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Case Study - 25 Years as a Principal - Larry Keating

Posted on 28 May 2018
Case Study - 25 Years as a Principal - Larry Keating
To be able to nourish my selfhood in the context of Catholic Education for the past 45 years, including 27 years as Principal, has been a special blessing. The realisation of this blessing has only been possible because I have had the gift of Catholic schooling; the encouragement and guidance of some inspiring teachers and school leaders; the faith commitment of loving parents and the most generous love, guidance, support and encouragement, especially in challenging times, of my wife, Anne, our four children and family members, as well as many wonderful colleagues, at school and system level, who have shared in my leadership journey with remarkable tolerance, understanding and support. The following reflection is very much a product of these blessings and is written in a spirit of immense gratitude and thanks for being called to Catholic education.


I have been privileged to share in the leadership of two school communities in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. I was motivated to apply for Principalship in each school because each was founded in the finest traditions of the Josephite Sisters, and each presented the opportunity to share with colleagues in serving students and families from diverse and especially low socio-economic backgrounds.


My time at St Clare's was so very rewarding. It provided a myriad of growth promoting experiences, rich memories and many wonderful friendships which we treasure as a family. To be appointed as the first lay Principal at St Clare's was a privilege because it enabled me to be immersed in the charism of the Sisters of St Joseph and to draw inspiration from their steadfast commitment and fidelity in honouring their calling as Catholic school educators walking in the footsteps of Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods. In 1987, St Clare's transitioned into senior schooling and, at the time of my appointment, the challenge facing the community was to ensure the continued success of the transition while continuing to honour the school's rich Josephite history and charism. The amazing support, generosity of spirit, commitment to self-effacing service and learning by the staff combined with the ever so generous support of parents and the commitment of students to personal and communal growth and achievement ensured that these goals were achieved.


A significant influence on my leadership at St Clare's was the appointment of Sr Anita Conroy rsj as Pastoral Worker. Sister's appointment coincided with my appointment. Sister continued in this role for the duration of my Principalship. In so many ways, and on so many occasions, Sister Anita provided appropriate guidance, advice, assistance and support. Her presence was a constant reminder to me that quality relationships must always come first in our communities. The depth of my gratitude for her support and a wonderful friendship, which continues to this day, cannot be captured in words.

It was a sad time when we had to leave Taree given our valued connections with members of the school community, parish and wider community. However, our children had moved on in the pursuit of university studies and career opportunities and, as parents, we wanted to be closer to them to offer appropriate support. Furthermore, I was ready for a new challenge in leadership. Hence, my application and appointment to Principalship at St Mary's Gateshead.


At the time of my appointment (2004), St Mary's was a Year 7 to 10 co-educational junior secondary school. In mid- 2015, following a review into the provision of Catholic secondary education in our Diocese, the decision was made by Diocesan authorities that St Mary's would transition to senior schooling in 2018-2019. It has been challenging and yet ever so rewarding, over the past 14 years and especially during the past 6 years, to engage in shared collaborative leadership with the staff as we have changed the culture of the school, increased the student population (despite drawing students from an area experiencing a declining school age demographic) and have prepared for, and are now engaging in the process of transitioning to a Year 7 to 12 College community. What has been achieved is a tribute to all members of staff, especially the College Leadership team and Dr John de Courcy (Data Strategy). John has been a valued adviser to the team during the transition process.

This is a brief snapshot of my 27 years of Principalship in Catholic education. In preparing the reflection, Frank suggested that I briefly outline what I have learnt about leadership and what has sustained me in my leadership

In terms of leadership I have learnt that:

  • Relationships that build "a spirit of community" must come first... "Relationships before Curriculum"
  • You never walk the leadership journey alone
  • Always trust in the creativity, commitment and generosity of others to get the work done, especially when
  • engaged in substantive change
  • Don't lose sight of open, collaborative and transparent communication and decision making at all levels of the
  • school community, especially during times of significant change
  • Be very deliberate about cultural engagement because culture is everything in a school
  • Be clear about who you are as a leader and your purpose in giving life, hope and authenticity to the community
  • you have been called to serve. In the words of Jean Vanier, "From Brokenness to Community": be an instrument
  • of life giving life to and receiving life from those we have been called to serve.
  • Be a learner continually learning with and from staff as well as leading staff in learning
  • What has, and is continuing, to sustain me in the role of Principal?
  • Rejoicing each day in the gift of life and recognising that it is a privilege to share so intimately in the lives of
  • people, especially those in greatest need
  • Continual reflection on my leadership from the perspective of who I am, what I do and why I am doing it
  • Being committed to personal care quality family time, daily exercise, healthy diet, "adequate sleep" (needs
  • more attention!)
  • Being always hopeful and optimistic in spirit
  • Nurturing my inner life by building a Sabbath space into each day a time for silence, reflection and prayer
  • Readiness to seek the advice, guidance and support of others
  • A deepening passion for learning and a real desire to participate in learning with others
  • Recognising the value and drawing strength from those who have gone before us in leadership in Catholic
  • schools, especially members of religious communities who witnessed to incredible courage of endurance in
  • order to establish the communities many of us are so fortunate to lead today
  • Memories of inspiring teachers and Catholic school leaders who gave so much of themselves in support of their
  • students and who have taken a personal interest in me as a student and as a Catholic school educator Sr Mary Aloysius rsj at St Joseph's Convent, Portland (1959-1961), Sr Jane Francis rsj at St Anne's High School, Adamstown (1967-1968), Fr James Saunders (deceased) teacher, leader, priest, mentor and dear family friend for 50 years, Sr Anita Conroy rsj and Dr Lauretta Baker rsj, outstanding Catholic school leaders, teachers, dear friends and mentors/advisers.
  • The love, support, guidance and encouragement of so many others especially from my wife, Anne, and our family and those offering wonderful support in the care of Anne in the aftermath of an accident, in February 2015, which has left her with quadraplegia.
Larry Keating
Principal
Tags: CaSPA Case Study

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