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CaSPA Case Study - Co-Principalship after 12 months

Posted on 2 April 2017
CaSPA Case Study - Co-Principalship after 12 months

Above: Nicole Mangelsdorf and Teresa Lincoln with the famous Kilbreda spire in the background.

At various times in Catholic Colleges across Australia there have been more than one person sharing the role of Principal.  While normally this is just two people, there have been some celebrated examples where there have been a Trio in Leadership.

In a series of articles we will hear from those who have worked in partnership as Principals from a number of different perspectives:

  • 15 months in the role - Teresa Lincoln and Nicole Mangelsdorf
  • 3 months in the role - Brendan Gill and Joseph Sandric
  • 10 years in the role - Rita Grima and Ray Pisanie
  • Retired from Principalship - Angela Killingsworth and Sandra Diafas

Our first article comes from the current co-Principals of Kilbreda College, Mentone.  They were appointed to commence the role in January 2016.

Founded in 1904, Kilbreda College is a Catholic secondary school for girls where Christianity is lived out through core Gospel values and in the Brigidine tradition of Strength and Kindliness. The College is located in the bayside suburb of Mentone and has an enrolment of approximately 975 students across Years 7-12.

When the position of Principal or Co-Principals of Kilbreda College was advertised in 2015, we both believed that we were ready to take on the challenges of being a principal having been Deputy Principals for a number of years. We saw being Co-Principals as an exciting opportunity to work together and express our shared passion and understanding for creating a learning focused school community. As a team we felt that we offered considerable experience in leading the education of girls in Victorian Catholic secondary schools across the areas of Faith, Wellbeing and Learning and Teaching. Having known each other for several years we were confident in our ability to work together effectively and therefore submitted a joint application.

Our experience, skills and personalities complement each other and we believed this would enable us to utilize our individual areas of strength to maximize our effectiveness.  We had worked together closely through our involvement in the Victorian Catholic Secondary Schools Deputy Principals Association (VCSSDPA) and as Deputy Principals in neighboring Catholic girls' schools; Nicole at Siena College and Teresa at Genazzano FCJ College. We had worked collegially and built trust and confidence in each other as leaders. We held each other accountable and had very open and honest dialogue. We had every confidence in our ability to respect, support, enrich and challenge each other in all areas of collaborative school leadership.

In preparing for the interview we were aware that Marian College, Sunshine West (another Kildare Ministries School in the Brigidine Tradition) had successfully had Co-Principals since 2007. A number of other Brigidine schools in Victoria have also had Co-Principals at different times as have schools in the USA and UK. 

Once we were appointed as Co-Principals of Kilbreda College, we met with the current Co-Principals of Marian College, Rita Grima and Ray Pisani, who provided much wisdom as to how they had successfully managed the role over this time. They described their co-principalship as the "best professional relationship" that either had had. In planning how we would make this partnership work it became clear to us that we both had to ensure that our communication continued to be open and honest. It would be important for us to be well informed and to ensure that we were aware of the discussions each had been involved in with other members of our community. In this way, staff know that there are no secrets between us and that we share all aspects of our leadership and decision making at the College.
Our appointment as Co-Principals of Kilbreda College in 2016 has brought a new approach to leadership at the College as it is the first time in many years that there has been Co-Principals. This has been an exciting opportunity for us to model collaborative leadership and teamwork to both staff and students. The College benefits from having two leaders who bring much enthusiasm and energy to the role, multiple perspectives and broad experience to draw upon.  Staff and parents alike gained confidence when we informed them that we had applied together!

We are very clear in our vision for Kilbreda College and have a shared understanding that improved student learning outcomes are central to our decision making. We believe that it is important to share and experience all aspects of the role and therefore generally we do not take individual responsibility for different areas of the College.  Only in our second year have we decided to individually chair focus areas for the College, namely ICT and Faith and Mission. One of the great benefits of being co-principals is that we can draw on each other's individual strengths and experience, learning from each other as we go. We problem solve and plan together and can support and confide in each other when there are challenges. Sharing what would be confidential matters in a single principal role is significant to decreasing stress levels. On a day to day basis we are also able to share the workload, which gives us more time to visit classrooms and be a visible presence around the College and within the community.

In our first year it was important to gain an understanding of the history, culture and people of the Kilbreda community. To that end we both met with all staff individually to get their perspectives on what made them want to work at this College and what they would like to be the same and what they would like to be different in five years' time at Kilbreda. Taking time to get to know the staff and doing this together, whilst very time consuming, ensured we had the opportunity to respectfully listen to their thoughts and deepen our understanding of the College. It meant we both heard the same messages of individuals.

We were very mindful in our first year that we needed to be a presence and present at all events. We decided that rather than do a tag team, that we would both be present at Parent Evenings, School Tours, Staff Meetings, assemblies and events but that we would rotate who spoke on these occasions; always delivering the same consistent message!
Being more familiar with the daily running of the College this year we have allowed ourselves the opportunity to get more involved with students and staff on camps, excursions and retreats; again alternating participation.
Sharing an office has been invaluable as it allows consultation and rigorous discussion, delegating aspects of the task and then getting on with the job at hand. It also means that there are no "secrets," that we share everything that happens around the College with each other. We are now in a situation where we can decide the level of attention needed at a meeting and if both are required or if it is sufficient for just one co-principal to be in attendance. A debrief always follows such meetings.

Despite there being two of us, our greatest challenge so far has been managing the never ending flow of emails! We have tried several approaches but are yet to find an ideal one.

For any other schools considering a co-principal model we believe that having two people who share common educational philosophies, vision, values and work ethic is crucial to a successful partnership.  In a collaborative leadership model you need to have a high level of trust, be willing to listen, be open to other perspectives and have open, honest dialogue with one another. It is also important that both parties strongly believe in the value and strength of a shared leadership model. Enjoying each other's company is also essential!

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