From the Principal

What School Leaders do (or don’t do)

The papers are full of stories about teacher shortages. This is a change from the usual narrative about why Australian schools are failing their students.

The second phase of the teacher shortage narrative appears to be about a shortage of school leaders and the quality of those in leadership positions.

Principals are important. Says Tom Alegounarias, the head of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Educational Measurement and Assessment: “The key point for affecting student outcomes is teachers, but what is consistently underestimated is the key to affecting the quality of teachers is principals”…..It can be difficult to judge the effectiveness of a school’s principal. Outstanding, energetic leaders run schools that might be struggling thanks to many years of poor management under previous leadership. Mediocre leaders may run schools that still have a good reputation due to the work of their predecessors. But there are some signs. High staff turnover, particularly in a school in a high socio-demographic area, can be a hint that teachers hate working there, often because the principal runs the school like a “personal fiefdom” (an issue repeatedly raised by teachers in private letters to the Herald).

For a long time it was generally accepted that research showed that family environment and teacher quality were the key drivers or impediments to student achievement. Now it appears that research shows that the school’s leadership might be playing a significant role.

Many studies have indicated that there is a significantly positive relationship between instructional leadership and students’ academic achievement… School leadership impacts all facets of education: teacher motivation, shaping the conditions and the environment in which teaching and learning occurs, and interaction with the broader community.”

If this research is accurate, the mode of choice of school leaders becomes a key aspect of a school’s culture, performance and longer term success.

If you read the comments about the quality of leadership in schools, some people are worried:  “Good principals love interacting with their school community – students, parents and staff. Teachers are judged and promoted increasingly by their paperwork. Good paper pushers get promoted to more administrative positions, then eventually become Principal somewhere if they are ambitious. …We are promoting people with the wrong skills in schools. It has been happening for a long time and now we have a generation of principals who love the office, but don’t love interaction with their school community.”

The fact is that school leadership is seldom the sole domain of the school principal.

In good and great schools, leadership rests with a range of dedicated professionals and is not simply reliant on one individual.

Great schools have leadership depth, so that the fortunes of the school are never reliant on a single leader.

Developing leadership depth means encouraging and allowing leaders to emerge and contribute at every level. In this area, leadership means taking ownership and stepping up to influence others.

The Makings of a Successful School Leader

1. They Understand the Importance of Building Community
2. They Empower Teachers and Cultivate Leadership Skills
3. They Utilise Data and Resources
4. They Have a Vision and a Plan
5. They Create Collaborative, Inclusive Learning Environments
6. They Are Passionate About Their Work
7. They Encourage Positive Risk-Taking
8. They Lead by Example
9. They Persevere
10. They Are Lifelong Learners.

St Columba has no shortage of great leaders!

As an independent school, St Columba has the luxury of being able to choose its school leaders from among the very best educators in Australia.

 We are not constrained by bureaucratic considerations or rules but are able to search for and employ leaders who will provide the very best in education for our students.

In other words, the professionals who respect our community, our culture and aspire to be the very best leaders for our school.

That is why St Columba will continue to thrive as a school and keep  moving towards our goal of becoming the most outstanding school in NSW.

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at

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