Gabrielle Leigh, president of the Victorian Principals Association (VPA), told The Educator that through their vision, guidance and strategy, principals effectively craft the future of students, which ultimately has a “far-reaching” impact on society itself.
“I think the impact of principals in this way can be very far-reaching,” Leigh said, adding that the “special” and “worthwhile” role that principals play in society is understated.
“It’s a very understated profession, but I think it’s a very worthwhile one…a very special one…because principals do shape the futures of students.”
Leigh said having autonomy over decision making within their schools is a key element in principals being able to exercise this influence, and that this authority helps principals to cater for the learning needs that are specific to their schools.
“If it’s a multicultural community you might have different priorities than you might in a middle-class community, so you’re really tailoring to people’s needs and expectations,” Leigh explained.
One principal who has done this is Paul Taylor of Turramurra North Public School.
In his 12 months as principal, Taylor provided his school with Wi-Fi, transformed the library into a modern learning zone and combined the Year 5 & 6 students to create a ‘super class’ of 76 students, led by three teachers.
While a recent report suggested that principals are barely coping with increased workloads, Leigh said she believes principals are doing “a fine job” of staying ahead of the curve in terms of keeping pace with such challenges and addressing them.
“I think they cope admirably well, but I think it could be a lot better if there was more time – especially for principals in small schools,” Leigh said.
“It’s a very tough call if you’ve got a teaching commitment as well as leading a school, you just don’t have the headspace to develop a lot of those new theories, so you may revert to status quo.”
Looking to the future, Leigh said that principals must continue to recognise - and be prepared for - the challenges posed by a rapidly changing education landscape.
“The world is a very fast-moving place now. We have to prepare our students for a digital age, so we need to be very aware as leaders of what that actually means.”