdictional affiliates. Headspace provides outstanding support to school leaders through a five-step training package:

1. School leaders and self-care: proactive ways to enhance your mental health and wellbeing
This session provides preventative, practical and proactive strategies for school leaders to:
• Help identify indicators of stress;
• Identify potential risks and implement practical strategies to mitigate these risks;
• Address potential health and wellbeing challenges; and
• Access online resources, apps and services to monitor and enhance a school leader’s wellbeing.

2. Effective wellbeing and recovery strategies for school leaders following a critical incident
This session provides ‘the essentials’ to promote effective recovery for Principals and Deputy Principals post-critical incident. It includes:
• Information about ‘normal’ responses to critical incidents that school leaders may experience;
• Problematic responses over time;
• Practical strategies addressing personal potential health and wellbeing challenges following a critical incident; and
• An opportunity to apply a self-reflective process to promote recovery.

3. A school leader’s guide to administering Psychological First Aid to their school community
Principals and Deputy Principals are required to lead their school community through potentially traumatic/critical incidents and, in order to promote timely recovery, effectively administer psychological first aid to those who may need it. This session outlines:
• A process for Principals and Deputy Principals to follow in administering psychological first aid;
• Simple and effective strategies to ensure the safety of school community members; and
• How to provide immediate support to staff and members of your school community.

4. Managing staff who are experiencing a mental health issue: Clarifying your role as a school leader
This session provides:
• Noticing the signs of a staff member requiring support for mental health issues;
• Proactive approaches in responding to staff with mental health issues;
• How to have a conversation with a staff member you are concerned about;
• Explore reasonable adjustments at work to help them get and stay well; and
• Information to recognise the signs of those staff at risk of suicide.

5. Stress reducing strategies to manage ‘tricky’ people in the school community
This session covers:
• The types of techniques and dynamics that ‘tricky’ people in the school community may use;
• Strategies to unravel complex emotional and behavioural problems that members of the school community may present with;
• Ways to de-escalate ‘heated’ interactions; and
• Provides practical, stress reducing strategies for school leaders.

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