A day in the life of an Australian school principal

A day in the life of an Australian school principal

The below ‘day in the life’ account was received by a Catholic school principal who agreed to participate in The Educator's 'A Day in the Life of an Australian school principal' series on the condition of anonymity.


7.30am: arrive at school and look at the diary. Doesn’t look like being a busy day on the Outlook Calendar – but that is usually a warning sign!

Start through all the emails that have come in since I last checked them before bed at 10pm. There are plenty. Three from head office requiring immediate and urgent attention – none of them are immediate or urgent and get through two of them before the first knock on the door for the day with a staff member sharing the news of the imminent death of a parent and looking at ways to take leave when they don’t have enough banked.

8.10am: Staff briefing. Going through details of the upcoming school cross-country and making sure that we have staff in place to manage and care for 1,600 students as they stagger around a five km course. We also discussed the implications for classroom teaching of our new Teaching & Learning framework and how that impacts on each classroom lesson. Five relief teachers in today who need to be welcomed, orientated and sent on their way into the wild!

8.30am: Out in the yard herding the cohort on their way off to Period 1. Chatting with D’Arcy who has been in a bit of trouble in class recently and encouraging him to be his best self today. Lilly is looking nervous as she struggles every day to get up and going – that kid is dealing with so much at home.

8.45am: In the carpark assisting a Mum to get their 13-year-old out of the car and into school.  Bevan has a history of school refusal and mum is at her wits end.  After a lot of counseling, cajoling and support, we are seeing light at the end of this particular tunnel and we eventually get him off, just a little late to class.

9.00am: walking around classes and just letting the young people know I am around. It’s great to visit classrooms and watch the learning process in action. Generally, things go well but occasionally I come across a student or a teacher who are struggling and need a bit of support.

9.30am: Leadership Team meeting. An hour and a quarter working through staffing issues, the next major building program, how to implement a new literacy program in the Middle school, discuss a particularly ‘at risk’ young person and reviewing the budget and how we are progressing after almost one term.

11am: A quick coffee and sandwich - desperately needed unless I start chewing mine or someone else’s arm off!

11.10am: An unscheduled visit by a parent who shares news of a family break up and the effect it is having on the three kids at school. The partner is being very difficult and feeding negative information to the kids. Why do parents, so often, use their kids as weapons during family disputes? Arrange some counseling and pastoral support for the kids and promise to have a chat with them the next time I get a chance.

11.40am: Tuck shop duty.  Hundreds of hungry, happy and boisterous adolescents who can’t wait to be fed and watered. Monitoring the Tuckshop door is a great chance to catch up with kids and have a low-key chat as they pass by. After most have passed through, walking around supporting the staff on duty to monitor lunch and to make sure the yard is tidy. The second half of lunch is out on the oval supervising the Year 9 boys playing Touch footy and making sure that doesn’t descend into Tackle footy!

12.15pm: Back to a large backlog of emails. More from head office, some requests from staff, some from parents with concerns about how their child is going in a particular class or the recent increase in the price of milk drinks in the Tuckshop.

12.40pm: A call from the head of Maintenance to inform me that water will be cut off as contractors have just cut a water line. Walked out to the area to see a large pool of water gathering and confounded contractors searching around for a quick fix. In the meantime, no water for toilets or drinking in a large part of the school. Have to inform staff and students of how to handle this.

1.10pm: Back in the office and a meeting with the Sports Master about sending teams to a local regional competition and finding staff who are able to go and support them. Buses have to be organised and Risk Assessments completed and signed off. We have Risk Assessments for everything now lest anyone suffer from a paper cut!

1.30pm: Back out on duty at Afternoon Tea break. Kids have one lesson left after this break and there is often a bit of restlessness in the yard by this stage in the day. Staying on top of things and being a calming presence is vital.

1.35pm: A staff member approaches me with three kids in tow who have been caught Vaping behind a classroom block. This will mean a week’s suspension for these kids and calls to made to parents and consequences explained. Resulting phone conversations had mixed results. Two lots of parents were supportive but the third thought the punishment was ‘cruel and unusual’ given that ‘everyone is doing this now’ and did the teacher actually see their child with the Vape to their mouth? Wanted video evidence to support the charge. 

2.15pm: Phone calls and emails to reply to. 

2.45pm: The Parish Priest rings, in a state of concern, because there are not enough of our students who have volunteered to participate in the parish Mass on Sunday. I try to explain that forcing young people to attend might not produce the result he desires. This does not go down well and I’m told that this is another example of how Catholic schools do not support the life of the Church.

3.10pm: Finally get to the car park to chat with parents and watch children disappear in an endless stream of cars and buses.

3.30pm: Staff meeting. Lots to discuss and work through. The workload of teachers is so much more complex now than when I started off. Unit plans to write, lessons to prepare, and students, with a huge range of needs and complex problems to cater for within one class. Do some work with staff on developing their skills as Emotionally Intelligent individuals. Would have loved some time today to brush up that presentation, but just did not get it.

4.30pm: Starving. I grab a late lunch. More emails to which to respond. Three reports in my inbox that are produced because of mandatory reporting requirements on child safety. One is serious and the other two have been dealt with by staff at school and parents have been informed. Still, the paper trail God must be appeased, and these have to be filled out, reported to Police, Head Office and the Department of Families. Nothing will come from any of them – even the more serious one – because Police and Department of Families just don’t have the staff to deal with anything other than those at imminent risk to life.

5.00pm: Get out on the oval to watch the end of training for two footy teams and the Netball team.  Kids love their sport and it’s a great part of life at school. Thank God for teachers still willing to take teams.

5.30pm: Tidy up the last of the emails and head home.

8.00pm: Upset parent email. Their child had a run in with a teacher today and the parent can’t believe that the teacher continues to be employed. I reply and remind the parent that there are often two sides to a story, and I will look into this first thing in the morning. Parent not happy and reminds me that “I have a wonderful relationship with my child, and they would never tell me a lie”. 

9.30pm: Last check of emails (always a mistake) to find one from Head Office pointing out that I had left off the Student Protection report, the time I returned the form to the office! I love how they always get straight to the important things!