Principals are at the centre of the push to lift the quality of teaching in the State of Victoria, said Education Minister James Merlino at the launch of this year’s Unlocking Potential (UP): Principal Preparation program at the Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership (Bastow).
Bastow is playing an “absolutely critical role” in improving the quality of teaching by developing future principals, Minister Merlino said in response to a question before his speech.
‘We know that improving the quality of teaching is recognised as the single biggest thing we can do to improve the outcomes for children and young people,’ the Deputy Premier told the 80 aspiring principals who assembled at Bastow. ‘All of you as aspiring principals are at the centre of that quality education. You play an absolute pivotal role. I visited I think about 250 schools last year, and without exception, the best schools delivering exceptional results for their students are not characterised by the newest buildings, are not characterised with an obsession with technology, as important as infrastructure and technology [are], but without exception, without exception, those schools always have great principals who foster an effective and collaborative leadership team.’
Minister James Merlino, Bruce Armstrong, Katy Haire and Neil Barker with UP participants
The enhanced UP program has been approved to receive Education State funding of $7.4 million over four years and $3.4 million ongoing to ensure that more aspiring principals can have the opportunity to engage with this leadership development.
‘Expanding this program, providing the comprehensive leadership program for up to 160 aspiring principals each year is going to make an incredible difference to our educational system in making sure we achieve our targets,’ he said.
UP, a 12-month program, features an extended internship of up to 60 days in another school, under the guidance of an experienced principal. The program also includes 12 workshop days, professional coaching, completion of a 360-degree diagnostic tool to help determine learning needs prior to coaching commencement and tailored master classes with Victorian principals and acknowledged experts in their field. Participants also complete a small-scale intervention project around a leadership challenge in their school and a capstone interview with Victorian government school principals and regional leaders.
‘It’s really providing different kinds of learning experiences,’ said Mark Rickinson, a facilitator from Monash University. ‘There’s an individual leadership project. There’s coaching where they’re getting very individualised feedback. That’s the more individual side. They’re working on problem based learning in groups - it’s almost like a leadership team. They do the internship – so they go to see an experienced school principal in another school context, and they get to hear from master class presenters who could be leading principals, they could be expert researchers, they could also be in between – people who are in the system who are really good around data, let’s say, who might come in and give inputs that the class can use.’
The Bastow program was developed with Monash University and initially implemented in 2014. Evaluations in 2014 and 2015 found that 95% of respondents believed the program met their overall expectations, 97% agreed that the content had been relevant to their work and preparation for the principal-ship, and 96% agreed that the course had allowed them to effectively develop their leadership practice, as well as explore theories and models on which the program were based.
The aspiring principals that have been selected for this extended intake of the UP program in 2016 cited their desire to develop stronger networks with their peers, access high quality research and pedagogy and develop the skills needed to become principals. Many of the current participants have previously taken courses at Bastow, and said that Bastow’s courses are structured so that they can take their learnings and apply them directly back at their school.
Anita Elliott, Assistant Principal at Lilydale West Primary School, previously undertook the Creating a High Performance Learning Culture course at Bastow.
‘You grow with Bastow, and the good thing is that they layer it really well, so that you don’t feel out of your depth and you can go back to your school and embed it,’ she said. ‘The last thing you need is to go back and then wonder, what am I going to do with this?’
The structure of the UP program and the clear outcome to train leaders who are then confident and able to step into a principal position was a major attraction for Natalie Talbot, a classroom teacher at Mount Blowhard Primary School near Ballarat.
‘It was the structured learning of how to be a principal, the step by step process that means that at the end of this process, I will be experienced enough to lead a school,’ Talbot said.
Talbot noted that Mount Blowhard Primary School is a rural school and thus geographically isolated. She praised the strong school community, and noted that Bastow courses allow teachers and leaders the opportunity to access research in ways that they could not afford on their own. This in turn will provide them with tools to improve student outcomes in line with the Education State aspirations.
In addition to starting off the year-long course, the launch of the UP program was also the opportunity to congratulate the participants as well as exhort them along their journey. Bruce Armstrong, Acting Deputy Secretary, Regional Schools Group, cited the book
The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner in his opening remarks to the aspiring principals.
‘Leadership is learnable, but takes extraordinary determination and practice,’ Armstrong said. ‘If the doing crowds out your learning, you will not be as good a leader as possibly you could be. It takes determination and practice. The leaders who practice more often, put in more time to learning, are better at leading. It begs the question then, which comes first, learning or leading?’
For more information on the program:
Unlocking Potential: Principal Preparation