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New program to combat lonely at the top mentality

A new program has been designed to equip aspiring leaders for the challenges of their future roles.

Although it is an aspiration of many educators to become a school principal, it is well known to be a position with a raft of challenges and demands. It can also be lonely at the top. A new Trainee Principals program, spearheaded by former Australian Christian College (ACC) principal Malcolm Bromhead, has been designed to support up-and-coming leaders and equip them with all they need for success.

Based within the Christian Education Ministries (CEM), the program is designed specifically for the diverse and varied position of school principal. School News spoke with one of Bromhead’s mentees, ACC Southland’s new principal, David Ramsay.

Having worked previously with Bromhead at ACC Southlands as Deputy Principal, David Ramsay, said the Trainee Principals program took the extra step and provided insights that learning ‘on the job’ may not provide.

“Working with Malcolm was pivotal to my growth and has prepared me well for my current role, as well as for future endeavours,” explained Ramsay. “Malcolm ensured that I had access to all areas of the school, supporting and guiding me throughout the experiences with his wisdom.”

“[But] recognising that other positions within a school may not fully prepare individuals for the principalship, CEM established this program. It incorporates formal training, hands-on experience alongside experienced principals, mentorship opportunities, exposure to school board responsibilities, and other enriching experiences.” David Ramsay

The path to Principal

While some educators are inspired to become principal by people they have worked with and others see it just as part of the natural progression of their career, for anyone considering the top job, it is often a constellation of unique and very individual factors and influences.

“I truly believe that becoming a principal is a personal journey, and individuals reach this role through various paths. Some are driven by a passion for working with people, some by a love for learning, others by a desire to make a positive impact, and some are inspired by teachers or principals who came before them. There are numerous reasons why people choose to become educators, and the same diversity of motivations applies to those who aspire to become principals,” said Ramsay.

For Ramsay, originally a Maths and Science Teacher, the decision to become principal is simply an extension of his original goal. “When I first entered teaching, my motivation stemmed from the desire to help children prepare for the challenges they face in the world, both in the present and in the future. I wanted to play a positive role in their lives. As a principal, my goal remains unchanged: to have a positive impact on the lives of children and to support our entire community, including students, parents, guardians, teachers, and the broader community.”

Ramsay’s strong commitment to student wellbeing and his efforts developing a number of national initiatives across ACC’s network of schools to improve student services led to him being announced in 2022, as a winner of The Educator’s annual Rising Star awards for his work.

David Ramsay, image supplied

Apprentice to a different world

But Ramsay is the first to admit that being a good teacher does not automatically mean you will be a good principal and there is a vast world of responsibilities and connections beyond the school gate that are the unique purview of Principals.

“While being a good teacher does not guarantee being a good principal, there are transferable skills that can be beneficial. Effective communication, building rapport, possessing content knowledge, understanding children, teaching skills, and having a caring heart, among other qualities, can contribute to success in both roles… but I am also aware that there is much more to discover behind the scenes. Transitioning from a teacher to a principal brings its own set of challenges and rewards, and while the role is quite distinct from being a teacher, I find it to be incredibly fulfilling.”

This is where the CEM Trainee Principals program is able to provide the knowledge and experience to fill in the gaps sometimes left by simply learning on the job.

“The Trainee Principals program has significantly enriched my understanding of school leadership,” explains Ramsay. “It has been particularly valuable in honing skills related to budgeting, staffing, and human resources management. Additionally, the program facilitated invaluable connections with our National office and other school leaders across the network. [So while] there is much to be learned through holding leadership positions in schools, the extent of learning may vary depending on the size of the school and the role held. Although various programs exist that offer specialised learning experiences, the Trainee Principal program, akin to an apprenticeship alongside a principal in one’s daily duties, stands out as a unique and invaluable opportunity.”

Lonely at the top

The higher one ascends, the fewer people there are on the same path.

“The role of a principal can sometimes feel lonely,” admits Ramsay. “However, it’s important to acknowledge that there are supportive individuals willing to stand by us. Building a network of trusted colleagues and mentors is essential.”

“I learned from Malcolm’s profound care for both the students and the staff. He encouraged us to embrace our imperfections and recognise that mistakes are a natural part of learning. This outlook translated into our approach with the students, aiming to see them “well known, well loved, and well taught.” David Ramsay

Ramsay has learned many vital lessons through the Trainee Principals program, but importantly, it does not just focus on the business of being a Principal, but also nurturing the person behind the title.

“Working in the field of education is undoubtedly one of the most valuable professions and I encourage fellow educators to persevere through challenging times, using them as opportunities to overcome obstacles and prepare for future challenges and opportunities,” says Ramsay. “However, I also emphasise the importance of sustainability in work habits. While some may thrive working long hours, fully immersed in education, others may find this unsustainable. Recognising our individual capacities at different stages of life is vital. Prioritising family, friends, and personal well-being ensures a healthy balance and allows us to be the best version of ourselves for our students and colleagues.”

While the Trainee Principals program is open to discussion with interested individuals, it is essential to note that the number of spots is limited, and there are specific criteria for eligibility. Those interested in the program are encouraged to visit the CEM website and directly contact them via phone or email for further details.

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

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