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Case Study - 25 Years as a Principal - Michael Gallagher

Posted on 16 May 2018
Case Study - 25 Years as a Principal - Michael Gallagher

Above: Michael Gallagher with students at his current school - St Raphael's Catholic School in Corowa

Leading learning in 2018 is both the same as and vastly different from leading learning in 1991 when I first stepped into the Principal's role. Then as now a staggering range of issues was presented to principals for resolution, an explosion of accountabilities and compliances has been heaped on top, however, time and experience have also led to a simplification of how to respond to those pressures that come with the role. This is an assurance to young principals that this is a magnificently valuable vocation that doesn't drain your life but enriches it immensely.

Some learnings:

  • A finely tuned "crap detector" is a most valuable tool. It provides guidance about what not to focus on, because we can't do it all. To have a serviceable detector one needs to have honest clarity about values - both personal and institutional. Everything that comes to your table does not have equal value and those which serve your greatest purpose and that of your school is what must receive your precious attention. Have no fear of saying no.
  • The culture you build in your school is way more powerful than logistics and strategies and policies so invest strongly in nurturing the tone you want in your school and keep telling people there about it. There are classic truths underpinning the raising of good children that are longer lasting and more central than anything found in syllabus documents and diocesan policies. The kids must come first.
  • Tough honesty and compassion when dealing with others and self makes for strong relationships. People respect honesty, especially when it's about hard truths but it's usually easier to side-step the hard truth and be kind and well liked (in the short term). Know who you are, what you want and why you want it for your school. On that solid foundation many of the nerves around "courageous conversations" will dissolve and be replaced by a sound conviction that it's the right (and therefore only) thing to do. This principle applies equally for staff members, diocesan personnel, parents, students and community members, without even considering personal relationships.
  • Collaboration is proving to be a powerful developmental tool and the way we craft the scaffolding of our school can enhance (or destroy) a collaborative culture. Collaborating with and coaching middle managers in particular not only sharpens the shared vision, principles and beliefs of your school but deepens the culture and hones the skills of all involved. From such partnership confidence is grown and leadership succession is enriched. Investing time working with teachers new to the profession or the school establishes a strong sense of belonging and enhances confidence that unlocks the brilliance of young educators for the sake of the children. Work directly with your people.
  • Schools have a very real mission to parents in their parenting in addition to the children in their learning and growing. Rural schools have a magnified role in their local communities and the curriculum is much broader than the sum of the syllabus documents. The connectedness in rural schools means that the highs and lows of the community, the experiences of losses and the gains are the one journey. The community leadership role of the rural school, the school contribution to the community agenda is a great responsibility felt less, I suspect, in metropolitan schools. Embrace your community, especially in the bush.
  • Martyrdom went out of fashion in the 16th century so don't work yourself into an early grave. Give time to replenish yourself, search out ways to keep good life balance. A depleted, exhausted principal working at the extreme of endurance is of little use to anyone, don't do that to yourself, your family or your school community. Find ways daily to pat yourself on the back, spend time with the children and remember why you're in the job. Give time to regular reflection and prayer in ways that are meaningful for you. Pray hard and work hard.

Michael Gallagher 2018

Tags: CaSPA Case Study

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