As a school principal I never get bored with my job. Every day is different when you are in some way responsible for over 1200 people ranging in age from six weeks to sixty years.

If you have ever wondered what a school principal actually does, particularly one who is no longer able to teach, the following explanation will give you some insight.

“In today’s climate of heightened expectations, principals are in the hot seat to improve teaching and learning. They need to be educational visionaries; instructional and curriculum leaders; assessment experts; disciplinarians; community builders; public relations experts; budget analysts; facility managers; special program administrators; and expert overseers of legal, contractual, and policy mandates and initiatives. They are expected to broker the often-conflicting interests of parents, teachers, students, district officials, unions, and state and federal agencies, and they need to be sensitive to the widening range of student needs.”

Sounds impressive doesn’t it! A bit all knowing, all seeing, all powerful. No wonder some principals/headmasters/headmistresses can take themselves a bit seriously.

There is the name on the office door, the big desk, signature on all the important documents, pictures in the school magazine, blogs online, standing at the microphone, interviewed, referred to and even feared. (“There’s the principal’s office: you only go there if you are in trouble.”).

Sometimes we can be a a bit:

“I am the centre of the universe
The wind of time is blowing through me
And it’s all moving relative to me….
I’m the creator of this universe
And all that is was meant to be.”

The problem is that there are some things that a school principal cannot control, despite some people seeming to think he/she can. Some of these include:

  • Bus companies: We cannot determine bus routes, bus sizes, bus rules or bus times. These are things that the government agencies and the bus companies determine. We can talk to, adapt to and request but that’s as far as it goes. We know that parents often have to bring their children to school because our events do not coincide with bus timetables. It is difficult to change the school timetable (e.g. start later when adolescents are more alert and ready to learn, more classes after 3.30pm to expand the curriculum etc) when we know that this will make it harder for our students to get to school or get home.
  • The weather: We watch the weather, listen to the forecasts, try to organise around rain, wind, heat etc but we cannot always get it “right”. Last year we had to postpone/cancel Columba Day because our grounds were sodden after constant rain. Naturally, the actual day dawned bright with sunshine and we were accused of the equivalent of cancelling Christmas. We have a duty of care to consider as well as the ability to run great events and competitions, and that sometimes means we have to cancel or postpone.
  • Other schools and organisations: We enter a lot of competitions, we work with a lot of organisations and we are not always complete masters of our calendar. We do not set Higher School Certificate examination dates or eisteddfod and competition dates. When we win, we are sometimes “held ransom” to other schools as to when the next round/match will be. There will never be dates and times that suit everyone and sometimes we have to decide what is the most important event on a given date and go with that.
  • The curriculum: We are a registered school. That means we abide by the results and curriculum of the government so that we can receive funding and offer credentials like the HSC. Our school curriculum is set by the various governments and their agencies. Changes are often mandated and we have no say in the matter. Thankfully, as an independent school, we have the opportunity to find ways of covering the curriculum (or uncovering it) in ways that suit our students’ needs as we don’t answer to a “head office”.
  • The law: I am reliably informed that our schools is subject to over 100 laws, regulations and protocols. From duty of care, through mandated reporting, WHS, industrial relations, commercial laws etc we must be compliant. It’s the law – simple!

As a principal, when dealing with these matters, particularly when they offend, irritate or upset parents, staff or anyone else, my only recourse is often found in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Despite our occasional megalomaniac tendencies, principals are tied to the rest of the world and can only change so many things. We usually know our limitations.

Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong, and when we get it wrong it can make a splash:

  • Punchbowl High School: Principal dismissed. “Police yesterday said there were ‘concerns about radicalisation’ at a southwest Sydney school where the principal was sacked earlier this week.” https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/…school-principal-dismissed. Mar 3, 2017
  • “Parents of students who attend one of the nation’s most prestigious girls’ schools have accused former Kambala principal Debra Kelliher of overseeing a toxic ­environment which led to an ­exodus of teachers at the Sydney institution. Staff and parents led an uprising against Ms Kelliher after the exodus of about 135 staff and two department heads during her 3½- year reign at the school overlooking Sydney Harbour.”  The Australian. April 12, 2017
  • “A Sydney high school principal and his deputy have been sacked after female teachers were excluded from school events. The Education Department removed both men from their positions after several female teachers reported they were discriminated against. Some of those female teachers were furious with the decision to exclude them from taking official roles at a Year 12 graduation and awards presentation.” Yahoo7 News. March 3 2017. 

In the end, as the SCAS school principal, my job is to do as much as possible to support our students, teachers and families in their educational journey. It is to see and make the future brighter if I can and not make things worse than they have to be.


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School