New support on its way for beginning principals

April 2017


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Education Review takes a look at a new initiative to support beginning principals.

Beginning principals will benefit this year from the opportunity to access high-level expertise, coaching and mentoring through a new Ministry of Education funded service that aims to support and develop them as leaders of their schools.

The new initiative fully kicks off in term 2 this year, with 21 full-time leadership advisors across New Zealand poised to provide the timely support that beginning principals in both primary and secondary schools need. The Ministry of Education has selected Evaluation Associates to provide this new service which replaces the First-time Principals Programme.

In addition to providing overarching strategic guidance, leadership advisors will also take on a coaching role, working with new principals on their individual professional journeys. This will help principals make progress with their professional goals around things like governance, leading staff, leading learning, and addressing a school’s specific needs and challenges. The leadership advisors will also help principals to make connections and build networks across the country with other beginning principals.

In addition to the support of a leadership advisor, a beginning principal will also have access to a mentor who can provide assistance on the day-to-day business of running a school. The mentor will be an experienced principal based at a school in the same region. Each of the 10 Ministry regions will have regionally based leadership advisors.

Diane Manners, Evaluation Associates’ National Coordinator of Leadership Advisors, says the initiative has grown from a research and evidence base.

“Beginning principals want timely and responsive support as well as the opportunity to tap into the expertise of experienced principals. This initiative will provide day-to-day mentoring as well as the wider support of a leadership advisor,” says Manners.

The New Zealand Principals’ Federation was a key driver behind the increased support for beginning principals. From the outset, they have been a strong advocate for the provision of high quality support for beginning principals, as effective leadership is a proven enabler of high-quality education.

For more information on this programme, you can visit or email your questions to


Leadership advisor profiles

Sandy Anderson

sandy andersonQ What led you to pursue a leadership advisor role?

I have always been interested in the development of such a role, as first mooted by the New Zealand Principals’ Federation. I was a mentor in the First-time Principals (FTP) programme helping to deliver support and guidance on a regular and consistent basis to new and beginning principals within a challenging educational landscape. While it was satisfying to work with new principals on a scheduled basis within the FTP programme this new initiative will allow the flexibility to address specific needs of new principals as they arise and to build up an ongoing relationship of guidance and support.

The leadership advisory roles are full-time positions and are an acknowledgment by the Ministry of Education of the complexities of principalship, and the critical importance of establishing a positive relationship with an experienced advisor early in the tenure of a first-time principal to a school.

My interest in applying for this role stems from the range of experiences I have been fortunate to have had in education over the past 25 years: as a teaching principal in two rural contexts, an advisor to rural schools, a deputy principal role in an urban school, four years as an education reviewer and latterly as an urban principal in a U5 school in Napier.

I like to think those experiences have made me a better principal and I feel it is timely to share whatever expertise I have accumulated with others, new to their principalships. The challenges that face experienced principals, let alone brand-new principals, can be overwhelming at times.

Q What do you view as the main challenges facing beginning principals?

Initially building up trust and confidence amongst staff and community while managing the school operationally and providing ongoing instructional leadership from day 1 is a key challenge. There is no training period for a principal. On the day you start, the expectation is that you will be able to do the job and satisfy all stakeholders, i.e. parents, staff and the wider community.

Developing a shared culture of improvement where everybody is focused on the big picture of educational success for all.

Maintaining a resilience and work life balance to enable the energy to do the job. Taking care of oneself as a principal is a must.

Complexity of the workload in a challenging and rapidly changing educational environment; re-thinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed is challenging for all school principals. Current research on what influences learning and how the brain learns is challenging much of our thinking and we need to be clear on what this means for school direction and development.

Effective management of the school in an operational sense versus instructional leadership of the teaching staff. Balancing the need to achieve enhanced student achievement in an academic sense balanced alongside the need to promote success in the key competencies, e.g. communication, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and curiosity. Determining what is appropriate professional development for staff is also a challenge.

Important to note that all principals face these challenges, but that they are especially demanding for new principals who haven’t yet gained the confidence of their staff and communities to make the best decisions. Each good decision a principal makes the more his/her colleagues will trust them to continue to make good decisions.

Q As a leadership advisor, how can you support beginning principals to address these challenges?

A key component of the leadership advisor’s role is in coaching the new principals to develop a ‘clarity of purpose’ about what is important to focus on (i.e. the promotion of student achievement and wellbeing), so that all decisions, large and small, can promote and progress that purpose. Such a focus elevates decisions above personalities, personal wishes, staff preferences and bias and provides a rationale for why decisions are made.

So a natural progression is for the leadership advisor to assist the new principal to set realistic goals based on this clarity of purpose and follow the goals through to achievement through effective action planning with respect to community and staff input. There is a danger in trying to do too much too quickly and risk superficiality over depth. Change takes time to embed.

In line with the Ministry’s emphasis on high quality and high equity, a key component of the leadership advisory role, through mentoring and support, is to assist the new principal to develop strategies to enhance student achievement and wellbeing in the widest sense, so that each learner achieves educational success.

Each school is a unique context and so strategies for advising, mentoring and coaching will vary, hence the need for the leadership advisor to build a relationship in the first instance with the new principal and learn about their context, background, skills and strengths.

At a more practical level, the role also means helping new principals anticipate and schedule when certain bureaucratic demands need to be met, and help principals understand where to look for documents and key information.


Steve Bovaird

steve bovairdQ What led you to pursue a leadership advisory role?

I have been the principal of Lynfield College for 15 years. During that time I have built up a wealth of experience in management and governance. Lynfield College’s four previous ERO reports confirmed the solid work we have been doing here.

My 13 years on the executive of ASSPA (Auckland Secondary Schools Principals’ Association) a two-year term as chair, a Woolf Fisher Fellowship in 2015 and a stint helping out as principal at Papakura High for four months in 2015 have given me a wealth of experience beyond Lynfield, that I believe could be used to support new principals as they establish their careers.

Q What do you view as the main challenges facing beginning principals?

Adapting to the role of ultimate responsibility in school management. There are no other roles like it in the education system and unless you have done the job you don’t really know what it is like. Helping new principals to navigate through the demands and complexities of the job will be a key part of my role.

In the next few years principals will need to deal with: finding an adequate supply of high-quality staff; changes to the current school funding model; the move to digital assessment from NZQA; the place of Communities of Learning in the schooling system, and the ongoing property issues around supply of teaching spaces and ensuring high-quality spaces.

Q As a leadership advisor, how can you support beginning principals to address these challenges?

I can listen and share experiences. I can ensure that new principals are aware of the supports that are available and make sure that they have easy access to them. In my time as principal I have experienced most of the events that will surprise a principal and found out where to get support.

In dealing with these specific issues, many of them are issues within the education system and require contact with the Ministry. Being able to build positive relationships with those you need support from is an essential element of being a principal.

I can support new principals to network with others so that issues that arise are addressed in a systematic way rather than in isolation. If a school has issues you can guarantee that other schools have the same issues. We are often not good at sharing our issues with each other.

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