Unlocking Potential: Principal Preparation
Assistant Principal, Oak Park Primary School
Monika Gruss still remembers the moment her Year Two teacher gave her some advice that changed her forever.
‘I was nervous and shy in class,’ says Monica. ‘But at a parent-teacher meeting my teacher Mrs Hurley said to my mum, “You know, Monica just needs to speak up. If she doesn't understand something, she just has to put her hand up and ask”.’
‘From that moment on, I’ve always put up my hand.’
As the mother of two young boys, Monika knows the value of children asking questions and getting excited about learning. It’s something she sees on her boys’ faces when the family goes bush for holidays.
Then, about a year ago, Monika had another chance to put up her hand.
‘My principal asked me if I wanted to be a principal,’ she says. ‘I replied within a microsecond, saying “No way”. I thought principals were overloaded with the technical side of things: payroll, budgets, all the boring stuff!’
Fast-forward to today and Monika has completely changed her tune. She is loving life as Assistant Principal and feels ready for a principal role.
Monika attributes part of this turnaround to Bastow’s Unlocking Potential program (UP), which she participated in at the gentle insistence of a close colleague. At the time, Monica shrugged off the suggestion.
‘I wanted to keep doing what I loved – connecting with students and teachers,’ says Monika. And as assistant principal, she still does – every day.
‘My whole perspective of being a principal has changed. I learnt the critical part of being an effective principal is having a strong teaching and learning base where the students are at the centre.’
Monika’s connection with her staff has also grown since finishing the program, and this is something her current principal and mentor, Bryan Nolan, has also encouraged.
‘During the early stages of being a leader, I was relentless in my focus on the business of the school, and on research and results,’ explains Monika. ‘But Brian has taught me the importance of building relationships with staff to get them on board. I’ve now softened and slowed down, and am much better at keeping track of how everyone is going.’
Monika is grateful to have found her path, and her plans for the school – including giving students more opportunities to have a say in their learning – are keeping her inspired.
‘I'm one of those lucky ones that Ken Robinson talks about – someone who finds their passion and never has to work a day in their life.’