Program combats ‘lonely at the top’ mentality for principals

Program combats ‘lonely at the top’ mentality for principals

When looking at the data from the Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey each year, the report’s researchers notice a curious trend. As principals experience growing levels of violence, bullying, threats, intimidation, harassment and administrative work, so too grows their love of the job.

However, as many who have dedicated their lives to this profession know, it can be lonely at the top.

One principal who understands this all too well is Malcolm Bromhead, who spent nearly half of his education career as a principal with Australian Christian College (ACC) Southlands.

Today, Bromhead mentors new principals in the Christian Education Ministries (CEM) Trainee Principals program, helping aspiring school leaders manage the many complex demands of being a principal.

One of Bromhead’s mentee’s is ACC Southland’s new principal David Ramsay. The two worked together at the school as principal and deputy principal, and Ramsay also participated in the formal Trainee Principal program. 

“I was in the trainee principal program for three years before stepping into a principal role. I first came in as the deputy principal under a very experienced leader,” Ramsay told The Educator.

“Sitting under that leader was extraordinary for my growth and development and it has really set me up well for my role as principal now. In that process they helped me take on more and more responsibility.”

Ramsay also had the backing of the CEM National Office who provided him with further understanding and skills in accounting, finance, governance, strategic planning, HR, marketing and other fundamentals to school leadership. Ramsay said he also had the opportunity to sit on some school boards and “experience governance from the other side of the table.”

“If you are looking to step into leadership then I think the trainee principal program is unique in the way that it will give you skills, understandings, and experience in a meaningful and practical way,” he said. “It's a chance for you to do an ‘apprenticeship’ model to leadership, coming alongside an experienced leader, preparing you with the skills to take on your next challenge.”

The most important skills for new leaders

Drawing from his own experience in school leadership, Bromhead outlined what he considers to be the most important areas of knowledge and skill development for a new leader.

Leading by Example: “It's crucial that school leaders model the behaviours and attitudes they wish to see in their staff and students. This includes demonstrating dedication to the school's mission, showing respect for all members of the school community, acting ethically, and consistently striving for excellence. It's also important for school leaders to continually pursue their own professional and personal development, as this encourages a culture of lifelong learning.”

Staff Leadership & Development: “A successful school leader knows how to build and maintain a competent, motivated, and mission-driven staff. This involves hiring effectively, providing ongoing professional development opportunities, and cultivating a culture where everyone feels valued. Regular constructive feedback and recognition of good work can also go a long way toward keeping staff members motivated and engaged.”

Building a Learning Community: “School leaders are responsible for fostering an environment where everyone - staff, students, and parents - feels part of a supportive community. This involves promoting open communication and collaborative decision-making. It also means prioritising student wellbeing and ensuring that all members of the community have the resources and support they need to thrive.”

Maximising Learning: “Ultimately, the main goal of any school leader should be to maximize learning for all students. This involves maintaining high academic standards, ensuring that all students have access to effective instruction, and using data to inform decision-making and improve student outcomes. It also means focusing on holistic student development, including social-emotional learning and character development.”

Nurturing Relationships: “A school leader should prioritise building strong relationships with everyone in the school community. This requires effective communication, empathy, and interpersonal skills. Building trust and rapport can facilitate collaboration, increase engagement, and lead to a more positive school culture.”

“Developing these skills and areas of knowledge can be a challenging process,” he said. “In fact, you never finish it! Aspiring school leaders might benefit from seeking out mentors, participating in professional development programs, and continually reflecting on and refining their practice.”

To measure the success of the Christian Education Ministries Trainee Principals program, Bromhead and his team first review how many emerging leaders successfully go on to become school principals.

“The program has only been running a few years with a select group of emerging leaders. David Ramsay is the first ‘graduate’ with a couple more expected over the next 12 months,” Bromhead said.

“Secondly, at the end of their first full year as a principal, we will be monitoring how well-equipped graduates felt and how they have progressed in the role. If new principals felt well equipped to step into the role, and then well supported in their early years of principalship, the program will be deemed ‘successful’.”