Above: Jane Donovan with students from Good Samaritan Catholic College Liverpool, NSW
I consider myself very fortunate to have been Principal of three very different schools over the last 25 years. I spent 5 years as principal of a senior high school in southwest Sydney, after I had been the Assistant Principal for a number of years in the same school. My second experience was 12 years in a 7-12 co-educational school in Sydney's southeast, an area that is commonly called the 'shire'. I have spent the last 8 years at a very large multi-cultural, co-educational secondary school, with a student population of 1340, again in southwest Sydney. My present school has a recently completed Trade Skills Centre, accommodating students from my school and the surrounding secondary Catholic schools, and offering the full range of vocational education subjects. While there have been stressful times and distinctive challenges in each of these schools, there have also been so many shared highlights and successes, the main reason why I always feel so privileged to be in this role.
Over the years I have learnt so much from so many different people. I think I have always understood the significance of building relationships, but my original leadership style was one which focussed on a belief that gaining respect required knowing everything that was happening, and not asking others to do anything that I was not prepared to do myself I guess this would be called 'micro-managing' today. These days an approach like this is totally unrealistic given the size and complexity of secondary schools, the massive increase in accountabilities and the huge variety of student wellbeing issues that we are constantly dealing with. A focus of my leadership style today is ensuring that I am part of a high-functioning, effective leadership team. As long as the leadership team is the 'full package' it doesn't matter to me if I do not have all the skills. I continue to learn from the very talented people I work with in my school, and others who work in our system of schools. I do, however, believe that it is not only my responsibility to utilize the strengths of the leadership team, but also to provide team members with challenges which broaden their skills and enable growth in their leadership capacity. This extends to recognising the talent and leadership potential of our young faith-filled teachers, and providing them with opportunities, as I believe they are the future of Catholic education.I have always been absolutely committed to academic excellence for all students, but the diversity of the students in my current school has broadened my understanding of the meaning of academic success. My belief in a strong, 'whole-school' learning culture has never wavered, and I have learnt that the most effective way of catering to diversity is to start by 'knowing your learner', and then developing programs of study that focus on the individual learning needs of each student, while understanding that there is a strong link between students' learning and their wellbeing. I have also come to realize in my current context that 'literacy is everything' - without strong literacy skills, our students do not have a future. We have always acknowledged the significance of quality teaching, but the focus on professional learning has certainly become more significant throughout my time as principal. I continually observe the tremendous benefits of openness, sharing and authentic collaboration. I also believe that the role of the middle manager has never been more important than it is today. While this role still encompasses administrative tasks, the most effective middle managers lead their teams in professional learning, and most importantly, they have a major impact on students' learning through their leadership.
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