How this Principal is driving excellence through teamwork

In this interview, Westbourne Grammar School's Principal emphasises the importance of a high-performing executive team, built on trust and accountability, and the shift from annual reviews to a culture of continuous feedback.

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Adrian Camm  00:00:09 

Hello and welcome to The Educator TV. I'm Kylie Speer. And joining me today is Adrian Camm, Principal at Westbourne Grammar School. Westbourne has been named as one of the winners of The Educator's 5-Star Employers of Choice 2024. Welcome to you Adrian and congratulations on such a well deserved accolade. 

Adrian Camm  00:00:31 

Thanks, Kylie. It's absolutely great to be here and to be speaking with you today. 

Adrian Camm  00:00:35 

Well, firstly, Adrian, as the school principal and ultimate leader, what was your strategy for building the executive team to work alongside you and support your initiatives? 

Adrian Camm  00:00:47 

Thanks, Kylie, I think the strategy was really intentional. So the executive team in any school, I believe, has to be the highest performing team in the school. And so in order to achieve that, I think you have to have incredibly high expectations of each and every individual that sits around the executive table. But likewise, we've been very deliberate in term and proactive in recruiting high performing individuals from other schools, and indeed from other sectors. And once they get here, it's very much around how do we position ourselves as the best functioning team in the school? What professional learning do we need to undertake together? How do we get to know each other on a personal level, because that foundational element really builds trust, and then that enables us then to be vulnerable with each other, and to have some accountability, a commitment not just to each other in terms of the team, and our respective portfolios, but also at the school generally, so that when we're debating issues, or we're deciding on actions, or making decisions, we step outside of ourselves, we check our ego at the door, and we make sure that we are making the best possible decisions for the school at large. And so you know, part of that strategy for me as being about identify high performing individuals, and then going out and actually talking to them about working at school. And so we have this philosophy with our recruitment, we were looking for three things for executive members when they join us, but also for staff generally at school, we want them to be humble, hungry, and smart. And I think by that we we may not hungry, as in, you know, the they are hungry, but hungry as an ambition. Because we say people who are ambitious, we see that as a good thing. And even if they only come to our school, and maybe spend, you know, two or three years doing some great work, and then use their experiences that they've guided our school and get a promotional position elsewhere. I think that's great. And I'll be their biggest cheerleader, because I think then we're making a system wide contribution. And we're actually elevating the Australian school education system at large. So I think, in a nutshell, that's, that's my response there, Kylie. 

Adrian Camm  00:03:04 

Adrian, to what degree do you rely on the executive team and is delegation something you prioritize? 

Adrian Camm  00:03:11 

100% I think contemporary leadership has to be distributed, I think gone are the days of you know, the principle being all things to all people at all times. It's just not possible. Schools are too complex. And in order for us to be agile and adaptive, and to be responding to change, at pace, the team has to have the right delegation to place. And so I trust the executive team implicitly. And they all do outstanding work. And I think, of course, that doesn't mean that we get it right all the time. But that's, that's how we come together as a team to seek the expertise of the collective. And to make sure that as individuals, everyone is doing the very best job that they can now I trust them to do that work. And they'll check in with me from time to time as required. But otherwise, if I don't hear for them, I actually think that's a great thing, because that means that the work is getting done. And there's no issues for me. But contemporary leadership is about distributed leadership. It's about trust, and you have to delegate the work to you in order to get meaningful change in a fast changing world. 

Adrian Camm  00:04:23 

So as Westbourne's leader, how do you balance being in control with sharing responsibility with your team and teachers? 

Adrian Camm  00:04:32 

Yeah, it's a great question, Kylie, thank you. I think leadership and management is a continuum. And I think whilst we have a natural tendency and disposition to gravitate towards a particular style, that's natural, and that's authentic, and we should embrace that. But I think we also need to understand as leaders that there is a continuum of styles and approaches as leaders or managers, and depending on the context or the situation, there might be a different approach your style works better in different circumstances or, in fact, works better with individuals. And so I think as a leader, part of the challenge in the 21st century, is making sure that you're in the moment, and you're responsive enough to be able to adjust your style to what the situation or the individual requires at that point in time. 

Adrian Camm  00:05:24 

Adrian, in running such a big school, what's your technique for including your newer and less senior staff members in decision making? 

Adrian Camm  00:05:34 

It's really important because I think with schools, we get new teachers or new professional staff, new administration staff into our schools all the time. And so a school is a very dynamic, human centered place. And I think as a result, we need to be very intentional and continually look at the way that we approach our system structures and processes to make sure that we're capturing the voices, the ideas, the opinions of everyone at the school. And so we'd have a big school, we have over 400, staff, 2000 students. And so it does provide some challenges. But I think the way we've gone about our distributed leadership actually invites people to have a seat at the table, to have their opinions and ideas heard. And then we actually give them opportunities to be involved in advancing the school in many different ways. And there are so many examples that I could share. But but one, right one is our digital transformation committee. So we have a digital transformation Committee, which aims to deliver our digital strategy, which aims to position us at the forefront of digital over the next few years. And there's some great work going on at two key strategic deliverables. And we have 45 members of staff involved on that committee. Now, that might sound like a ridiculously high number for for, for the size of any committee. But the way it works is each individual is given an opportunity to do the end to end management and delivery of a key strategic priority. So it doesn't matter if you're a YouTube teacher, or the head of finance, or the head of senior school, each person is given responsibility to deliver an outcome. And then they're given to support the resources in the trust to actually say that through to completion. And I think, for me, that's so powerful, because not only are we advancing the school in different ways, at a speed, that's quite incredible. But yet, it's sustainable, because we've also got people contributing from everywhere. And, and also, they feel as though they matter. And they can use that experience to hopefully, you know, find a position here at the school in the long term or get a promotional position here at the school, but they can then use that experience on their CV as well to say, Hey, I'd leave it on this case, strategic objective. And I delivered it myself, it end with the support of others. And what a fabulous experience for them to have. 

Adrian Camm  00:08:03 

You spoken about how your school doesn't do annual reviews, but instead focuses on continual feedback and empowering people to learn and develop? How challenging is this to manage? And have you seen material benefits? 

Adrian Camm  00:08:17 

Yeah, I think I think annual reviews are a thing of the past. From my perspective, I think they're too slow, the world moves too quickly. Now. And in my experience, annual reviews, were always just a tick the box exercise that the people did at the end of each yard, because they had to be compliant with whatever was being asked. So what we do is we we don't do annual reviews, but we've tried to create a culture of continuous feedback. And that can be written with feedback. It can be in verbal feedback. It can, it can have a variety of different forums and mediums. But the idea behind it is that we don't let issues get bigger than what they need to be. We address the issues as they arise. And that takes trust. And it takes a little bit of courage as well. Right? So we've equipped We've equipped our staff, with the skills, the tools, and the dispositions to manage feedback, conversations, challenging conversations, so that there's a common language across the school so that we're not we're not performative in these conversations, but it's about corrective action. It's about intervention. And it's about saying to somebody, Hey, I think you might have dropped the ball on that on that one. Like, what can we do next time, like what have we learned from this experience, where it might be behavioral, it might be, I'm not quite sure if you realize but the way you spoke to me or the way you spoke to that person, or your body language book, or whatever it might be. So it's having those conversations in the moment where possible, not always possible, so that people under Stand, that learning is indeed lifelong. And teachers are no district just students in that in that capacity, and that we have the capacity and the potential to be able to call these things down as required, so that we can make our grade school and better. 

Kylie Speer  00:10:16 

And finally, Adrian, as Westbourne has been named a 5-Star Employer of Choice 2024 by The Educator, what do you feel is the key difference maker for your teachers and staffs working life resulting from the processes put in place?  

Adrian Camm  00:10:32 

Thanks, Kylie. I think it's the I think it's the whole package. You know, if we look at it holistically, we're serious about addressing some of the systemic issues in Australian school education. We're addressing teacher workload. You know, we've just reduced our senior schools face to face teaching allotments by five hours per week, where we're looking to make sure that our teachers and professional staff are some of the best paid teachers and professional staff in the States. But then it's all the things around that we give people opportunity, the opportunity to travel internationally, to stay, to speak at conferences, to position themselves as thought leaders, as they're developing their own identity in the profession, and to develop individual career pathway and trajectory plans so that people have a goal. You know, and this comes back to our recruitment of humble, hungry and smart we, but we really believe that and so if people are hungry, they're ambitious, let's develop a plan for you to get you to where you want to be. And let's support you on that journey. And whatever that looks like whether it's doing a postgraduate study, or gaining expertise or skill in a particular area, or addressing gaps in your practice, or you know, and maybe something as simple as developing a visibility strategy to different stakeholders in order for them to be able to build that brand. And then move on into a position of leadership position. And if that's part of their goal, let's support them in that. And so that's, I think, what's made the big difference for us. And you know, it's very humbling to be recognized by the educator, as as an employer of choice. And I couldn't be prouder of the team here because it is a true team effort. And we've only been able to achieve what we've achieved because of everyone pulling in the same direction together. 

Kylie Speer  00:12:28 

Well, congratulations once again, Adrian on your clearly well deserved award. It was really lovely speaking with you.  

Adrian Camm  00:12:35 

Thanks, Kylie.  

Kylie Speer  00:12:36 

Likewise, and thank you, of course, to our viewers for watching the latest episode of The Educator TV. We look forward to seeing you again soon.