What drives Australia’s school leaders?

What drives Australia’s school leaders?

Australian school leaders are prioritising career progression, mentoring, and opportunities to drive constructive change over salary when considering new roles, according to a new study.

The findings are the result of the inaugural Australian School Education Leaders Sentiment Index, published by national recruitment adviser, Slade Group.

The Index marries the results of comprehensive one-on-one interviews and an in-depth survey with principals across government and non-government schools. It explores five key themes: professional learning; mentoring and coaching; voice and influence; reputation; and remuneration and career progression.

What principals want

The Index found that education leaders agree or strongly agree that in considering a new role in a new school, a structured career progression plan is of higher priority than a higher salary.

Another key finding was that schools that are open to positive and constructive change will attract high-performing education leaders and educators who are seeking employers who treat their thoughts and opinions with consideration and respect.

Education leaders surveyed in the Index said they overwhelmingly support schools that listen, with intent, to the needs and attitudes of their students, teachers and all stakeholders in their school community, with almost all participants rating this as important.

With a firm commitment to sharing knowledge, more than half of the education leaders spoken with want to be mentored, while even more expressed interest in acting as a mentor or coach in their next leadership role.

The Index further identified a deep-seated desire to build and contribute to collaboration and a sense of community – an attitude stretching across all five themes. It also showed education leaders felt strongly about their school’s culture and being able to positively influence it.

‘We need to be celebrating success more’

Dr Toni Meath, Principal and CEO of Melbourne Girls Grammar, said maintaining staff morale and cohesion is her greatest concern as a principal in 2023.

“In the current climate of education, as principal, I need to focus on my team. We live in uncertain times, and young people need significant role models who they can measure themselves against,” Dr Meath told The Educator.

“It is important that staff working in schools are role modelling collaboration, collegiality, optimism, and that they are focused and enjoying their work.”

Dr Meath said this positivity “transcends whole school environments.”

“We need to be celebrating success more and respecting the expertise and time of those who choose to have a career in education.”

At a policymaking level, Dr Meath said lifting the profile of being a teacher and an educational leader would have the greatest impact on resolving the biggest challenges that schools are facing.

“The rest of Australia would do well to look closely at the Victorian Government’s implementation of The Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership in 2022. As a new government authority, it is a strong and positive move to elevate the profession of teaching,” she said.

“The academy creates and offers evidence-based professional learning programs, events and initiatives and aims to create an internationally recognized model for developing, implementing, evaluating, and sharing new standards of teaching and leadership. This sends a clear message to the wider community that educators matter!”.

Rapid change requires a rethink of schooling

For Jonathan Walter, Principal of Carey Baptist Grammar School, his greatest challenge has been supporting his school community through significant social change and an increased set of wellbeing issues on the back of the Covid lockdowns.

“The pace of change has never been faster, and the demands on teachers are increasing as we respond to the wellbeing issues and evolve our pedagogy and practice to embrace the opportunities opening up with AI in particular,” Walter told The Educator.

“We are all being challenged to find ways to support teachers to find the time to learn and collaborate on the best ways to evolve our educational offerings.”

Walter said the shift from a knowledge recall curriculum to the development of one which develops skills and the application of knowledge in real-world settings is going to require “a significant rethink and redesign of the ways we are delivering school”, adding this rethink needs designated time to develop.

“Our society needs confident, capable, and skilled individuals ready to make their contribution to society. As a consequence, we need an education system which can develop multiple pathways for students which are equally valued and deliver young people into the workforce, not only with knowledge but also the skills appropriate to be successful in their chosen field,” he said.

“A graduating certificate which provides a more comprehensive insight into the knowledge, skills, and attributes of each individual will result in better matching to study or work pathways.”

Principals remain optimistic about the future

Despite the ongoing challenges the profession is facing, the Australian School Education Leaders Sentiment Index nonetheless shows education leaders are optimistic about the future and excited by the changing face of their sector.

“Education leaders, as shown in Slade Group’s quantitative and qualitative study, are motivated strongly by their sense of purpose, their calling to teach, to engage, to make an impact upon their students and their school communities,” Andrew Barr, Slade Group’s Practice Lead of Education, told The Educator.

“It has constantly been a sector heavily impacted by societal and technological change, but despite pressures brought upon those leaders, they believe the sector to be in a strong position.”