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.

​​​​​​​ Neil O’Sullivan, Leading Teacher, Avenel Primary School 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 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.”



Unlocking Potential (UP): Principal Preparation program at Bastow InstituteoszKo4nEPYEhttp://www.bastow.vic.edu.au/Lists/Videos/DispForm.aspx?ID=64 Unlocking Potential (UP): Principal Preparation program at Bastow InstituteUnlocking Potential (UP) graduates Debby Chaves and Neil O'Sullivan reflect on their experiences during the 2014 Bastow Principal Program./Captions/oszKo4nEPYE.vtt<div class="ExternalClass368EB9DFC3244E19B8EEF8CED7B7F053"><div>​- Hi, my name is Debby Chaves. I'm Assistant Principal of Parkdale Secondary College and I chose to participate in the Unlocking Potential course to work out whether the principalship was a professional pathway for me in the future.</div><div><br></div><div>- I was attracted to the Unlocking Potential course because I was hoping to make the bridge to become a principal.</div><div><br></div><div>- I wanted to learn whether I was actually ready for that next step, whether I was best placed to be a leader of a school as a principal.</div><div><br></div><div>- Unlocking Potential has really helped me to crystallise and refine my views about what it means to be a principal. In particular, it's caused me to reflect very sharply on the vision and values, the knowledge and skills, and the personal qualities that all combine to create an effective principal.</div><div><br></div><div>- The Unlocking Potential program presented some challenges for me personally on my leadership journey and one of those was the habits that we develop that actually hold us back as leaders, trying not to always be reactive, trying not to always have to think on our feet but giving us the time to reflect, to think about and be more deliberate in the way that we might approach some of the challenges that school leaders face. </div><div><br></div><div>- Another really important element was connecting to research basis so making that link between vision, the big ideas and what the research is telling us around effective models of principalship. So I've left the course with a clear sense of who I am, what that means for me in a principal role but also what works in the field of principalship.</div><div><br></div><div>- I believe that this is a terrific program and should be a compulsory program for anybody aspiring to be a principal. I think that there's so much that we don't see that lies beneath the surface of that leadership role and this Unlocking Potential course actually brings that to the surface. </div><div><br></div><div>- Unlocking Potential provides a clear logical sequence of development, delivered over a time frame that allows you to progress in your understanding and allows your ideas to mature over the course. I've found it to be very sequential, linking the big ideas to practical experiences but most importantly the blend of theory, practice and personal coaching is extremely powerful. </div><div><br></div><div>- One of the real strengths and differences in the Unlocking Potential program is the network of experienced principals that you link in during your master classes but also the network of aspiring principals who'll some day one day will be principals that will actually add to a great group of resources that you'll have at your disposal when you move into that next step of your leadership pathway.</div><div><br></div><div>- Unlocking Potential will put you amongst a group of serious professional collegiate and like minded people who are all inspired by education and the level of professionalism and engagement displayed by my co-participants this year was tremendous and made many powerful networks and friends within it as well professional colleagues.</div><div><br></div><div>- For me, the Unlocking Potential program has actually confirmed my aspirations. I think I went through a period at the start of the program where it just seemed so big and so all encompassing that I did question whether that was my pathway. But as the year has progressed, as I have developed a stronger foundation that's researched based, as I have had exposure to the master classes and spoken to other principals, done my internship, had my coaching sessions, it has cemented that this is my pathway.</div><div><br></div></div>

​​Video: ​​Unlocking Potential (UP) graduates Debby Chaves and Neil O'Sullivan reflect on their
experiences ​​during the 2014 Bastow Principal Preparation Program. 

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 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 h​is 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. 

For more information: Unlocking Potential (UP): Principal Preparation