From the Principal

Decisions – A Principal’s Role

Each day, principals make dozens of decisions — small decisions and big decisions, decisions that may have minor consequences or major consequences for staff and students, decisions that affect one person or an entire community.

Our school is a large and complex entity, made up of many different parts all interconnected: students, staff, parents, School Council, the Grafton Diocese, church, contractors, cleaners, government and regulatory bodies, banks, buses, medical and para-professional experts, suppliers,etc.

Sometimes the rules and regulations make the decision for me. Mandatory reporting, privacy, duty of care laws and regulations mean that I follow a set path, laid down by legislation. No choice!

Often I know I am going to make a decision that I know will make somebody unhappy or even very unhappy. Sorry but….

Some decisions allow me to take time and give wide consideration, others require an immediate response.

In the end, I have to accept that I am in a role where making the decisions or accepting responsibility for someone else’s decision is a significant part of my professional life.

(On the other hand, I am hopeless when choosing from a good restaurant menu!)

If you are even vaguely curious of the deep, dark workings of the principal’s mind in circumstances like this, here is the science of what goes on ”between my ears”  each day.

“As a principal you make a million small decisions a day. Sometimes this involves other people, but often you make swift decisions to benefit your school and solve conflicts, ranging from staffing to budgeting. Surprisingly, research shows that conflict resolution activates the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is usually associated with long-term memory. When you need to solve a problem, your brain draws on memories of similar situations so that you can make connections that might be helpful. When you quickly and successfully reach a solution, the hippocampus is especially active. Scientists theorize that this may be because the brain recognizes that you might need to draw on this experience in the future, so it stores the information away.” A Principal’s Day, According to Brain Science.

Luckily, in the face of the myriad decisions I make, I have guides that allow what can make very complex matters to be somewhat simpler. These are my guiding stars.

The first star that guides me is our School’s statement about why we, as a school, exist:

At St Columba, we will transform the lives of our students by offering the educational opportunities that will allow them to have lives of purpose, service and engagement.

Next is our determination to make our school one where the values of Excellence, Effectiveness and Enterprise underpin our planning, actions and reactions.

Then there is the decision hierarchy that educational research has shown characterises great schools:

  1. What is good for the school as a whole, i.e. Acting in sync with the School’s Christian heritage and upholding the laws, regulations etc governing schools and working within the vision and culture of St Columba
  2. What is good for the student(s) involved in the decision. Sometimes making things better in the short term, sometimes having to look into the future.
  3. What Is good for the other people involved in the matter. Sorry if that sometimes makes someone feel they are at the bottom of a list!

Using these guides, and taking the sage advice of my executive, peers and staff, I feel I have the opportunity to “get it right” more often than not.

But then if my decision does not go the way you want, you may disagree.


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School
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