Back Off Our School Principals
Applications received by schools for headships have been reported in more than one study as dropping. Certainly, this is true of my two headships. In my first, I was one of over 90 applicants. In my second, the number had dropped by two thirds.
Small wonder, once a school principal only had to deal with issues related to teaching and learning. Now the endless litany of government reporting (both State and Federal), constant legal challenges, red tape, bureaucracy, inflamed personal rights issues, union aggression, increasing student fragility, narcissism and publically reported accountability measures, make a career working at an unmanned weather station in the Antarctic rather more attractive.
Let's take a closer look at the sort of issues typically found on a school head's plate at any one time. Hold your breath...
The number of water bubblers, the slip hazard outside N4, the strategic placement of epi-pens, the revamp of the anti-bullying policy, remembering to honour the government's requirement to fly a flag, this years annual report to the Federal Government, a similar voluminous report for the State Government. John B’s stolen laptop. First-aid training for new staff, upgrading CPR training for all staff, rewriting the excursion policy, dealing with John B’s parents refusal to pay school fees because his computer has been stolen, dealing with budget overruns by the sports department, refusing to increase the scholarship of the dux of Year 8 to stop him from being poached by a rival school, receiving a letter of demand from John B’s parents seeking recompense for the stolen laptop, suspending the top footballer from next Saturday’s grand final (drunkenness), contacting the thirty parents whose sons have all developed ‘flu’ the day before Cadet Camp, warning the school insurers of a letter from John B’s lawyers in which they claim poor leadership, rampant theft and uncontrolled bullying in the School, going to the funeral of an ex-member of staff, musing over whether to allow a boy to ride his motorbike to school, responding to outraged headlines in the media about poor leadership, rampant theft and uncontrolled bullying the School, with the reporter quoting an un-named source, organising a lockdown rehearsal, dealing with a deputation of students wanting better quality ice-cream in the dining room, returning John B’s laptop. (It was found in his old sports locker.)
Towards the beginning of my 28 years of school headship, I took out patent. I treasure this not because the patent was any good. (I'll tell you why in a minute.) I treasure it because it was for equipment that has, for millennia, but at the heart of teaching and learning. The school desk.
Before the advent of portable learning devices, heads of school often had to decide whether they wanted their classrooms clogged with desktop computers or devoid of such, thus leaving room for books.
So, I converted a flip-top desk and put a computer screen on the underside of the lid. A keyboard was kept in the well of the desk and could be rested on a residual section of the desk top when the lid was up. If the open desk lid was accidentally knocked, dampners would lower the lid thus preventing damage. The whole ensemble was powered by a chord running down a desk leg to a socket.
Prototypes were made and I began to consider early retirement on a sixty-metre yacht somewhere in the Med when someone miniaturised the computer and enabled it to be carted around as if it were a wallet. Thus, my dreams of joining the billionaires on their boats in Portofino faded.
However, for a while it was fun, and it reminded me of a time when a school principal could think about teaching and learning.
If we want our school leaders to raise academic standards, then we need to let them think about academic things. This will not happen if they are constantly stressed, diverted or targeted by the unreasonable, opportunistic and insensitive.