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The most important job in schools

The newest crop of public school principals has been advised by Mark Scott, Secretary of the Department of Education, to “surround yourself with good people”.

Speaking at the department’s Principal Induction Conference to more than 130 new and relieving principals from across NSW, Mr Scott thanked those present for “standing up to lead” a NSW public school.

“It’s a demanding job, but there is no more important job in our system,” Mr Scott said.

Drawing on his own career, Mr Scott told the inductees strong leadership teams were the secret to success and advised the new principals to surround themselves “with good people”.

This was because the complex problems they faced in schools would not be solved individually but rather through “the wisdom in the room”.

Mr Scott said the NSW public education system would need hundreds of new leaders over the next decade to meet the projected 20% increase in public school enrolments.

He did not believe people were born leaders, but instead told the conference that leadership could be learned and the department had a role in facilitating that learning.

The department was committed to better preparing teachers for leadership roles. Under the School Leadership Strategy for NSW public school leaders, the department has emphasised quality leadership preparation and development, stronger collegial support and improved services and support to schools, including the establishment of an educational leadership institute.

Mr Scott said principals needed to understand they were the most important teaching and learning asset in the school.

“Great schools have leaders who are instructional leaders and principals who are in the classrooms engaging in instruction,” he said.

He said a new $50 million support fund was aimed at helping principals lead their school’s teaching and learning by “relieving them of the administrative burden”.

Mr Scott told principals at the conference who may not feel qualified for the job that he also felt “the imposter police were never far away”.

When he started at the ABC as its managing director, Mr Scott admitted “the only thing I knew about TV was how to turn on the set”.

It was a sentiment that resonated with new Emu Plains Public School principal Jodi Bennett.

“The message really came through that you don’t have to know everything and that it’s okay to learn on the job,” she said.

Ms Bennett, who has a strong focus on instructional leadership, was reassured by the Secretary’s emphasis on principals as teaching and learning assets for their communities.

“I feel listening to Mark [Scott] I was given the green light to leave the office building and get into the classroom,” she said.

Mr Scott also reminded the new principals they would have bad days and make bad decisions, but reassured them that this was a part of the learning process.

“Just keep breathing.  As my wife says, ‘If you will laugh about it later, you may as well start laughing about it now’,” he said.

Good leaders learned from what happened and were reflective about their experiences.

“Never forget what is at stake: the lives of thousands of young people will be shaped and influenced by what you do,” he said.

“And never give up: It’s a challenging, testing and demanding job, but there is no more important work in our society.”

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