Principal Facilitator stories

Three Principal Facilitators in the Aspiring Principals Leadership Program share their experiences below. They describe how participating in the program has not only helped build leadership capacity across the system, it also deepened their own leadership practice and benefited their schools.

Leonie Clarkson, Principal, Woongarrah Public School

With more than 21 years’ experience as a school principal, Leonie Clarkson is still keen to enhance her leadership and explore new ideas, which is why the role of principal facilitator in was a perfect fit for her.

Leonie was completing a Master of Leadership and Management in Education at the University of Newcastle when she started as a principal facilitator, and said the work streams of the APLP complemented her post-graduate studies.

She was attracted by the prospect of the University of Wollongong’s involvement in the APLP as well as the opportunity for professional development and taking part in the academic component of the program.

“I knew that I was making an impact in my school and I knew I was making an impact across our network, but I saw this role as my opportunity to contribute to the system."

“I felt like I was learning alongside my professional leadership team, because I could bring my experience and knowledge as a leader to what I was learning. I could make links to what I was studying as a post-graduate student and to what I was doing with my own school. I took notes to share with my executive team back at my school so many times.

“I call them the ‘TED worthy moments’: there were all these TED Talks happening in my head as I was listening. It definitely had an impact on my professional development.”

Outside of facilitating group activities and discussion Leonie also took on a broader mentoring role for her group, particularly with job applications and interview preparation.

She also now regularly uses the lens of the Leadership Mindsets framework in her leadership and decision-making, and has shared it with her school executive team.

“Because I was taking part in the APLP and studying my Masters, my teachers were constantly hearing this conversation about learning and professional development and quality research. It’s become part of our culture here” she said.

One of the key moments in her APLP participation was the seminar on mental wellbeing and positive leadership. Leonie has since explored those themes deeply in her post-graduate study and has worked with her executive team at Woongarrah Public School to refine the wellbeing elements of the syllabus to focus more explicitly on mental health.

She engaged a wellbeing coach for the school and formed a Positive Education and Wellbeing Team.

“That team is now being led by one of my assistant principals, who is currently taking part in the APLP as well. So in many ways the program has had a direct impact on both student wellbeing and staff development.

“I feel that impact of what we did really strongly. I feel really proud of what we did, to contribute to making what was already an exemplary program even more so.

“The system has given so much to me. It's the perfect way to give back.”

Image: Leonie Clarkson said taking part as a principal facilitator is a great way to make an impact across the education system.

Jude Hayman, Principal, Griffith Public School

Jude Hayman had been the principal at Griffith Public School for 11 years when she first heard about the APLP and the Principal Facilitator role.

One of her assistant principals was applying for the APLP and after reading about the program, she decided to submit an Expression of Interest to become a facilitator.

Since being involved in the program as a facilitator for the first cohort, Jude has been able to put the learnings from the APLP into practice in her own leadership.

“When you give advice to someone you have to take the time to reflect on your own knowledge and practice, and that was a real asset to my growth as a leader,” she said.

“And what we were doing in the different sessions, I would then take back to school and share with my own leadership team.

“The collaborative practice and bringing everyone along, the sense of ownership in Viviane Robinson’s work really resonated with me. It’s that strong focus on students and bringing everything back to students.”

Completing the Leadership for Learning Analysis at the start of the program was invaluable in helping her think deeply about her leadership and her impact on others, she said.

Taking part in the program inspired Jude to start her Masters of Education at the University of Wollongong, as part of which she is focusing on parental engagement.

Jude has remained in contact with the participants in her group and still plays a coaching role for many of them. All five members of the group she facilitated are now in principal roles, either substantive or relieving.

“A few of them often contact me to ask my thoughts, and to reflect on their practices, particularly those who were in relieving principal positions,” she said.

“Being a facilitator was also about connecting with other principals who probably had a similar amount of experience as I have, and bouncing ideas off them. It’s about connecting outside your own patch.”

Jude said she felt the APLP and the School Leadership Institute is playing a crucial role in ensuring system-wide, consistent leadership development, rather than relying on local or network-wide opportunities.

“I believe very strongly in building up our system as well as strengthening those who we already have in our system. I think it’s just vital,” she said.

Image: Jude Hayman said participating in the APLP helped her connect with other principals.

Mark Sneddon, Principal, Kotara High School

For Kotara High School Principal Mark Sneddon, becoming a facilitator in the Aspiring Principals Leadership Program (APLP) was driven by his belief that leadership skills need to be developed at a system level.

Mark has been in his current role for five years, and previously spent five years as principal at Morisset High School. During his time as a school leader he has been committed to supporting aspiring leaders.

Mark said he had felt in the past that there needed to be a more structured pathway for aspiring leaders that prepared them for the role of principal and also gave them a broad and deep understanding of what being a principal is all about.

“I felt really strongly that there needed to be some sort of the program like the APLP to give aspiring leaders an understanding of what the job is like before they apply, while supporting aspiring leaders in their development” he said.

“So when I found out about the program I actually got quite excited and thought, you know what, I want to be a part of this.”

All but one of the participants in Mark’s group in the program have moved into a principal role, either during the APLP or after completing it, while the other participant is now working for AITSL.

“We still communicate and we still support each other. We have a messaging group where we ask questions, share resources and just touch base,” he said.

Mark has been using the resources and materials provided in the APLP in his own leadership since taking part, and was particularly impressed with the School Leadership Institute’s Leadership Mindsets framework.

“Having the Leadership Mindsets was something that I grabbed on to and see as important because we now have a grounding to say, that's what leadership looks like. We have a foundation for discussing what effective leadership looks like in practice,” he said.

Mark said being a facilitator has made a difference in his own leadership and among the staff at his school.

“It’s made me look at the aspiring leaders on my staff and re-examine how well I’m supporting them. I’ve used the mindsets as an impetus for discussion about where to next for them.”

He has also spoken extensively with his executive team about the nature and importance of educational leadership.

“Being in the APLP gave me the confidence to have that conversation that I had avoided in the past and has enabled me to do better,” he said.

“And it gave me a better understanding of the system as a whole. I don’t think we pay enough attention to that because we are so caught up in what we do day to day, so it’s really important to have that system-wide focus on educational leadership.

“We need to invest in collegial support. I think the more that we share with each other and reflect honestly about how we are going or what we are working on, the stronger we are as a group of educational leaders.

“It’s an investment in your own learning and it also impacts on your school.”

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