Evolve: New Principals Program Case study

Latham Burns

Principal, Abbotsford Primary school

Even with his experience as an assistant principal, Latham Burns initially found his role as a first-time principal challenging. Motivated by his desire to make a difference on a school-wide level and improve his own skills, Latham accepted the invitation to Bastow's 18-month Evolve: New Principals Program - a program specifically designed to develop the leadership skills of new principals as they transition into their new role.

​​​​​With valuable workplace support from an experienced coach, the opportunity to develop a personalised Professional Learning Plan and build a supportive community of other principals, the program was the perfect way for Latham to gain the leadership skills he needed and to come a long way in a short time.

“The program enabled me to form connections ... and build on my capacity through interactions with others and also teach me some of the essential parts of the role of principal, particularly around the aspect of vision building, the focus on teaching and learning, and also some of the more technical aspects,” says Latham.



Evolve: New Principals programyV6Z9OXt-SUhttp://www.bastow.vic.edu.au/Lists/Videos/DispForm.aspx?ID=65Evolve: New Principals programPrincipals Peter de Wacht and Latham Burns reflect on their learning from Bastow Institute's Evolve: New Principals program./Captions/yV6Z9OXt-SU.vtt<div class="ExternalClass922521FEF91C4FEF97D086878024B65C"><div>​- I'm Latham Burns. I'm the Principal of Abbotsford Primary School and I have undertaken the Bastow Evolve course for the past 18 months. </div><div><br></div><div>- Hi I'm Peter de Wacht. I'm the Principal of Bayswater West Primary School and we've been part of the Evolve program.</div><div><br></div><div>- As part of the Evolve course, participants are required to have a coach and I was very fortunate to be paired up with Peter. Peter was someone who I didn't actually know and that was at my request because I wanted someone who was different to me, who didn't know my background or my experiences and I felt coming from that objective point of view he'd be able to challenge me a lot more and also question my thinking and I think the relationship has been highly successful in that respect because I have been challenged, somewhat uncomfortable at times but in a really good way and I have really valued that partnership with someone who has a very similar philosophy and holds very strong values like I do. </div><div><br></div><div>- Early on in the piece we were focusing on the technical side of his professional practice but that lasted for a short amount of time as we moved to more of a vision based approach so we were looking at how can he take his community from where it was to become an even better community of learners so watching him grow that vision over time, supporting him, acting as a reflective mirror so that he could take on those challenges was the most exciting part of the project.</div><div><br></div><div>- The course has helped me develop myself as a leader. I hadn't been a principal before so that's why I undertook course. It enabled me to form connections with people outside of my network and to build on my capacity through interactions with them and also teach me some of the essential parts of the role of a principal particularly around the vision building aspect, the focus on teaching and learning and also some of the technical aspects as well. </div><div><br></div><div>- I think the mentoring process for a new principal is vital. Having someone that has been in the role for a little while and can talk about their experiences, help you to think about your own is incredibly important. The issues that a principal faces on a daily basis are vast and it's important that you've got someone that's walking alongside you helping you to grow, helping you to evolve so that you can become the best professional you can be.</div><div><br></div><div>- I would strongly recommend the Evolve course to all new principals. It enables them to really reflect on their practice, it enables them to form connections with other colleagues and it's a lot of fun.</div><div><br></div><div>- I'd absolutely recommend the course it's one which is beneficial to both the new principal and the principal that's been in the role for a while. What it does is it takes your skills and builds on them. What it does is it makes you think about who you are as a principal and how you can help others within the system, so yes absolutely I get behind the course anytime.</div></div>

Without an established leadership team at his school when he started as principal, Latham quickly discovered that he was responsible for implementing everything - from budgets and curriculum to student wellbeing and routine maintenance.

“Although the role of principal is primarily about setting the direction for the school, connecting with networks and agencies to achieve shared goals, and being responsible for the entire school community, it's also about project management,” says Latham.

The Evolve program challenged Latham's thinking and provided him with a core structure on which to build his professional skills.

The key aspect of the program is pairing participants with a coach to provide mentoring, advice and support. For Latham, this was principal Peter deWacht from Bayswater West Primary School - an experienced leader who helped Latham to take a step back, respond strategically, and really focus on his leadership approach.

“Peter enabled me to reflect on my practice through his ability to question me quite thoroughly and to challenge my assumptions, particularly around building a vision for my school,” says Latham.

Peter also helped him to deal with specific issues at his school, including building a leadership team.

“He was instrumental in helping me through a difficult process by emphasising the importance of trust with those who you work closely with,” explains Latham. “The relationship has been highly successful … and I really value the partnership.”

Latham was keen to work with a principal who had the same values and a similar philosophy to education, but also someone who tested him, had high expectations and allowed him to see an alternative point of view.
The program’s three-day residential component and workshops are designed to develop capacity and skills in vision building and the technical aspects of principalship, as well as an opportunity for participants to share professional experiences.

“It was really nice to be part of a group that could empathise with me and I could empathise with them,” says Latham.  “I really enjoyed listening to other principals’ stories and the different initiatives they’ve got going in their schools … it opened my eyes to explore a few different ideas as far as practice and developing a school culture go.”

The program has further developed Latham’s analytical skills and knowledge, helping to deal with day-to-day issues and to plan for his school's future. He has developed a better understanding of the scope of school leadership and management, as well as how to set goals and priorities.

As a relatively young principal, he's also learnt to deal with a range of people and take the time to be more considered and strategic in his leadership approach.

​For more information: Evolve: New Principals​