The path to principalshipApril 2016
TRACEY GURNEY shares her path to a principal position at Ballance School, a small rural school in Pahiatua, Manawatū.
Throughout my years in the classroom, I have taught at intermediate, full and contributing primary schools, rural and urban, decile 1 to decile 10, U1 to U5, and across all year levels.
Six years into my career I gained a deputy principal position and so began my journey in management. After a couple of changes in schools, management positions, and completing the National Aspiring Principals’ Programme, it was time to put everything I’d learned together, take a leap of faith and apply for principal positions.
It was at that point that I really evaluated what I was looking for in a school and community to lead. I didn’t want to apply for everything and anything just to get my first principal’s position. I had a lot to consider, including a young family of my own. I became selective and strategic about where to apply, including how far I was prepared to travel
– I was a little fish with BIG dreams that just needed some adjustment!
The adjustment paid off and I won my first principal’s position at a small rural school that was only a short commute from home. As a first-time principal I had a lot of aspirations and was in the fortunate position of being employed as an agent of change.
Full of energy and enthusiasm, I made my arrival known, quickly changing the physical environment and putting my personal stamp on the school right from the start.
I then made it my goal to build relational trust with staff and grow a collaborative environment where teamwork and collegiality is paramount. As a result, I have been able to do what I love and do best – harness the dreams, aspirations and visions of staff, students, family and whānau in the school community and through the power of consultation and strategic planning, lead change and learning innovation.
Because I took the time to listen and learn, know the staff, students, family and whānau, I was able to forge ahead in my first year and achieve a great deal, including implementing new systems and increasing student achievement, which gave ERO the confidence to put our school back on a three-year review cycle.
Having been in my position for nearly two years, the list of changes and accomplishments has grown and although I cannot claim to be an expert, I can celebrate many successes and experiences with pride. Being a teaching principal has meant I have been able to keep my craft alive in the classroom and share the learning journey of my students, which I believe is really important. Being the principal means I can also nourish my passion for paperwork, inspiring people to be the best they can be and lead and manage.
Being a small. rural school means we are truly the heart of the community and having the community onside is vital to being successful. I have been more hands-on in this role than I would have been in an urban school and success and issues are greatly polarised, but I thrive on every challenge thrown at me.
Adjusting my ideals and accepting a teaching principal’s position has been the most rewarding learning curve I always said I would never do, but these are the best environments to learn about, and in which to do it all – I encourage aspiring principals to take up the challenge of U1 and U2 schools.
For me, however, looking into the future, I will leave my gumboots and overalls behind in this office and one day head to new challenges and experiences that await in a larger urban school.
I know that I will never cross everything off my to-do list, but I can ensure that everything I leave behind is sustainable.
I love my job and believe that being a principal is a magical role. Like a bird soaring, we get to see a lot from above, or coach and guide on the side, and we have the power to influence and create change. As a new principal in a school, each of us is a taonga – a gift – bringing our own unique talents and treasures. The way we land in our new position is important and critical to our success, so too is staying true to our personal and professional values and being seen to be living those values.
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