CEO. Independent school principals in the common vernacular in Australian schools and chief executive officers (CEO), as understood in not-for-profit businesses and corporations. As in the corporate world, principals in independent schools sign a formal contract of employment with the board which stipulates the terms and conditions of appointment; duties and responsibilities; the principal’s relationship with the board; the board’s responsibilities to the principal; remuneration and salary benefits; performance review and appraisal; termination of employment procedures; and other contractual matters. It is the principal’s contract and the designation of CEO that makes being an independent school principal in this country different from being a principal in other systems within Australia. Boards of independent schools regarded their principals as both CEOs and principals. An examination of the prospectuses used for the appointment of independent school principals found that the vernacular of CEO to be universal. The Principal is the CEO of [Grammar School] and responsible to the Board of Trustees for the overall leadership and management of the three campuses of the School. In another – The role is that of Chief Executive Officer and demands high levels of commitment and extensive experience in educational leadership, management and the spiritual development of The School community. And another – The Principal is Chief Executive Officer of the School. He/she provides direction and advice on strategic planning for the School and is delegated responsibility by the [School] Council for day to day leadership and management of the School. There is no ambiguity, and this is the expectation – principals in independent schools are regarded as the CEO.
Many independent schools in Australia are large businesses, more than 1,000 pupils, 200 staff, and Budget’s that exceed $30.0M. Principals in independent schools have a formal written employment contract with the board of their schools. The contract spells out the terms and conditions regulating all aspects of the principal’s employment and his/her relationship with the school and board. The contract assists the principal, school and board in understanding obligations and avoiding disputes in the future. These principals view leading their schools, with the complexities and demands that come with large autonomous, independent schools to be aligned with the accountabilities and expectations of the CEO in a large business. They believe that if a principal cannot perform in the role of a CEO, they cannot be effective; indeed, they believe that a principal would not survive in the role if they cannot. Poor performance as the chief executive comes with consequences, which may be the termination of the principal’s contract. Given the governance structure and the business model in their schools, their context is the CEO of an educational organisation with not-for-profit status.
To perform at the level of CEO, they must acquire appropriate business acumen and expertise to run their schools effectively as businesses/corporations. Anecdotally, principals in independent schools have not warmed to this concept, instead preferring their role to be deemed as educational leader, and much of the current literature endorses this view, claiming instructional leadership as one of the most essential leadership functions for school principals. But all independent school principals pay attention to pedagogy, teaching and learning, teacher development, instruction and assessment. However, they delegate this responsibility to executive leaders in their schools while never straying too far from the discourse and conversations. The role of principal/CEO of a large school is exacting and demanding because everyone in the school (community) expects to get direct access to the principal. As one principal put it to me –` it is not like a CEO in a corporation, people cannot get access to the CEO; but in our schools, people expect to be able to see the head.
Effective (independent school) principals are very good at managing the school’s image and reputation
Effective principals are keenly aware of why parents seek their school to educate their children. They are aware of the school’s reputation, the heritage, the strengths, aspects of school culture that are to be nourished and developed. Managing the school’s image and reputation is an important aspect of the role of independent school principals. Appearances matter in our schools and the principal’s job is to ensure the school is projected in a very positive light and any experience people have with the school leaves a lasting impression. Parents of independent school children are buying more than their child’s classroom experience or curriculum offerings, more than getting an education, there is an emotional aspect to how parents make their choice about the right school for their child. The principal is responsible for the school’s brand.
A school’s brand represents their market identity; who they are; what they do; what kind of quality education they provide; their reputation for trustworthiness, and more. Principals in independent schools are responsible for establishing their school's point of difference and sustaining this in the market-driven context which is independent schools in Australia. These principals are building an image of the child’s future. The whole management of the brand/image is an integral part of the role of a principal but adds to the pressure of the position. If independent school principals don’t manage the brand of their schools, then their schools can be unviable. They have a responsibility to see that all staff in their schools support this aspect of the reality of an independent school, and engage with the associated obligation to ensure that the school is held in esteem in the community.
May 13th 2018
The foundation for the effectiveness of the principal in large, P-12, autonomous, independent schools in Australia, hinges on the Board making a quality decision about the person they appoint to lead the school. The board’s most important role is to appoint and work with the Principal and this relationship is crucial to the school’s success. Each school is its own community, with a unique context and the goals, aspirations, and talents of its students, teachers and surrounding community shape its purpose. If the principal is to be effective, a well-thought-out recruitment plan is required with the purpose to find the person who is the best fit for the job.
The applicant when considering the position and the school, does their own due diligence, naturally examining the prospectus as part of that, and usually visiting the web-site and in many cases visiting the school. Reading about the school and assessing whether this is a school that the applicant would want to lead, basing that decision on the fit that exists between the applicant’s values and beliefs, character disposition, and alignment with the culture and ethos; ‘is this the right school for me?’, ‘is this where I can make a difference?’ If the board and the applicant get this part of the equation right, then the foundation has been laid for the principal to effective in the role.
The likelihood of the principal being effective is enhanced where there is a strong correlation between the principal’s personal and professional values and beliefs and the inherent values and beliefs of the school. The principal is judicious in reading the landscape and appreciating the culture of the school, understanding the needs and aspirations of the community, knowing the demography of the parent group. Alignment builds trust and confidence in the principal in the knowledge that he/she is committed to the values and beliefs of the school and community. There is no discord between the principal’s value system and the values espoused by the school. If gratitude is a school value, one can expect the principal to be a generous person in recognising and appreciating the work of staff, students and volunteers.
Principals know the purpose of education in their schools is to engage students with their passions and growing sense of purpose, teach them for life after school, and inspire them to be the best they can be, to make their world a better place. The principal focuses on all areas of the operation, programs and curricula, ensuring that the holistic needs of all students are being met. They look for improvements and gains that can be made to ensure they are doing all they can to provide a healthy learning environment where the wellbeing of every child is attended to. These principals don’t have any problems addressing the purpose of education in a meaningful way, they know it is to build character, to prepare students to shape the communities they will live in, and to help students understand humanity.
Click here to read an article by Justin Bariso about Google’s findings from Project Aristotle
A principal fosters connections, trust and collaboration between all groups within a school community. In this way, people work for each other. The principal ruthlessly protects people, encouraging connection, collaboration and collective ownership, nurturing a safe environment of trust, respect and family. He recognises leadership wherever it occurs; it is not restricted to a single or even a small set of formal or informal leaders; it is embedded in the school. A principal practices servant leadership, being a servant first, serving the school’s founders, the heritage and traditions. The principal is continually building capacity in others so that they can develop their own talents and strengths and accept shared responsibility for school’s growth. While comfortable to delegate and share the load, there is accountability; people are expected to perform. There is no sense of summary action though, coaching and development for improved performance is the principal’s way.
Joyce E.A. Russell (the Senior Associate Dean at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business) writing in the New York Times, June 19, 2016, reminds us of what we can do to better control our emotions when life throws us a curveball?
Cindy Hook, Deloitte Australia’s CEO, was asked this question
What does today’s complex, disrupted and ever changing environment require in terms of leadership?
The role of leaders is evolving. Let me give one example of this. An important thing for leaders is just to realise that change in the world and the shifts that are happening are putting an increasing amount of performance pressure on organisations and the leaders and the individuals within those organisations. In this environment you must be very resilient; you have to have strength and stamina in order not just to survive but to perform at your highest levels. This is why wellness is so important to me at Deloitte. I define wellness broadly; it’s not just being physically strong. You need emotional, spiritual and mental strength as well. I believe that the best leaders today will both role model and enable wellness amongst their people as a means of driving individual and collective performance.
1.Manage your Board, a positive and productive Board-Head relationship is vital
2.Keep a sharp eye on enrolments, sustained enrolments under-write Budget and financial performance
3.Think strategically, big picture
4.Let your values be your rock
5.Lead learning, be the lead learner, be a voracious reader
6.Protect the school’s reputation (& your own)
7.Encourage risk taking, accept mistakes
8.Treat every $ as if it is your own, know your Budget
9.Recruit talent first, find quality 'people' with the right cultural fit
10.Kid’s have to feel safe, & count on you, parents want kids to be safe abd happy, and achieve
11.Network keenly & widely, connect, value your colleagues
12.Give feedback often (esp. your senior team), treat every interaction as an opportunity to provide feedback
1.have a passionate belief in the significance of what they do
2.have a strong connection with the ethos and culture of the school
3.build autonomy and entrepreneurship, and design for innovation
4.are catalysts for change; strategic thinkers
5.have a clear sense of purpose grounded in what is right and proper
6.view responsibility and accountability as a natural part of their make-up
7.hold high expectations for all, for themselves and others
8.Say ‘Yes’ often
9.remove hierarchical bureaucracies
10.are visible, accessible and value first-hand experience
11.build high performing teams, they are coalition builders
12.build an esprit de corps and ensure the workplace is fun
13.Self-belief and self-confidence
14.flexible, agile and adaptable, consistently positive and optimistic
15.have resilience and fortitude, a dogged determination to succeed
16.insist on high standards of professionalism
17.are the lead learners, building learning into every layer
18.lead by example and from the front, with a preference for action
19.value hard work and accept that the job demands it
20.they lead, what they do every day makes a difference