It’s good to see how schools in the market for a principal or deputy are verbalising their needs. Here are a few phrases from adverts in one magazine.

Firstly, for a principal:

“…the ability to manage multiple competing operational and strategic demands and be able to win over the hearts and minds of children, staff, parents and the community.”

“…a visible, approachable and collaborative leader.”

“…the capacity to translate strategy into action.”

“…a firm fair and compassionate leader.”

Now for a deputy:

“The successful candidate will present the best possible example of professional standards to colleagues.”

“…an outstanding classroom practitioner able to model excellent teaching and learning.”

“…efficient management of academic departments.”

“… providing leadership, oversight and coordination of the day-to-day organization of key areas of the school.”

A current advert for a nursery school in the metro calls for someone who is “self-motivated, proactive and innovative”, who has a “robust understanding of the business aspects of running a school” and who plays a “pivotal role in ensuring a seamless daily operation”.

We put our names forward in response to adverts – not to fill promotion posts, but to take the lead, to build a team and to do the work of leading every single day.

Do you remember the day you submitted your credentials for your current position and the heavy sense of expectation you felt in your first year of principalship? I hope you feel they chose right.

What did I learn from researching this letter?

What struck me in one listing was the identification of decision-making as a critically important skill in instructional leadership. We normally think of decision-making related to spending, discipline, authorization and permissions. Obviously, when dealing with instructional leadership – influencing teacher impact and learner achievement in the classroom – decisions are critically important (and difficult) and need a high level of collaboration and buy-in from teachers and team leaders throughout a school. This requires a highly skilled principal who has a vision for classroom practice, for subject specializations and a flair for relationships. Making the right decisions with your team, your teachers and your governors makes you the right principal for your school.

But if you look at South African advertisements for principals, they are looking for CHANGE-MAKERS, leaders who make sense of their on-the-ground reality, who are motivated to make a difference through action, who are willing to tackle creative solutions with extreme tenacity and who, in the process, help teachers and learners to become change-makers, too. Anyone can be a change-maker. Are you one?

One of the first big challenges a new principal faces is the reality of staff mobility. When a highly valued colleague walks into the office and gives notice that a post has materialised closer to home or that a spouse has been transferred, you run the risk of taking it personally or seeing the move as a big loss or a huge disruption. I learned very quickly that staffing was not only a critical part of principalship, but that a vacancy was not a setback but an opportunity. You can’t sit back and wait to see who applies. You know what you are looking for and you and your stakeholder team get to work. Look far and wide. Don’t take the easy route.

If you are a high school principal, look to create your own nursery by appointing only teachers who are qualified and able to teach at Gr12 level. Sure, that’s often difficult in remote or less safe communities, but take time to make better appointments and use the flexibilities of the contract process to best serve your school and its learners.

I have huge respect for capable and thinking deputies who consider themselves more suited to that all-important role of the day-to-day leadership and management of the school rather than opting for the hot seat with all its diverse stakeholder expectations, unrelenting pressure and personal accountability.

I have tried to choose a few phrases related to school leadership which can be used for careful introspection and self-improvement. It is such a privilege to connect with today’s principals on a daily basis. I love sharing in each one’s personality, passion and perspective. That’s the leadership they bring to their schools, and ethical, competent and sincere leadership is what our country desperately needs at every level.

Til next time.

Coach/Mentor: The Principals Academy Trust

Keeping in Touch in Tough Times #16 of 2023, 23 October 2023