An ‘intense year’ for principals, but they’re in good hands

Merrylands High School principal, Lila Mularczyk, has a thorough understanding of the issues principals in NSW face.

She is the NSW Secondary Principals Council (NSWSPC) president and has rubbed shoulders with the likes of renowned education thought leader, Pasi Sahlberg at the Oxford University Education Research Symposium in 2014.

The alarming results of the 2015 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety & Well-being Survey were no surprise to Mularczyk and her colleagues within the NSWSPC.

“This was no surprise for us whatsoever. The data is emphasising that society is changing and the treatment of professionals in schools is changing,” she said.

“There is no longer a platform of respect that there was previously.”

However, Mularczyk said that for her, the past few years had seen a de-escalation of these incidents – something she puts down to her own platform of respect within her community.

“For me, it’s de-escalated over the years, which is in contrast to the data, but I’m also a long-standing principal within the community and I think there is an absolute trust and understanding between myself and the community,” she explained.

She added that while she does personally experience instances of bullying and intimidation from time to time, the perspective she exercises helps her understand the grievances of angry parents rather than escalating the situation.

“When I have parents who attempt to bully me, verbally or physically, the reason is that they’re trying to protect their children from a perceived injustice, and that’s the only way they know how to do it,” she said.

“That’s the perspective I like to take on it when people are attempting to do that. Most of my teachers, if not all, have been trained in aspects of de-escalating significantly volatile situations.”

Mularczyk pointed to existing support structures in place for the state’s principals, including support officers called Principal School Leadership. The program was initiated by research from the NSWSPC and embraced by the NSW Education Department.

“These support officers are there to coach principals when they find themselves in difficult situations,” she explained.

“It’s a general support role for principals to help with implementing reforms and initiatives, as well as to offer advice.”

Looking towards 2016, Mularczyk said she is optimistic, both in her own role and of the close support NSW principals have from the state government and the Department.

“I really do think I have the best job, in both roles. Yes, I go home tired, but I love it. I’m looking forward to consolidating a number of the reforms and initiatives that have been initiated by the Department,” she said.

“Outcomes across the board continue to improve, whether it is attendance, engagement or the myriad of options that students have when they’re leaving school. I’m really quite proud of what happens at Merrylands.”

She added that it had been “an intense and rigorous year” for principals as reforms have rolled out, but that better times were ahead.

“I’m always optimistic about NSW. Our state, in terms of education, is absolutely leading the nation.

Because we are so large, we have the capacity to ensure that initiatives, reforms and new policy can be implemented with support,” she said.

“NSW Government’s support for principals is second to none. Our Minister and our Department will always listen to the voice of principals and the profession. I genuinely cannot think of a single instance when they have not consulted or listened to the voice of principals.

“I understand that there are times when they can’t do everything that we request, but they certainly value consultation in a genuine way, and our Minister listens to principals across the three sectors.”