Defining leadership

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Unlocking Potential (UP): Principal Preparation

Neil O’Sullivan, Leading Teacher, Avenel Primary School

A passion for education and a commitment to the core values of equity, fairness and opportunity are what originally steered Neil O’Sullivan into a teaching career. These are also the qualities that have shaped his aspiration to lead a school community.

As a way to learn more about the transition from teacher to principal, Neil applied for Bastow’s Unlocking Potential (UP): Principal Preparation program. This program is designed to prepare aspiring principals to meet the expectations of the principal role.

Neil O’Sullivan, Leading Teacher, Avenel Primary SchoolNeil entered the program with three specific goals: to understand in more detail what is involved in being a principal - in both theory and practice; to build his own capacity in relation to becoming a principal; and to strengthen the personal qualities that would make him a better leader.

“Unlocking Potential really helped me refine my views on educational leadership,” explains Neil. “It’s caused me to reflect very sharply on the vision and values, knowledge and skills and personal qualities that all combine to create an effective principal.”

Neil was first attracted to the UP program for its multimodal delivery. Participants learn from research, expert practitioners, and through an internship and coaching.

Neil found this blend of theory, practice and personal coaching in the UP program to be extremely powerful and the key point of difference from other leadership professional development he had undertaken.

“It has caused me to reflect very deeply on who I am as a leader, what the work of a principal would involve for me, and what qualities I can identify in myself … to create a successful principal role in the future.”

The coaching and internship components of the program challenged Neil “to peel away the layers” around who he is as a person, helping him to clarify his leadership strengths and the areas he needed to focus on.

“The program provides a clear, logical sequence of development, delivered over a timeframe that allows you to progress your understanding and for your ideas to mature over the course of the year,” says Neil. “You will grow as a person and as a professional – the course closely links personal growth to professional knowledge and practice.”

Neil O’Sullivan, Leading Teacher, Avenel Primary SchoolNeil also enjoyed the program’s problem-based learning style and its emphasis on collaboration.

“It allowed me to really crystallise the intersection between values, knowledge and personal qualities,” he says. “I see leadership as a learning offering. We’re here to improve. I can help you to improve and I too hope to improve during the process.”

While rewarding, Neil found that balancing study with his teaching role was also very demanding.

“There are some really authentic challenges within this course,” says Neil. “One is managing your study while fulfilling the duties of a full-time leader. And I think that’s almost an implicit design element of the course - you’re forced to prioritise, to become efficient and to develop an acute acumen about we what really matters.”

Neil is already applying his new skills to redefining the professional learning structure at his school, and has generated a strong interest in leadership among his colleagues. He has implemented a leadership project to build teaching capacity in numeracy to improve student learning, and he is part of the leadership team shaping the future direction of the school.

“I’ve left the course with a clear sense of what being in a principal role means, and also what works within the field of principalship,” says Neil.

Bastow's Unlocking Potential (UP): Principal Preparation program
www.bastow.vic.edu.au/courses/unlocking-potential-principal-preparation